The search for a life partner
More or less unbeknownst to me, my parents had started the search for a suitable husband, as is still traditional in India. They were aware that I had not really met anybody I liked or was dating. I am not sure how it would have been received if I had been. Anyway, I was the oldest of three girls and my parents felt it was their obligation to find someone for me to marry. They called me on the phone one day and informed me that they had responded to an advertisement in the newspaper. They were already talking to the parents and family of the prospective groom. My parents were excited that he seemed well educated with a PhD and moreover, he lived in the US.
After making sure our horoscopes matched, photos were exchanged and we agreed to meet each other so we could decide if we wanted to get married. He took time to make arrangements to come visit me in India. There were many signs that it was meant to be. For example, our neighbor’s daughter lived in the same city and went over to meet and vet him. She then sent me a nice letter describing what a gentleman he was. Also, my mother’s first cousin lived on the same street as his parents did in India and he was able to vouch for the family.
The first meeting
When my soon-to-be husband arrived and I met him in person for the first time, instinctively I knew this was it. He appeared to be a kind and gentle soul, as well as very humble, which was quite different from my few encounters with other Indian men. Within an hour, we had decided to get married!! Whenever I come to this part of the story, I am met with disbelief and astonishment. No way!! How did you make such an important decision when you barely knew him? I have a hard time explaining this. It is so much a part of the Indian culture that it seemed perfectly normal. In any event, our parents made the necessary arrangements and we were married within two weeks.
I still remember the feeling of alien-ness and disorientation when I first arrived to the US. Although language was not a problem since I spoke English very well, it was a completely different world. I missed the teeming masses of people, being able to hear my neighbors’ lives being played out quite audibly, the chaos of traffic and people and animals all sharing the narrow roads as is common in India. It seemed more sterile and somehow abnormally orderly. Many of my husband’s friends took me into their hands and did so much to help me acclimatize.
I remember the thrill of discovering free membership at the local library with no limit on books. That felt so indulgent and luxurious. Going for long car rides into the mountains and hiking with my new husband, checking out little coffee shops and bookstores or visiting the local brewery were foreign and very enjoyable. We did not have much money back then. We lived in a smal studio apartment close to where my husband worked so he could walk there. We had a very old car that was temperamental. But we were very happy, just having found each other and very much in love!!
The unexpected gift
“Congratulations!! You are pregnant!” NO WAY, WHAATT!!!!! It wasn’t that we did not want to have children, but it was supposed to happen somewhere in the distant future. We had not really discussed our life goals or plans, heck we were barely getting to know each other! My idea was to study for the boards, take the exams and get a residency spot first before starting a family. As I have learned many times since then, “If you want to make the Universe laugh, tell Her your plans”. We re-adjusted our thoughts and went with the flow.
I thought I knew what love was, until I held my first born in my arms!! The fierce protectiveness, the sheer joy and terror at realizing I was responsible for this very fragile, beautiful perfect little being and the absolute paralyzing fear that I was somehow going to mess up big time… yup I remember all of it, even to this day. Motherhood is such a privilege and such a joy, I still get a lump in my throat when I see a pregnant woman or a mom with her baby.
It was becoming clear to us bleary-eyed parents that we would have to delay my plans to go through the process required for me to practice in the US. In the meantime, my husband got an offer to work in Kuwait as a professor at the medical school. He had been ready for a change for a while. We were up for another adventure. We knew nothing about Kuwait except what we had seen and heard on the news about Desert Storm. We went to the biggest bookstore in town then and found only one slim book about the Middle East with 3 pages devoted to Kuwait!! We promised ourselves we would give it a year. We ended up staying for eight. My husband had his own lab with technicians working for him. He had no difficulty asking for and getting equipment and other supplies as needed to conduct experiments. He was highly respected and really enjoyed his time there. Meanwhile, I was a stay-at-home mom and enjoyed watching my son grow. Life was quite idyllic as the wife of a faculty member!!
Time for a sibling
We decided to have a second child. Once I got pregnant, we started to explore where I would deliver our baby. Although Kuwait is an Arab country, it has a somewhat moderate outlook for certain things but is quite conservative in other respects. For example, alcohol is prohibited but women do not have to cover their heads, although the vast majority of local women did. Women could drive, unlike in neighboring Saudi Arabia. But when it came to hospital care, we soon found out that if I wanted to avail of the public facility, my husband could not be with me for the birth. That was a deal breaker for me. After some research, we found a private hospital which had private labor and delivery rooms and was staffed by nurses, many from India. I had to be induced and the care I received was excellent. In fact, we had quite the party in there with friends visiting while we waited for the induction medication to kick in.
Restlessness sets in
As much as I enjoyed being a mom, I did not want to set aside my desire to pursue practicing medicine. I had worked too hard and sacrificed too much to give it up. Now looking back, if I had known then what I know now, I am not sure this road would have been pursued with so much focus. Anyway, I bought the necessary books, claimed one of the extra bedrooms in our massive apartment as a study and started preparing for the Board exams.
To be continued….