‘Being a mum my priority’
Two-and-a-half-year-old Naveen is Jasmine Gopwani-Gibbs’ “pride and joy . . . the light of my life”. In her scheme of things the neuro-ophthalmologist’s son ranks alongside her profession.
At age 35, career-driven Jasmine has determined that motherhood right now must be her most important job, especially as she says, “You realise how complete you are after having a child”.
The work/life balance has been a challenge she surmounts, allowing head to prevail over heart. Last year she went off to Toronto to do her ophthalmology fellowship leaving Naveen, just one year old, behind, and she confessed, “as a mother it was extremely difficult to be away from him for those six months but I always had to look at the bigger picture”.
Naveen spent six months with her in Toronto, along with her mother, who came along with Naveen to help. The other six months, Jasmine’s husband Christopher cared for their son here.
It was difficult “dealing with a winter in Toronto . . . dealing with being apart from my family”. And for that kind of support she said, “I am eternally grateful, because I could not be where I am today without the family support I have had . . . . I am very lucky and blessed to have that support because no matter what you are capable of, if you don’t have that, it is very hard to get where you want to be without that.”
Practising as Dr Jasmine Gopwani with her professional speciality under her belt, she has been very busy in her consultancy clinic at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and in her private practice.
But between work stints, she is also making up for the separation from Naveen “every way I can”. Spending weekends at the beach or engaged in some activity “that is out of the box” to entertain him.
“I probably carry around more guilt for that year than he remembers or feels.”
That guilt may stem from her own memories of a happy experience growing up in an Indian household with a father, an ear, nose and throat surgeon, and an artist mother who together gave priority to family life.
“My parents were always very open-minded individuals. They were very special and a lot of what I am today has basically been a product of them,” Jasmine said of her own upbringing.
“My father treated me like a son as well and he has always pushed me academically.” Her mother also encouraged her ambitions because Jasmine believes there were “wishes for herself since she was not able to do the same”.
Above all, “I was never ever made to feel that I was inferior because of my gender and I have my parents to thank for that”. She continues to hold fast to the values that, as Hindus, the Gopwanis passed on to their children.
Jasmine was asked about likely conflict between a Hindu upbringing, association with non-Hindu friends and especially the relationship that led to marriage. Turning to her mother sitting beside her at this point, she waved a polite “Bye, mum” and Mrs Gopwani obliged, making her exit in fits of laughter. Jasmine then proceeded to give some insight into this area of her life.
“There were obvious differences to the way we were brought up compared to our peers,” she said. “Casual dating was not encouraged. My parents have always believed that if you are dating someone it should be something that is going somewhere. So during the early teenaged years it was something that was not encouraged.”
Therefore, when she met the handsome young black businessman Christopher Gibbs at Grand Kadooment, she made it her business to find out all she could about him and his background before she would even consider dating him. She also informed her parents about the meeting, sensing it could go somewhere. But she had questioned her mother’s position on choosing a partner before this.
“I had to ask her one day, ‘Is it because that person is of a different colour?’ and she always made it very clear that was never the issue, that it had a lot more to do with the background and upbringing of the person than what colour their skin was and I took that forward with me and that moulded the kind of person that I was interested in and ended up with.”
Chris and Jasmine started dating “for a couple months” and it was only when Jasmine realised she was serious about this young man that she took Christopher home to her parents and “he had to undergo a little bit of grilling”.
The couple had a Christian wedding ceremony one day and a Hindu ceremony the next.
“It was a wonderful experience because I got to embrace my culture as well. I have always wanted to wear a white dress and I got to do that, but I have always wanted my hands painted with henna as well, so I had the best of both worlds.”
How did her community respond to the fact that she was marrying out of the community?
All it took for her extended family was to get to know the person “and once they are able to do that their arms have been wide open”. Her parents have embraced their son-in-law “as a son”.
Not being naïve, however, the independent-minded Jasmine added: “There are people who strongly believe that you should stick to your culture and I understand that. Our community is very small and I totally understand wanting to preserve that culture. But I do think there is a bigger picture involved. I respect their beliefs and I would hope that they respect my positions as well and I think they do.”
She continued: “I think when you are choosing a partner you need to look for someone who has the same goals as you do; someone that is as ambitious as you are because you can find the most physically attractive person in the world and if they are not on the same path as you, it will last a few months and fizzle out. I think it is very important to choose someone who has your interest at heart, and who you can support as well.”
Jasmine chose to specialise in neuro-ophthalmology, a special area of ophthalmology that deals with the eye-brain connection, “anything that affects the visual pathway in the brain all the way from the optic nerve all back to the back of the brain where the optical cortex is” and she is the only one in the English-speaking Caribbean qualified in this speciality.
Hers is a completely different field of endeavour from her husband’s – which is “good . . . . We come home and share stories. That way we are not overloading each other with too much medicine and too much business. Because he thinks like a businessman, he helps me a lot because I am all academic with zero business sense – two different worlds but we support each other through it all”.
With her husband’s Christian background and her own Hindu upbringing, one might think there could be some religious conflict in raising their son. But Jasmine pointed out “I have no problem at all in exposing my son to different religions or sending him to Sunday School . . . or exposing him to my culture and my background. I think at the end of it, if you are a good person with values and morals, that whatever way you go, whether it is religion or otherwise, that’s what’s important.”