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A Memoir: Will You Love Me?

The lady next to me asked me -- what would you want most for your baby? before I could say "happiness," your grandmother (seated beside me) prompted, "Health." At the time, I did not think of it as a big deal -- I took your good health for granted.
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I still remember the day when you were still inside me, restless and kicking, unable to wait to bring yourself into this beautiful world. I was in the hospital's waiting room -- a bundle of anxiety, fear, happiness and most of all uncertainty. How would you look? How tiny would you be? Will you recognize me? Will you be a boy or a girl? How will you tell me you know me already? How can I ever tell you how much I will love you? That you are my world?

The lady in the next room was trying to make conversation and I welcomed it- anything to beat the anxiety. She asked me -- what would you want most for your baby?

A word popped into my head: Happiness. But before I could say it, your grandmother (seated beside me) prompted, "Health." At the time, I did not think of it as a big deal -- I took your good health for granted. And then you arrived the same evening -- sooner than we expected. And in one instant, I knew that I was a changed person. You were born -- I was reborn -- in the avatar of a mother. Your tiny eyes, hands, those little fingers, your pink cheeks, I couldn't get enough of you. All of us -- Appa, your grandpas, grandmas and I were now consumed with one common obsession -- you!

You were a beautiful baby -- a halo of unruly curly soft hair framing your face masking the innate calmness and serenity that you held in your large jet-black eyes.

And then we spotted it at two weeks; first on your tender cheeks, then behind the ears. You were born in the coldest month of the year and we mistook the first rashes to be the work of the chill winds. We kept you warm and well-oiled, but the rashes persisted. This time, we suspected the fleece blanket and surrounded you with soft cotton. And finally, after a week of the stubborn red patches, we saw a doctor. He did not find anything alarming, so we were relieved.

You were 3 months old when your redness started worrying us. At that time, I was hardly aware that your uncoordinated movements to reach for the corner of your face were actually efforts to relieve yourself of itchiness behind your ears. Of course, you couldn't tell us. Nor could you scratch. I will never know what you really felt. The doctor gave us "Elocon" -- your first corticosteroid. Of course, we all freaked out when we discovered it has corticosteroids and tried to find you alternative treatments.

At 9 months, your rashes started spreading fast. We tried the famed Ayurvedic treatment -- which only worsened your condition. The thought that you suffered that and couldn't even express it stabs my heart even today. And worse, all of us were just helpless. Our days were filled with one oil massage after another, one cream after another, one emollient after another, one medicine after another. Our nights were filled with your waking up crying and scratching followed my mornings of dull annoyance.

Your baby sister arrived. Your first broken words arrived. While I reveled in your laughter like any mom would, I was physically flooded with relief during all those times you laughed your hearty laugh. To me, your moments of happiness were that much more precious; because they were moments away from your pain and distress. Your kindness shone through in all those moments when you perked up to alert me whenever you heard your baby sister cry. Or get off my lap to make way for your baby sister. You were such a generous little soul.

You grew up. Our efforts to rid you of your eczema continued. The doctors gave us hope that you will be fine after you cross the age of 5. We continued to use medication to keep the rashes under control. We read up everything we could on eczema control and gave you immunity boosters. Your itching didn't let up so easily. Your nights were nightmarish. I still feel sick about the night when I had to threaten to send you out of the room if you didn't stop scratching. I was desperate to stop you short of bleeding in your wounds. You stopped scratching and fell asleep, tired, on my lap. I cried myself to sleep that night.

And then, you started improving, very slowly. You actually shaped up pretty well. Grandma's special pampering and fondness helped in your transformation from a not-so-healthy 2-year-old to be a chubby and cheerful 3-year old. Your skin improved, but it was never eczema-free. We were never able to completely stop the steroids but it definitely did not seem like the unconquerable monster anymore. You were, for the most part, happy, cheerful, annoying, mischievous, inquisitive, self-willed (sometimes, too self-willed, to our liking) - in short, you were everything a 5-year old would be- with an enormous dose of forbearance blended into your being.


And then, last year, just when we were beginning to think that the worst was behind us, the monster returned. He seems to gone into remission and come back with a vengeance. The steroids seemed weak, even ineffective against him. We rushed back to the doctors, desperate to seek help and came back with stronger steroids. Only, they still turned out to be weak against your eczema. Your skin worsened everywhere- your cheeks, your hands and your neck. We tried alternative therapy- Homoeopathy, since the steroids were clearly not working. It did not help either. Your sores increased, oozing and bleeding now. Your sleep cycles were seriously disrupted. Your medicines have increased, as much as you hate them. Our prayers have increased ten-fold.

Only, this time, we had overlooked another challenge. We had forgotten that you were growing up now and had begun to view the world with your own eyes. We had forgotten that every time we took you to see a doctor to examine you, you stored a little bit of the despair in you. Every time a stranger stared at you with concern, contempt or even kindness- you felt deficient. Every time somebody walked up to us and offered us solutions to your 'problem', you struggled to feel normal. I began to notice that you hid your hands instinctively when we were out at the mall. You began to cover up more to avoid being seen. You began spending more time in front of the mirror examining yourself. Your questions of "Amma, am I beautiful?" increased in frequency. Some seemingly innocuous moments remind me of the pain you keep to yourself -- like, the one evening we were at the park and you were on the tunnel slide. You burst forth from inside the tunnel and said, "Amma, wouldn't it be nice if I can go in from this end with my skin and come out of the other end with smooth shiny skin? Like they show in the factories?" Or that afternoon when you said, "When will I have skin like yours?". You remind me of your immense sensitivity when you came up to me that morning and said, "I know you and Appa didn't sleep because of me." Or, that evening, when you heard Appa talking to a doctor over the phone and you said, "Amma, do I have a serious disease?" And the one unanswerable question you asked when I was drying you after a bath, "Amma, why me?"

But yesterday, you broke my heart when you asked, "Amma, will you love me even if I grow up with skin like this?"

I struggled to hold those tears back and hugged you.

Don't they say -- Love has the highest power to heal?

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