While Kaushiki sat quietly beside him holding on to their sleeping baby, Deb was in charge of driving. The silence wasn’t heavy, as much as it was tired. Tired from the mounting stress, tired from trying to put a three-year-old to sleep, tired from not having had a bite of food in the past day. Kaushiki had refused to eat, Deb couldn’t stomach his dinner either.
They’d been preparing for a long time.
Nine months to be precise.
When Deb and Kaushiki found out a child was on its way, the obvious tempo of their life shifted. Nine happy but strenuous months had led up to the unforgettable night three years ago when Kaushiki simply could not sleep. Their beautiful daughter was born that night. Deb remembered how Kaushiki sat panting, leaning back into the cab backseat while Deb rambled on about their favourite tv show to distract her from her discomfort. His mother had called in to bless them.
“Regardless of whether it’s a girl or a boy, we will love our grandchild with everything we have.”
He had wept on the cab ride that day.
“Everything’s going to be fine, Kosh”, Deb had reminded her between hand squeezes.
He wished he could do the same today, but this time, he wasn’t so sure of the words himself.
When their child was all of six months old, she became very sick. As she ran fever night after night and seemed to grow paler by the minute, Deb and Kaushiki’s days had become a daze of shuttling between the hospital and home. Before they could even fathom their child’s pain from a possible mosquito bite, they were faced with other baffling demons once her bloodwork had come in.
Their infant daughter, the doctor had said, had XY chromosomes. Male chromosomes.
Kaushiki had been a lot stronger than I ever had been these past three years, Deb thought. She was the one who had made the constant visits to the paediatrician to understand what having a daughter in a seemingly ‘incongruent’ body even meant.
After her first birthday, and between regular check-ups, the doctors had cornered him a second time, eerily like the time before. Whispering even when they sat comfortably in his office cabin with the door shut. As if to say something so bizarre and painful that even the walls could not bear to hear. Deb had hated when the doctor did that. As if his daughter was an ongoing science experiment, he had thought.
“We just want to protect your daughter”.
The doctor seemed emphatic. He knows best obviously, Deb remembered thinking. The harder part though had been having to explain to his wife that their daughter, as the doctor had said, had undeveloped gonads inside her body which could possibly become cancerous when she hit puberty. Even the mere memory of the whole ordeal was putting Deb on edge.
The car slowed down near a red-light intersection. He looked towards Kaushiki who had not moved since the painfully long ride had begun. She was looking out the window, her mouth relaxed but her brow furrowed.
She’d looked the same when Deb had told her what the doctor had informed him. The panic the doctors had gift wrapped for Deb was also hers now. It seemed like they had had no choice.
Two years ago, their one year old had had to go through surgery.
Now he was driving her for another one.
“Stop the car!” Kaushiki said suddenly, bringing Deb jerkily out of his stupor.
She didn’t move so her child wouldn’t wake, but her voice was firm and loud enough to startle Deb.
“What?” Deb shook his head confused. “What’s wrong, we need to go to the hospital.”
“We have to go home. I want to go home. Take us home Deb, we have to turn back.”
Deb’s fingers gripped the steering wheel tightly, “What are you talking about, is everything ok? We can’t go home now, you made a decision.”
“Exactly!” Kaushiki voice grew louder now, “We made this decision for our child, not her! Do you understand how wrong that is? Did we even realise what we were doing?”
Deb’s eyes remained fixed on the road.
Deb and Kaushiki had put their daughter to sleep, packed an overnight bag and headed to the hospital for the operation. Their daughter was not sick, as the doctor had described. There was nothing wrong with their seemingly healthy baby except that she really ‘needed’ this clitorectomy.
“If a child’s genetalia is between 3 cm to 1.5 cm when stretched, it is advised we perform a, you know, small incision, just to sort of even things out. It’s better for the child too because they are young. It’s better for the future.”
The explanations were endless. Deb couldn’t quiet recall when, but they had agreed to it. Till this moment though, it didn’t seem like they had fully even grasped the reality.
When he didn’t say anything for a whole minute, Kaushiki bellowed again.
“We can’t do this to our baby Deb what were we thinking!” She went on, “This is our baby! And we promised to take care of her and protect her and love her no matter what and now we are agreeing to put her through so much pain just because the doctor is convinced she doesn’t ‘fit’ in the binary? Who are we to decide on behalf of our daughter what’s best for her anatomy, who do we think we are!”
Kaushiki had tears running down her cheek yet her voice remained firm. Deb chocked back his own. The car slowed down.
“I have never told you this before, and I wonder why, but the paediatrician had explained to me years ago, that our child was possibly born intersex. Maybe I didn’t bring it up because I didn’t know myself what it meant for us, or our daughter. I’d thought, I know she’s our daughter, you know she’s our daughter, so it didn’t matter what any of the rest of the jargon meant. But, she’d warned me. She’s warned me of this surgery and the countless others we might need get our child after it.”
Deb felt the wind knocked out from his lungs. The wheels were still rolling.
“But we can’t do this to our baby Deb,” She was facing him now, weeping and holding on to her child tightly. Changing her mind.
“We can’t put our baby through this pain that she does not deserve, or even asked for. This is wrong in every way” she explained, “We must go home. I need a second opinion. We need to do better for her sake, we need to learn and understand her, for her sake.”
Kaushiki paused and looked ahead at the road and took a deep breath.
“Remember what your mother had said the day she was born? No matter what, we’ll love our child with everything we’ve got. And that means protecting her right to make her own choice about her body when she deems fit. Take us home Deb”, she said, her voice still shaking.
Deb wiped his tears and began to slow the car almost to a halt by the side of the road.
The car was silent again.
The young parents turned toward her, startled hearing their sleepy daughter, “Mumma I’m hungry.”
Before his wife could respond, Deb held his child’s hand and turned the car.
“Good, because we were going to go get ice cream anyway.” He smiled.