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  • Writer's pictureDr Parul Chopra Buttan

The "Complete" Family

I've been caring for a lot of women in their second pregnancies currently. Often, at the second delivery, I hear sighs, usually from well-meaning relatives, "Oh! Had it been a boy, their family would've become complete!" or "Wow! It's a girl! Family complete ho gayi!".

I have a serious issue with this statement. What does it really mean? Does it imply that when they welcomed their first child, a boy or a girl, their family was somehow incomplete? Waiting to complete when a second child of the other gender arrives? Why then, with two children alone, is the family complete? As the girl child doesn't have a sister & the boy doesn't have a brother, I find the two-child (one of each gender) concept equally incomplete!

I am the eldest of three siblings and have a younger sister & a younger brother. I couldn't think of a more fulfilled scenario and often pitied my friends who didn't have a 'real' brother or sister to boast of! Till one fine day at school, I saw my friend's elder brother demonstrate his protectiveness by shooing away a classmate who was bullying his kid sister. 8 years old & I felt such a pang of need for an elder protective sibling. What was worse was I could ask mom for more younger siblings (though I know how that would've been responded to!! :)), but how could I get myself elder siblings now?!

Ah, the tragedies of being first born!! I looked to my close knit cousins and found my lovely bhaiyas & ḍiḍis to guide me along and somewhat satisfy the need to be the kid -sister myself. But my concept of a 'complete family' somewhat changed. So now the family was complete if you had mummy, papa, an elder sister, elder brother, younger sister and a younger brother. This picture worked for a while till the little me realised that this concept too was flawed! You see amongst those 5 children, only the middle kid's family is complete! The other 4 children are bereft of this ideal scenario!

So then I tried expanding the brood and instantly realised that the number of children then stretches to infinite and the ones on the extreme would still be left without the completeness!! I discreetly remember feeling sad for a while and wondering why does this have to be so. Why can't we have a complete family wherein everyone has their full set of elder and younger brothers and sisters? As it happens in childhood, I got over my pondering and left it at that. A sense of incompleteness and emptiness where there should've been siblings of the right birth order and gender to fulfil it!

After 15 years, as a young postgraduate obstetrician working in a busy labour room, I was witness to all sorts of emotions to babies of both sexes born at all imaginable birth orders. Birth order one to my personal record of birth order 14, yes fourteen! A common thread that ran was the squeals of delight or relief at a baby boy and a silence or worse, disappointment at a baby girl. I took this quite personally, being a girl & a growing feminist! In my immaturity, I sometimes wished that the woman who so insisted or prayed for a boy, be only blessed with baby girls! I would get particular happiness in delivering baby girls!! Even if it started as an immature response to a misguided stereotype, my happiness passionately grew as I delivered the cutest loveliest baby girls! I prayed fervently for one of my own whenever I planned to become a parent.

Growing in maturity through my senior residency, I was filled with empathy for all my expecting parents and wished they get what they want. (I wrote about my experience in an earlier post 'Kudiyan di Lohri'.) I became happier delivering the baby safely and witnessing joy on their faces if it was the sex of their choice. As a consultant, I further gained insight when a young Anesthetist told my patient on whom I was performing a caesarean, "Jo aapke liye accha hai, wahi aayega ya aayegi!" (Whatever is good for you, only shall come to you!) I learnt so much in that one statement of hers and my attachment to the sex of the baby nearly disappeared.

I am a proud parent of a daughter now. I see how she fills up the home with her unending charm! Our house truly became a home, an almost blissful abode, since she arrived. It was like every knot in relationships just opened loose. The slightest of negativity got replaced with golden light. I'm sure little boys do the same for their families. It's a quality of the new beautiful soul entering the world. How many to have is as much determined by the couple's desire as by circumstances or destiny, if you may call it.

But I would like to stick my neck out and say this. Your family is complete the moment it welcomes a soul. The moment it gives forward the love and care and protection, and begins a new legacy. So, whether you are a parent to one or two or any number of children, whether they are of the same or different sexes, whether your child is your own biologically or adopted, whether this new life is a human or a pet or an organisation or an idea - if you feel like a parent and you have something to give forward to, you are complete and so is your family!

As I was in the middle of these thoughts, I happened to have delivered a beautiful baby girl to a lovely couple who have a 3 year old daughter. It was on the day of the Sun Goddess during the auspicious navratri, her dad told me. And I haven't seen a more joyful father and a more welcoming family as I came out with their bundle of joy! Thank you, Captain Saab, for making this "complete family" myth redundant at least in some families!

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