‘He talked about how beautiful it was in Ireland. The rivers were full of water’

New to the Parish: Anupriyadarshini Iniyan arrived from India in 2019

New to the Parish: Anupriyadarshini Iniyan with her husband, Iniyan Balakrishnan, and son, Iyan Maran. Photograph: Patrick Browne

New to the Parish: Anupriyadarshini Iniyan with her husband, Iniyan Balakrishnan, and son, Iyan Maran. Photograph: Patrick Browne

 

Anupriyadarshini Iniyan was just eight or nine weeks pregnant when she bought flights for her parents to visit Ireland for the birth of her son. After only a few months in the country she wanted to make sure her family would be around them for the new arrival.

“We booked the tickets in January, to get them cheap, but then the pandemic came in March. We waited, hoping things would settle down, but they didn’t, so we had to cancel.”

When Iniyan first discovered she was pregnant, in November 2019, she attended hospital appointments with her husband by her side. But things changed when Covid-19 arrived. “The pandemic made things totally different. I was alone for all the check-ups, and then for the delivery I was totally alone.”

My partner talked about how beautiful it was in Ireland. Back in our home so many of the rivers have dried up, and there’s only water in the monsoon season. But here, he said, the rivers were full of water

Born in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, Iniyan grew up being told she would become either a doctor or an engineer. She chose medicine, completing her undergraduate medical studies in 2014. She then specialised in ophthalmology. In 2017, after completing her postgraduate diploma and master’s, she started working as a consultant in a small hospital in the city of Madurai. While at college she’d also met Iniyan Balakrishnan, the man she would later marry.

“As soon as I completed my undergraduate my parents started searching for a groom for me. But then I told them about him. Initially they were reluctant – my parents had had an arranged marriage and this was a love match. But finally they accepted him.”

In 2016 her future husband moved to Ireland to study for a master’s in mechanical engineering at NUI Galway; the couple continued their relationship at a distance. “He talked about how beautiful it was in Ireland. Back in our home so many of the rivers have dried up, and there’s only water in the monsoon season. But here, he said, the rivers were full of water.”

The couple married in India in 2018. Shortly afterwards, Iniyan’s husband found a job at a manufacturing company in Waterford. But she had to wait more than a year to secure a visa to join him. “I had to wait patiently. I knew he was working hard, but sometimes I felt bad. We didn’t even get a honeymoon and weren’t able to celebrate our first anniversary.”

While she waited for her visa to be processed Iniyan researched job opportunities for doctors in Ireland but discovered that continuing her career as a non-European doctor would be complicated. “My husband told me not to worry, we’ll figure everything out here with the Irish Medical Council. And so I arrived in July 2019.”

I was alone for five days in the hospital. Even though I’m a doctor I didn’t know what to do, how to feed my child. It was all new to me. But there were so many people who were helpful. They became family for me

After a month of settling into life in Waterford, Iniyan started investigating how she could work in Ireland. She learned she needed to sit the Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board exams that the Irish and British medical councils use to ensure doctors qualified abroad have the right skills to practise medicine here. However, she was advised to wait until the new year before taking further steps, as there was talk of changes in the qualification system for foreign doctors. And then she became pregnant.

Nine months later, Iniyan found herself lying in an operating theatre about to undergo an emergency Caesarian section without her husband by her side. “They wouldn’t allow him in for the procedure. They said, ‘If we wait any longer it’s a risk for your baby.’” Her husband was briefly allowed into the theatre when their son, Iyan Maran, was born but left soon after because of Covid restrictions.

“I was alone for five days in the hospital. Even though I’m a doctor I didn’t know what to do, how to feed my child. It was all new to me. But there were so many people who were helpful. The lactation consultant showed me how to latch my baby to my breast. It was so painful, but I got used to it. I don’t know how to thank them. It was the most difficult time being there without my mother and my family. They became family for me.”

When she returned home, Iniyan’s cousin, who lives in Dublin and happens to be a lactation consultant, moved in for three weeks. “She really took good care of me. She was like another mother. Without her it would have been really difficult.”

The couple finally made it back to India in early 2021 to introduce their son to his grandparents. They returned to Ireland before mandatory hotel quarantine was introduced. Then they had to watch from afar as hospitals across India became totally overwhelmed by a tidal wave of Covid during the spring.

“We were very concerned for my husband’s family – his brother is a doctor and was working on a Covid ward. Every day he was going into the lion’s den. I was also worried about my father, who had undergone a renal transplant so was more vulnerable. He was under house arrest; my mother didn’t allow him outside. My mother had to take care of everything, and then she got Covid. It was a nightmare.”

I read an article recently where there are over 700 posts vacant for consultants in Ireland. With so much shortage of doctors, I hope the Irish Government takes us Indian doctors into consideration

Fortunately, her mother pulled through. Back in Ireland, however, Iniyan felt increasingly frustrated by not being able to practise as a doctor during a health crisis. She heard that, in the Cork and Waterford area, people with glaucoma were waiting nearly two years for treatment.

“I felt really bad sitting there without doing anything for these people. I was a consultant for two years, and though I don’t have full-fledged knowledge [on glaucoma] I could have given them initial treatment.”

Iniyan tried applying for jobs in department stores and supermarkets but was told she was overqualified. Eventually, she decided to focus on getting back into medicine and discovered she could sit the fellowship exam of the Royal College of Opthalmologists in Britain without having to register with the Irish Medical Council. “This would get me registered with the Medical Council and would be like a degree, so it was two in one.”

Once she has passed all three parts of the exam, she hopes to practise in Ireland, but she is aware of many non-European doctors who continue to struggle to progress their careers in Irish hospitals. “If I can’t practise in Ireland we will have to move to the UK. I know the medical system is different here, but with training for a year or two we people from India can do a lot.

“I read an article recently where there are over 700 posts vacant for consultants in Ireland. With so much shortage of doctors, I hope the Irish Government takes us Indian doctors into consideration.”

We would like to hear from people who have moved to Ireland in the past 10 years. To get involved, email newtotheparish@irishtimes.com. @newtotheparish