A House for Happy Mothers - Amulya Malladi


Rock-a-bye baby in the tree top, when the wind blows, the cradle will rock . . .

The nursery rhyme played itself in her head over and over again as she tried to fall asleep.

When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall.

And down will come baby, cradle and all.

This one chance, she thought desperately. God, give me this one last chance.

“Please, please, please,” she whispered under her breath.

And even though she was lying down in bed, she knew she was really on her knees.

By two in the morning, Priya finally gave up trying to sleep. She looked in disbelief at her husband, who was lying next to her. How could he sleep? Why wasn’t he worried like she was? Why wasn’t his head throbbing like hers, his mind tired of running through each and every dreadful possibility?

She nudged him.

“What?” Madhu mumbled, his eyes still closed.

“I can’t sleep,” Priya said.

“Just count them sheep,” he mumbled again, then turned his back to her.

Even half-asleep, he had to crack a joke.

“Madhu, damn it, I’m freaking out here,” she said in frustration.

“I’ll give you a hundred dollars to go to sleep and five hundred to just be quiet,” he said. He made some kissing sounds before continuing to snore.

Priya sighed.

He had a right to sleep. Hell, she should be sleeping.

But she hadn’t in a week, not since they had flown to Hyderabad from California. It had been a stressful seven days. They had chosen a surrogate to carry their baby. Priya had had her eggs extracted. Dreadful process. And then Madhu had ejaculated into a cup. Their baby was made in a test tube and inserted into the surrogate. And now, in just a few hours, they would know if their surrogate was pregnant. They didn’t always get pregnant. There were times when they didn’t.

Oh God, please, please, Priya chanted silently, please let her be pregnant.

“You know what, you’re insensitive for sleeping while I’m stewing over here,” she said to Madhu’s sleeping form. She doubted he heard her. “It’s not like this is the neighbor’s baby, you know.”

Madhu didn’t make a sound.

Obviously this was not the ideal way to have a baby. The easiest way would be to get knocked up—but that hadn’t quite worked out for them. And now after three miscarriages and three failed IVF treatments, each costing about $10,000, surrogacy had become the only way out. The only way to have a child, a family.

“Priyasha, don’t be stupid; if you can’t have a baby, maybe you’re not meant to have a baby,” her mother had said. “Have you thought about that instead of running around impregnating some strange woman with your child?”

Her mother, who went by Sush, short for Sushila, never shortened Priya’s name as everyone else did.

“Your name means ‘a dear wish,’ and you are a dear wish, and that’s what you’ll always be,” Sush liked to say. But what Sush said was in sharp contrast to what Sush did, which was consistently make Priya feel like a massive failure in every aspect of her life. Far from a dear wish. Far from the daughter Sush had wanted.

“My own child is exploiting my people,” Sush said when Priya announced her decision over the phone. “I can’t support this, Priyasha. I will never support this. It’s an exploitation of the poor, and you should be ashamed of yourself.”

When she first introduced the idea to Madhu, his eyes had all but bugged out.

“Are you fucking nuts?”

“Hear me out, Madhu,” Priya had said.

“Are you fucking nuts?” he repeated.

Priya had sighed. “Yes,” she said, giving in. “I’m nuts. I want a baby and goddamn it . . . come on, Madhu, this is our last chance. Hell, this is our only chance. Our only, only, last chance. I want this.”

“No,” Madhu had said. “Priya, this isn’t some handcrafted Indian sari you buy at the fair-trade store. This is a baby. You can’t just rent a body.”

But Priya had sent him e-mail after e-mail with information about how safe it was, how effective it had been for others like them, and most important, how the money they would give the surrogate would help her family and improve the quality of her life.

“No,” Madhu had said. “You want to help the poor, donate money.”

“We already donate money,” Priya said. “But now I want the donation to work for me.”

“By definition, a charitable donation is selfless,” Madhu said.

They went back and forth and back and forth until he finally caved. And though Madhu had agreed, he still stood