Read A House for Happy Mothers: A Novel Online

Authors: Amulya Malladi

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Family Life, #Literary, #Women's Fiction, #Contemporary Women, #Domestic Life, #Contemporary Fiction

A House for Happy Mothers: A Novel


“A wonderful novel that takes you through the journey of surrogacy and the heart-wrenching emotions of those involved.”

—Sejal Badani, author of
Trail of Broken Wings


“How far would you go to have a family, and how far would you go to save the family you already have? In
A House for Happy Mothers
, Amulya Malladi skillfully and compassionately raises these questions in a story of two women yearning to protect their families. This is a thought-provoking, modern-day family saga set against the backdrop of traditional Indian and American maternal expectations.”

—Amy Sue Nathan, author of
The Good Neighbor
The Glass Wives


“Compelling and filled with insight. [Amulya] Malladi’s voice is layered, and her empathetic powers highly developed. Indian surrogacy is a crucially important and little-considered subject, and Malladi’s novel is thoughtful, enlightening, and moving.”

—Leslee Udwin, BAFTA award-winning filmmaker of
East Is East
India’s Daughter


“A subtly nuanced and compassionate look at the controversial ‘rent a womb’ industry, Amulya Malladi’s book is timely and illuminating.”

—Nayana Currimbhoy, author of
Miss Timmins’ School for Girls


A House for Happy Mothers
shines an unblinking light on the business of surrogacy in India, and the emotional fallout. Can anything balance the inequality of power between a poor surrogate and a biological mother? A husband and wife in an arranged marriage? A mother and daughter struggling with years of perceived disappointment? Compelling and realistic, Amulya Malladi’s latest release is the perfect choice for book clubs, and any reader with a questioning mind and an open heart.”

—Lorrie Thomson, author of
A Measure of Happiness
What’s Left Behind


“A sensitive exploration of the emotional terrain of motherhood and the socioeconomic complexities of our global world. Amulya Malladi’s novel contains no villains or heroes, just breathing, living characters who will draw you into their heartbreak.”

—Shilpi Somaya Gowda,
New York Times
bestselling author of
Secret Daughter
The Golden Son


The Sound of Language

Song of the Cuckoo Bird

Serving Crazy with Curry

The Mango Season

A Breath of Fresh Air

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

Text copyright © 2016 Amulya Malladi

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.

Published by Lake Union Publishing, Seattle

Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Lake Union Publishing are trademarks of
, Inc., or its affiliates.

ISBN-13: 9781503933316

ISBN-10: 1503933318

Cover design by Kimberly Glyder

First edition

For Søren, in good times and in bad.




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

“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 on the sidelines. Once she had a child, it wouldn’t matter how the baby got here, Priya thought, and until then she’d manage Madhu, she’d manage her guilt, their guilt . . . and then the baby would be here and it would be all right. Because once Priya had thought of them being a family—once that thought had ensconced itself inside her psyche—she couldn’t devolve and just accept their being a couple. It was not enough.

Madhu rolled over now, deep in sleep, and faced Priya. She smiled at him. He would make a great dad, she thought, and gently touched his face. Would they have a daughter or a son? A daughter would get spoiled. If she wanted a pony, Madhu would get her the prettiest one. She would wrap him around her little finger. And if they had a boy? Oh, Madhu would run out and buy a cricket uniform and teach his son how to bowl and bat. He would adore his son. They would have one of those great relationships that went from being father and son to being friends as they grew older.

Yes, she could see Madhu would be a fabulous parent. But Priya wasn’t so sure about herself. What kind of mother would she be? Her own had not been a stellar example of motherhood.

“Graphic designer? Why? You got a master’s in urban development; why on earth would you not do something to help the weak in our world?” Sush had demanded when Priya changed career paths.

Priya’s intentions had been noble. She had gotten her bachelor’s degree in political science from Berkeley and went on to complete her master’s at Ohio State University. She had planned on finding a job at an NGO and living her life fulfilling her mother’s expectations of her, she really had, but she had always had a creative streak.

Sush never appreciated her daughter’s painting skills (“Painters make no money and help no one”), but her father, Andrew, had supported his daughter’s “hobby.”

Priya, however, was proud to have put her artistic skills to good use, the best use she could while earning a living. She ran a studio for an advertising agency. She managed the creatives, the writers and graphic designers—people more creative than she was—in a corporate setting, and she did her job well. The brainstorming, the creative part, was fantastic, but the administrative nonsense was just that. The endless staff meetings, the cover-your-ass e-mails, the hand-holding of unhappy clients, the divas and their egos that needed to be soothed time and again. But no job was perfect, and Priya was content with her professional career. She didn’t want more. This was good.

Born and bred in the corporate world and a sales executive himself, Madhu didn’t understand her lack of ambition, and when she complained about the politics and the corporate backstabbing, he would say, “You sound just like Sush.”

Before the first miscarriage, she had painted regularly; some small pieces had ended up in galleries, and a few of those had actually sold. But even with those small successes, painting had always been a private meditation, a one-on-one communion with her deeper self, a visceral need to express. Once she started to lose the babies, something inside her shriveled. She couldn’t paint like she used to.

“If our daughter wants to become a musician, we’ll let her,” she whispered now to Madhu’s sleeping form. “We won’t push her to be this or that, just herself.”

He didn’t stir, and Priya curbed the urge to wake him again so he could sit vigil with her as they waited for news that their child had been conceived.

Priya got exactly two hours of sleep before Madhu gently rocked her awake.

He was ready. She could smell the Dove soap on him, and his hair was still wet. She could hear the clashing of utensils downstairs. The maid washing dishes, getting ready to wash clothes. She could smell the filtered coffee that Sairam, her father-in-law, drank every morning, the same coffee that Madhu drank every morning back home in the Bay Area, rain or shine, whether he had time for it or not.

“Is it late?” Priya asked groggily.

“Not really,” he said a little hesitantly, and Priya sat up.

“How late?” she demanded, her heart rate accelerating. If they couldn’t even make it on time for this, how on earth would they get anything done once they had the baby?

“Relax, we still have an hour to get ready,” he said.

Srirampuram was a two-hour drive from Hyderabad, but considering the traffic, they allotted three hours to get there on time.

Since she’d taken a bath before going to bed, Priya decided to forgo a shower and get ready as quickly as possible, as she knew they were going to lose time downstairs trying to avoid her mother-in-law’s enormous South Indian–style breakfast.

, eat,” Prasanna said. “Eat an
. Or just a bowl of
. You’re too thin, Priya, I can see your collarbones.”

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