December 20, 2005

Surgery rekindles hope for Indian tsunami mothers

By Y.P. Rajesh

NAGAPATTINAM, India (Reuters) - It's the most unlikely
setting for hope -- a dingy shack filled haphazardly with pots
and pans, surrounded by puddles of filthy water, overflowing
drains and rain-soaked furniture.

Its resident, Geetha, a fisherwoman living in a camp for
tsunami survivors in southern India, is five months pregnant.

She is the first survivor to conceive after undergoing
surgery to reverse her sterilization in the hope of having
children, after daughters Jotika, 5, and Sosika, 3, were swept
away by the sea last year.

Her success story has rekindled the faith of other couples
desperate to become parents again and fill a void created by a
catastrophe that killed more than 231,000 people in a dozen
Indian Ocean nations, most of them women and children.

So far, more than 50 women have undergone the surgery --
called recanalisation -- to reconnect their fallopian tubes and
reverse sterilisations carried out under a state-sponsored
family planning program aimed at controlling India's runaway
population growth.

Although only four of them have conceived, the possibility
of giving birth again to overcome the loss of their boys and
girls, has seen dozens more registering for the surgery.

"I am overjoyed, but I will feel happier only after I have
a safe delivery," said Geetha, 29, holding her stomach as she
spoke outside her shack in Nagapattinam, the main town on
India's worst affected southeastern coast.

"We can never forget the two girls we lost but the newborn
will help reduce our sorrow," she said. "If this turns out to
be a girl, we will name her after one of the girls we lost."

Bhaskaran, her husband, is equally nervous.

"We raised our girls with so much love and affection and
then lost them. So we don't want to celebrate until the child
is born," he said.


The December 26 tsunami killed at least 6,065 people in
Nagapattinam district in Tamil Nadu state, more than a third of
them children.

For families which lost all their offspring, the need to
have children again is a major part of rebuilding their lives,
voluntary groups and mental health experts said.

A fairly complicated surgical procedure, recanalisation has
a success rate of less than 50 percent in women in their active
reproductive years. Much also depends on the health and size of
the fallopian tubes, gynecologists say.

Nevertheless, women like Anandi, Geetha's neighbor who lost
all her three boys, are confident their prayers will be

"It's been seven months since I was operated on but we
haven't had any luck. But looking at Geetha, I am still very
hopeful," Anandi, 26, said.

Besides causing sterilized couples to consider
recanalisation, the tsunami has given a general boost to
pregnancies among survivors in India and Indonesia, doctors

In Indonesia's worst-hit Aceh region, many survivors were
eager to have babies but faced hurdles like trauma and poor
living conditions, said Dr. Brian Sripahastuti, UNICEF's
reproductive specialist in Aceh.

"I predict that 3-6 months from now, there will be a lot of
babies born in barracks, though not generally in Aceh,"
Sripahastuti said, referring to the temporary wooden structures
sheltering the homeless.


In India's Nagapattinam too, doctors said they witnessed a
slight increase in the number of pregnancies between February
and June when many young survivors got married.

"Sterilisations are rare now. Survivors say they will
consider it only after they have three or four children," said
Dr. P. Seethala, a leading Nagapattinam gynecologist.

With at least half of the recanalised women unlikely to
conceive, families will eventually have to consider adopting
orphans and the surgery may end up as temporary consolation,
authorities and aid workers said.

But many recanalised fisherwomen were desperate to conceive
again as they feared that their husbands might leave them and
marry younger women to produce offspring, Dr. Seethala said.

"Some fishermen want to use this as an opportunity to dump
their sterilized wives and marry again," she said. "This is
proving to be traumatic for their wives and they want to
conceive as soon as they are recanalised."

(Additional reporting by Ade Rina in JAKARTA)