Dr. Nandini Nagar is a consultant neonatologist and paediatrician at Cloudnine Hospital, Jayanagar, and a mother to fraternal twin boys. She talks about being the first doctor in her family, juggling work and home, how her twins share a special bond, and how she wouldn’t have wanted her life to play out in any other way.
I’m the first doctor in my family. My parents were not in the medical profession but were keen on allowing me to pursue my dreams. My husband is a doctor but has been in the field of hospital administration for several years now.
I was doing my fellowship and working in Australia when I conceived. I remember the day I discovered that I was pregnant. We were on a temporary residence visa and it had to be renewed every year. That day, my husband and I had taken an appointment for the mandatory medical examination for the renewal of the visa. A chest X-ray is part of that, and I wanted to rule out pregnancy before getting the X-ray done, to avoid exposure of the foetus to any radiation. I didn’t really expect it, but there it was; a positive UPT! I cried my heart out that morning; out of joy, of course, as this was long-awaited.
When I was working one day in the NICU (Neonatal Care Unit), a friend and colleague of mine working in the foetal and perinatal medicine department, said she could do an informal ultrasound examination. And so, there we were, with me standing, and she using the ultrasound probe on my exposed abdomen! That was when, at around 6 weeks, that I discovered I had conceived twins. It was a bit of a surprise, as there is no history of twinning in the immediate family.
The initial days after I delivered my babies were all blurred into one long imperceptible stretch of time. All I used to do, was feed one, change his diaper, clean up if he threw up, and repeat the sequence with the other one. I am greatly indebted to my mother and husband. They were of immense help during the initial months. They say experience is the best teacher. I realised that it really was, as the boys were growing up.
When the boys were a couple of weeks old, I held one of them up and saw that he was crossing his legs. I had read that the crossing of legs could imply some neurological abnormality, but in my anxious state, I didn’t even allow myself to consider that it was too early for any neurological deficit to manifest in a child. So, I rushed him over to my mentor, who examined him and said that he was fine and that I must restrict myself to being a mother at home, and not a neonatologist. Although we study a lot in theory as doctors, I learned the sequence of developmental milestones from my children.
As Indians, we’re blessed to have a beautiful culture that supports joint families. It was with the help of my family that I could balance my personal and professional goals early on. My husband was very supportive. We moved to Australia for the second time when the boys were nearly a year old. My husband quit working for 6 months and looked after the boys while I was working. I remember all three of them coming to drop me off to work several times. The boys were so used to being with him, that when he started working, and I had a day off, I couldn’t manage the tantrums of one of them, who bawled his eyes out for his dad. I had to call my husband back home from work at 1 am, to get this boy to sleep!
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The boys were separated for the first time when they were admitted by their preschool into different sections. They missed each other so much that they would seek each other out during their breaks to share biscuits that they’d been given during class. One of my twins was more dependent on his brother. But gradually they both came into their own, and each made his own set of friends.
I remember the time when they had just learned to walk steadily. They used to wear small backpacks and dance to music in front of the TV. They used to chase each other all over the house. Once, one of them, being a little adventurous, crawled into the rear basket of his pram. He then folded himself up in a foetal position. Unable to get out of there, he started crying and his brother stood bewildered, wondering how to help him get out of there. We were amused, and for a little while, we stood watching and recording the episode.
From experience, I’ve noticed that twins bond better than other siblings. When my boys were little, whenever one was left alone for even 10 minutes, he would miss his brother and start looking for him. Whether they’d play or quarrel with each other, they’d mostly be together.
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My twin boys are 13 years old now, and they are the most diverse pair of twins I’ve come across. While one looks like me, the other looks like his dad. One has straight hair, the other has curly hair. One is calm and diplomatic while talking to people. The other one is temperamental and has a short fuse. One favours savoury food, the other has a sweet tooth. And the list of differences goes on.
There have been difficult times. I remember when they were about 9 months old, we had travelled to Tirupati. Soon after returning, both twins fell ill with diarrhoea, and the whole family stayed up for several nights worrying about when they would recover. I’ve never seen diaper rash any worse than the kind they had then; their bottoms appeared scalded with huge blisters. Fortunately, they recovered not long after.
I consider myself fortunate to be the mother of my twin boys. I only wish I were a bit younger. I would have been able to match their energy levels to some extent. It was a delight to watch their antics, their interaction amongst themselves and with others, as they grew up. Now they’ve entered their teens, and one’s voice has cracked. I miss the fun and frolic of the early years, but every passing year brings with it something new, something to look forward to.
If I could go back in time, I would spend some more time with my boys. I would relive their childhoods, playing more with them, cooking and baking whatever they asked for. But the future is always exciting, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for them in the years to come.
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