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How I Brought Up My Son on the Construction Sites I Designed

I would come down once every one or two hours to breastfeed the baby and would then leave for work again.

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Women
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I’m an interior design consultant and my partner is an exceptionally talented fine arts professional. After marriage, I planned a short break from professional practice to set up our art studio.

But as it happened, the hubby turned out to be a typical artist who could never treat his work as business. After four years of marriage, with all my savings exhausted and he still to come into his own, I wasn’t sure I would be able to conceive.

After a well-planned effort, I conceived Agasthya at the age of 33 – only to realise that his father’s promises of becoming serious about money weren’t genuine after all. Abortion was not an option for me; I couldn’t take a life. My tragic saga began right there.
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A Stressful Pregnancy

During pregnancy, a careless gynaecologist confused me with another patient and administered high dosage hormones that led to ketosis, a bed-ridden two months and the loss of 11 kgs when I was supposed to gain weight instead.

It was at this point that I re-entered the world of interior design – usually when other pregnant women apply for their maternity leaves. I did not want to tell my child later, that things weren’t right for him because one of his parents had been injudicious. Rather, I wanted him to have a good life because at least one of his parents had been responsible.
I would come down once every one or two hours to breastfeed the baby and would then leave for work again.
The author with her son.
(Photo Courtesy: Aamrapali Bhogle)

The spa design I executed during my pregnancy turned out to be a very successful project. I worked until the second-last day of a full-term pregnancy, standing, and occasionally fainting, at the construction site until midnight and thereafter. I ensured that the inauguration went smoothly, and the spa was well-appreciated from all quarters.

However, I wasn’t able to submit the contractors’ and my own service bills on time due to this highly stressful schedule and the exhaustion that I was feeling during the ninth month of pregnancy. Besides, within the first four days of his birth, Agasthya had to be re-admitted to hospital for jaundice.

The client, however, was vile – and taking advantage of my situation, and the fact that no legal contract had been signed because of years of mutual familiarity, they duped us of lakhs’ worth of payment. I was now in an even deeper financial mess than before and had to begin at the beginning.

Hence, I returned to work with a new project only 13 days after undergoing a normal delivery – with my body still swollen, and with a new-born baby still recovering from the aftermath of hospitalisation.

Those days, I would travel in auto-rickshaws. Soon, it was monsoon and I remember how my husband would wait outside in a rickshaw, holding our one-month-old infant – even as I went on site visits and walked into under-construction buildings to attend meetings.

I would come down once every one or two hours to breastfeed the baby and would then leave for work again. It was an acutely challenging situation. I had to let go of my inhibitions and feed the child openly. For me, it wasn’t an option to have my baby compromise on such a basic right – nor did I have the luxury to always find a mall nearby whenever the child was hungry in transit. Like many mothers, manual breast-pumps didn’t work on me, and I couldn’t afford the electrical ones.
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How Agasthya Helped Me Keep My Chin Up

Eventually, I decided to avail a loan in the midst of an already severe financial crisis; I purchased a car. Feeding the child became less stressful thereon.

Yet there were bigger struggles that loomed. It seemed like an endless cycle of putting significant earnings from a current project into repaying the debt of an earlier one. The large deficit I had sunk into, purely on account of one disgraceful client, didn’t seem to get bridged at all. The situation felt like a bottomless pit; it had drowned all my hopes of physical and financial recovery amidst growing expenses due to the car, the home loan and the baby.
I would come down once every one or two hours to breastfeed the baby and would then leave for work again.
Agasthya’s play ground.
(Photo Courtesy: Aamrapali Bhogle)

I used to wake up each day deciding not to let the situation affect my behaviour with anyone around – be it family, clients, vendors or especially, the husband. To a large extent, I was able to sail through only because of Agasthya in my life, for whom I wanted to keep my chin up.

I felt like I was living on an emotional roller-coaster, between maintaining extremely high levels of optimism, and facing extremely low blows on a daily basis, for almost three and a half years.

On the other hand, I was also struggling to recover my money from the spa client through talks and negotiation – but they weren’t relenting. I had nobody to stand with me and fight for me. My family had inadvertently given the sadists an excuse to evade payment – from lecturing to the client on morality and trying to instil the fear of God in them, to exposing them socially in front of their own clients.

Whatever little compensation I had arrived at, after hours of negotiation with the cheats, was undone every time some secretly-wannabe-actor from the family tried to replicate some Bollywood melodrama.

I had reached an extreme low point where I had seriously started to entertain thoughts of suicide. I fought them only because I couldn’t leave my child behind, and I knew that no one else would be able to give him a dignified upbringing.

Agasthya learned to crawl and walk much later than the average kid. His limbs were weak during infancy since I couldn’t afford massages for him; he also didn’t have smooth ground to crawl upon since he was constantly either travelling with me in the car, or spending time at construction sites. Massages and protection from wind are very important rituals not only for an infant, but also for new mothers like me who undergo normal deliveries.

As a result of the ordeals of that time, I still face body stiffness whenever I am exposed to wind, air-conditioning or soured foods.

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I would come down once every one or two hours to breastfeed the baby and would then leave for work again.
Agasthya, at 10 months old, playing with the civil contractor on site.
(Photo Courtesy: Aamrapali Bhogle)

How Construction Sites Helped My Son

But there was a silver lining to my cloud.

Even in his infancy, Agasthya developed a keen sense for things that hurt or help. He never put an inedible object in his mouth like average toddlers do. Through observation, he developed a superior ability to dodge physical obstacles, as there are umpteen objects slipping or falling at construction sites all the time.

He also has supreme mechanical skills, as his only playthings during the early months were tools and machines used by technicians on site. Also, he has exceptional immunity to infections – I ensured his vaccinations weren’t compromised upon. Early exposure to varied weather, work and eating conditions made his body stronger too. Most importantly, I breastfed until he organically gave up on it himself, at a largely ripe age of four years.

In the tug of war between projects and Agasthya on one end and me on the other, I gave my best to the former, and ended up compromising on my own fitness and health!

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(Aamrapali Bhogle is an award-winning Interior Design Consultant based in Mumbai, practising since the year 2002. Her work has been globally recognised. She is a published author, portrait photographer, a full-time professional and a full-time mother to Agasthya.)

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(Aamrapali Bhogle has sent her blog to The Quint as part of our series of stories about India’s working women.)

(The Quint is trying to investigate what makes it easier or harder for women to be at the workplace. Can she return to work after a maternity leave with equal support from workplace and home? Does she carry the guilt of being away from her children while at work, and vice-versa? Even with or without baby, does the family share household responsibilities with her? Share your story, if you have one to tell, and we’ll publish it.)

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I would come down once every one or two hours to breastfeed the baby and would then leave for work again.

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Topics:  Pregnancy   Motherhood   Patriarchy 

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