a rose by any other name…

All the talk in the doctors’ room this morning was about the abandoned baby. She was disowned by the mother, an eighteen year-old unmarried secretary, who also refused to name the father. The baby had an open spina bifida and was gravely ill-looking and cyanosed. She would probably not be fit for surgery. A cardiology consult was awaited to confirm congenital heart problems. She also had an HIV infection, a legacy from her mother. She would probably not make it till general rounds on Monday.

Now, it’s been more than ten years since I graduated from medical school in Russia and went forth to save lives in other parts of the world. And ten years since I have spoken the language to anyone other than my wife, usually when we need to keep something from our daughter. As in, “No ice cream, please; the kid’s got a cold.” ‘The Kid’, by the way, has learnt to say ice cream in seven different languages, so that doesn’t work anymore.

Talking about the abandoned neonate on the ward today, I inadvertently used the word for ‘aborted baby’. It was a genuine mistake; the Russian words for both are similar and it’s not often you use either in general conversation. It drew a hearty laugh out of my colleagues, though, and helped cheer us all up. The poor baby was on everyone’s minds. Abandoned after birth or aborted before you are born. By a mother that doesn’t want you.

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
(William Shakespeare — Romeo and Juliet II, ii, 1-2)

Make no mistake, I am no “pro-lifer”, I am not against abortions. They will save lives and marriages. There will always be people who either forget contraception or are let down by it. There will always be those blinded by lust or by plain stupidity. There will always be women raped and women abandoned, facing the terrifying prospect of coping with life ‘after’. There are numerous reasons why abortions have to be carried out, both medical and social.

I have a problem with people who think they can get away with murder, literally in this case. Back in my ED in India, I got to see quite a few teenagers complaining of an acute lower abdomen pain whose urine pregnancy tests came back positive. They had never done anything ‘wrong’. They hadn’t known what they did could make them pregnant. And they didn’t want their parents to know, please. So what did she want me to do? To please give her some of those tablets they show on TV. Well, young lady, they are now sold over the counter, at a drugstore near you. You should have got some as soon as you realized that the boyfriend had not used a condom.

Maybe I’m being a little harsh on these young people. The basics of safe sex and contraception, I think, should be part of every school’s curriculum. I was taught some sex ed in school, but I remember it as being very vague and did not tell me much that I didn’t already know. And nobody took it very seriously. Indian parents still like to believe that teen pregnancies are extremely rare. They would be surprised if they spoke to a gynaecologist at a busy city medical centre.

Whether by genuine ignorance or crass carelessness, more and more school kids are getting pregnant in Indian cities. What these young people need to be taught is that an abortion has an immense impact on a young girl’s psyche, not to speak of her body. You’re never the same afterwards. I will speak to my daughter about all this in a few years now and hope that she understands. Anyone can make a mistake, especially if she is constantly not reminded of the consequences.

‘Abandoned’ or ‘aborted’? I wouldn’t have made that mistake either, if I had stayed in touch with the language.


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February 2010
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