Brought up in a small town in Murshidabad, Kalidasi Halder breached the conventional social norm by becoming a single mother at 53.
Being in a position where it was imperative for her to support her family, Kalidasi did not have the time to spare a thought about her own personal life. She needed to be career-driven because of her circumstances. Hence, marriage at an age when women usually do took a backseat.
Eventually her family members became busy with their own lives and Kalidasi was left alone. This loneliness intensified after she shifted to her Dum Dum apartment. She was a government employee who used to go to office and return to an empty home day after day.
According to her, like most, she wanted to marry and have a child. But it was too late; in our society rarely do people marry or settle down with a partner at the age of 53. She felt like there was an empty space in her life which she needed to fill.
While flipping through a newspaper, an advertisement on in-vitro fertilization caught her eye. Unsure about the finer details of the procedure, she decided to cultivate her curiosity. At that year's book fair, she picked up a book on the process. In vitro fertilization
In vitro fertilization is a process through which a woman is stimulated to produce an egg which is then fertilized outside her body using laboratory techniques. After this, the fertilized egg is cultured for a few days in a growth medium to ensure that it is healthy. The healthy egg is introduced back into the uterus of the mother or into the uterus of another woman who is compatible and healthy enough to carry the child till birth (surrogate mother).
In-vitro fertilization has proven to have higher success rates for younger women. However, due to advances in reproductive technology, success rates are substantially higher today than they were just a few years ago. Kalidasi came to realise that she had a fighting chance of experiencing the pleasure of motherhood on her own.
Hurdles galore, but hurdles crossed
However, it was easier decided than done. The gynaecologist she first met shot down the idea because he considered it “medically immoral”. Some believe this because, technically, multiple eggs are fertilized but usually only one survives. Hence, the paradox lies in whether or not it is justified to fertilize multiple eggs knowing that all of them won’t survive in order to satisfy the need for parenthood.
In November 2013, she was flatly refused by a renowned south Kolkata gynaecologist, but she did not give up. A determined Kalidasi finally got what she wanted. She got in touch with gynaecologist Gautam Khastagir. The doctor ran some tests to make sure that she was fit for the process. Dr Khastagir says that he also gave her hormone tablets to increase the health of her eggs for three months prior to the implantation.
Finally a beautiful baby was born in December 2014. None of her family members even bothered to come to see her on the day of her delivery, which took place at CMRI hospital in Alipore. In fact, she had to and is still fighting an uphill battle with her family.
Kalidasi’s mother believed that her daughter had become pregnant out of an affair. She had to face abuse and shame for merely wanting to be a mother. Since she did not have the opportunity to do it in the conventional way she chose an alternative one. Was this wrong simply because it was not conventional?
She took a stand for herself against society and its conventions.
The proud mother said that after Kathakali (as she named her daughter) was born in December 2014, she was kept in the ICU for a couple of weeks. During this period, she used to travel every day from Dum Dum to CMRI, which is quite a distance, despite the stitches being still fresh, just to catch a glimpse of her daughter. But it was more than worth the effort, though, as the proud mother says.
Another challenge awaited her, though – that of getting a birth certificate. The reason was that the municipal officers were not willing to give the certificate unless she provided the details of the father. After moving from pillar to post, the head officer of the department was finally persuaded to mark ‘single mother’ in the space for parents’ names.
Acceptance by society
Though none from her family were ready to accept her position as a single mother, Kalidasi’s neighbours have gradually become wholehearted supporters of her single parenthood. In fact, when she was admitted to the ICU, she was unconscious, and it was only her niece who was there by her side. The niece did not have enough cash to pay the bill, though, which was paid by a kind neighbour.
The neighbours, although hesitant at first, have now quite opened up to the idea of her being a capable and respectable single mother. They have accepted the idea and have expressed happiness for her.
As one neighbour, Jayanta Chakraborty, said, they felt a little weird at first because Kalidasi is an unmarried, middle-aged woman; but the courage she showed deserved a salute, and convinced them to accept her. According to Kalidasi, her seven-month-old child has now found a companion too.
Attitudes need to change
We are sometimes reluctant to embrace change for fear of losing our traditional values which we hold dear. However, if we can identify and embrace positive change in tandem with the values that trickle down from our rich culture we will go far as a society.
Kalidasi’s story is a shining example of this. She had her priorities and values in the right place and she held on to them with conviction. She is inspirational to multiple groups including independent women, single parents and the scientific community. Her story is testimony to the fact that we can achieve our dreams despite social and economic odds if we can persevere hard and long enough.
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