How wonderful! You are going to have a Christmas baby!” was the singular refrain I heard when we announced to family and friends that we were expecting our firstborn in the last weeks of December 2006. I kept emphasising that my doctor had given me 29 December as the due date but that was rubbished by all as cute mommy-speak by a first-timer. After all, how many babies do we know of who have stuck to the due date they were given? “It’s all indicative, you see…” I was assured.
The thing is, I did not want a Christmas baby (with no offence to all the Christmas babies out there). Sure, the advantage is that no one can say they forgot your birthday. That’s a huge plus point. But then birthdays would be a shared celebration of sorts. The default décor would be Christmassy and gifts for the festival and the birthday would be combined. There would be no school celebrations as Christmas is invariably a public holiday. And, good heavens, the nicknames that would come—Santa/Santini (depending on the gender), Santa baby, or, as one very imaginative uncle said—Christos. Not really what I had in mind for my December baby.
I was the first in the family, from my generation of cousins, to have left home for studies, started what was considered an offbeat career back then in journalism, moved to a different city, married for love, and was now bringing the first grandchild of the family into the world. All focus lights were on me.
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Did I enjoy the limelight? Of course I did. After the first trimester of being on bed rest for some complications, I was back in the office. Younger colleagues would have their mothers pack an extra dabba of lunch for me, horrified that I was considering eating out. All through my pregnancy, I harboured an insatiable desire for Mysore pak and someone or the other from office would head out at lunchtime, get one and leave it quietly at my workstation. I never knew which generous colleague this was.
My mother would come to Bengaluru once a month for a few days to cook, feed and generally pamper me after I got home from work. And when the baby reached the “let’s test out these limbs” stage, 3am each day became the time when the most activity happened. That was also the time my husband would be pushed out of bed to make a round of toast, slathered with butter and strawberry jam, while I caught up on some reading till the baby tired out.
Through the second trimester, once the baby bump was clear for all to see, the prediction of a Christmas baby seemed to be on everyone’s lips. I kept hoping it wouldn’t reach the Universe’s ears.
I went back home to Mangaluru at the beginning of my eighth month, starting my maternity leave early. For one, I could no longer fit into my work cubicle (no flexible spaces back then). And being pampered at home was my idea of a babymoon. I had mom waiting on me hand and foot and all my aunts wanting to make all my favourite food. For entertainment, I had ample opportunity to tell several busybodies the many things they could do with their unsolicited advice.
But now that I was back home, the chatter of a Christmas baby got louder. Bets were being placed and the odds were not in favour of what I hoped for.
On 23 December, I attended a school friend’s wedding reception. It was a lovely outdoor event but towards dinnertime I began to feel uneasy. The baby seemed to be on a long drawn-out stretch, rolling from side to side. Once home, the uneasiness did not abate and my husband quietly brought out the hospital bag we had ready and kept it by the door. But something told me it was not yet time—in a few hours, it turned out that it wasn’t. I think I just overate at the wedding. What a sigh of disappointment could be heard from the phones that were being worked tirelessly with updates on my condition.
The next evening, Christmas Eve, we attended an outdoor mass. Suddenly, from the wedding hall across the road came a burst of fireworks. The baby seemed to be celebrating with them because the force of the jumps in my belly made me stand up and pace around till the crackers abated. When we got home, once again, I began to feel strange, sweaty, uneasy and unable to sit or stand. I was in enough discomfort for my husband and mother to march me off to our neighbour doctor’s home at around 11pm. She said I seemed to be in labour. The phone lines were on fire once again—Christmas baby it was going to be!
No, I thought for a split second, not wanting to lose the bet. Yes! was the immediate next thought—I couldn’t wait to have the baby—nobody warns you about being nine months pregnant and feeling like a walrus trying to trudge through sand. But a quick drop-in at the nearby emergency room and once again I disappointed everyone (much to my happiness). Turns out I had Braxton-Hicks contractions.
Christmas came. My belly made for the perfect tray for my plate of Christmas goodies that could never be replenished fast enough. Whispered calls and messages were making the rounds: Is there any sign? How does she look? Any chance of her making our Christmas?
It did not happen. Not on Christmas Day, nor on the 26th or the 27th. On the 28th, I was feeling wonderful, though quite slow and heavy. That evening, I had an appointment with my doctor for a final check-up and when I went in at 6pm, she examined me and said, “Congratulations, you are now in labour!” It was finally happening. I was told to have dinner and get to the hospital at around 10pm. I did. And 17.5 hours after I was told I was in labour, I gave birth to the sweetest 2.5kg tiny bundle of joy on 29 December 2006—exactly on the date she was supposed to arrive.
She turns 16 this year but when she was born, current statistics suggest, our daughter was one of just 5% of babies worldwide born on the date they are given. As for me, I did not have a Christmas baby, won myself a sizable bet, and our daughter’s birth was the best Christmas present ever.
Ruth Dsouza Prabhu is a features journalist based in Bengaluru.