With an unexpected pregnancy and the subsequent birth of her baby girl Savannah, production designer Steffina Cherian, sbelieves now, more than ever, in keeping it real
BY CHARLENE FLANAGAN
SHOOT CO-ORDINATION BY SANIA DHIRWANI
PHOTOGRAPHS BY AKSHAY KULKARNI
HAIR & MAKEUP BY SACHIN GATHE
NOT A GIRL, NOT YET A WOMAN
For a young college girl, conforming to the plans her conservative catholic parents had for her, was something Steffina couldn’t stomach. She was her own person and wanted to live life the way she deemed fit, something her parents could not understand. Living away from home in a boarding school is perhaps what moulded her into the self-made and independent woman she is today. “Come to think of it, the distance between me and my family, the disapproval and disconnect is what changed me as a person. I became more outgoing and lively, a quality I didn’t share with my family,” says the 24-year-old.
Steffina was more affiliated to the arts and ended up scraping through her science degree, eventually taking up a course in something she thought would serve her career goals better— Mass Media. That’s where she met her partner, Aditya, an independent filmmaker and cinematographer. Their’s was a friendship turned romance. While her parents didn’t approve of her lifestyle, they did leave her to her ways. But trouble began to surface when it came to the hours she kept, and unpleasantness started to creep in. “Midway through my final year of college, my lifestyle began upsetting everyone at home. This made me stubborn and I decided to leave. I moved in with Adi for a few days before his parents helped me find suitable accommodation,” she says.
Living on her own obviously meant having to support herself, too, and she took up a job at a call centre. This meant late nights, early mornings and sleeping in between lectures and calls. Her only solace was the incredible love and support she got, emotionally and financially, from Aditya and his parents.
WINDS OF CHANGE
Eventually, she moved back in with them. However, with graduation and the job hunt, her comfortable little world would soon be altered. “Adi went to the Philippines to study filmmaking and I moved back home after my parents asked me to, and started looking for jobs in the film industry.” However, the tension at home continued to grow because of her lifestyle choices and she was forced to leave, yet again. “I lived in a friend’s house for a few months, and assisted a few designers. I explored art direction further, which eventually lead me to production design. Before I knew it, one year had passed and Adi had finished his course and was coming back home,” Steffi narecalls. “Of course, when Adi went away, our relationship fizzled out, but we wanted to see if there was still something between us. That’s when we made a trip to Bali to make our reunion special. We weren’t surprised when sparks flew as soon as we met,” she admits.
Before they knew it, everything was back to the way things were. Steffina was home with Adi and his family, and they picked up right where they left off. Nothing had changed except for one thing—they didn’t believe in the institution of marriage, but they knew they wanted to have a baby together. Aditya was looking for work then, but despite not finding anything suitable, he was certain he wanted a child. Eventually, work found him, which took him back to the Philippines and the pair decided to part ways.
Despite the breakup they were still friends, and when Aditya decided to move back to Mumbai, they decided to get reacquainted yet again. “Things had definitely changed, but it still felt like us. We began spending a lot of time with each other out of habit. Despite not being in a relationship, we both still wanted to have a baby. Adi, more than me,” she says. “I still needed time; I wasn’t concerned about our baby being a love child, born out of the wedlock, I just thought I wasn’t ready yet,” she says. “But as fate would have it, I soon found out I was pregnant.”
“We didn’t get the results from the doctor till I was two weeks into my pregnancy. But I already knew that I was going to keep the baby. We tried a couple of home pregnancy tests as well. Adi and I were both nervous and excited. While I was certain I wanted to keep it, Adi began to hesitate mostly because we were not together, but eventually he made his peace with my choice. While he did have apprehensions, we were both excited about the baby. Adi couldn’t bring himself to tell his parents, so I did. Naturally, they were concerned about the baby. They knew we were unsure about our relationship, but they respected our decision and supported us
throughout,” she says.
Aditya and Steffi na began going for regular checkups together and began preparing for the baby. But as the days passed by, pregnancy hormones began flowing in, morning sickness and mood swings followed, and they would end up fighting. Eventually, they decided to call it quits. “I decided to move out of the city and live in a peaceful environment. I knew a place up North where people would not judge me and I could live a simple, inexpensive life. Adi was confused and wanted to get out of Mumbai for sometime. He found work in Bengaluru and left. A few weeks after he moved away, I began packing for the North. That’s when his mother called me and insisted on taking care of me and the baby. I was uncertain because of the constant bickering with Adi, but I figured since he wasn’t around, it wouldn’t matter,” she says.
While he was away, Aditya and Steffina stayed in constant touch over Skype. But it was his mother who was her constant source of support and comfort. “Adi’s mother took care of my meals at home. She made sure I ate a healthy, balanced diet of ragi, rice with starch water and ghee, tomato juice, etc. Fish and meat was also included in my diet. At the start of my pregnancy, I would take calcium and iron tablets, but Adi’s mum gave me replacements for them as well. Milk, and fish, for calcium, and green veggies for iron,” she elaborates. Of course, a healthy diet and an active lifestyle kept her strong throughout her pregnancy. “I practiced yoga and meditation for all nine months and strictly avoided outside food, alcohol, tea and coffee,” she says. Her healthy lifestyle was probably what made it easier for her to take a trip up north in her third trimester. Since Aditya was visiting Mumbai for a few days, the pair made a trip, and even ended up going on a seven hour-long trek in the mountains.