A Manxperience of childbirth
Childbirth is terrifying. A few cells sticking to the wall of an organ transform into a fully functional being over a period of time, and at some point need to leave the body of the host. Here’s where things get hairy (no pun intended).
The mechanism that creates the conditions for the child to leave the Mother’s body, and the actual natural process of ejecting the child, is a complicated one with more variables than a Manjeet Singh Kunji. There is the genetic birth history of the mother, her physical condition with another long sub-list of variables like blood sugar and pressure, the environment that she lives in, the care provider chosen and many, many more.
Nothing matters more, however, than the mental make-up of the mother-to-be. This is the defining variable that can influence and sometimes override the others.
I will modestly admit to knowing more than most men on this topic because my wife is a practicing Doula and Yoga instructor focused towards mothers. A significant percentage of what we talk about is, ‘how the birth went’. She is Brazilian; a fiery mix of African, Portuguese and Native American, and “Being There For Mothers” is what truly makes her feel alive. An ardent supporter of natural childbirth, much of her work involves supporting women in every which way to give birth naturally.
The birth of our first child, Sitara, by intrapartum C-section, was a bittersweet experience that she never quite got over. For such a strong advocate of natural childbirth to herself give birth via C-section was deflating, to say the least; for years, it remained a difficult topic for her to discuss. So when we noticed that our four-year-old female Labrador, Flor De Lis, was suddenly getting very protective of my wife and not leaving her side, we remembered that it had been similar when she had just conceived Sitara almost three years ago; turns out that our dog’s nose was a pretty reliable pregnancy test.
Fun fact: I was a gigantic baby by any standards. Ten pounds, or 4.5 kg, is 33% over the global average and nothing to sneeze at; my kids were always going to be big. Sitara was 4 kg at birth, and my wife prepared for pushing 10-odd pounds of human through where the sun don’t shine.
Her determination and organisational skill being the stuff of legend, we watched dozens of childbirth videos every week while talking and researching a lot. This time round, we made a conscious decision to obey our own instincts as far as possible. What she really wanted to do was give birth at home, or at least labor at home. It was where she would be the most comfortable, but this was absolutely unheard of in a city like Hyderabad. OB/GYNs tended to fall over in shock at the mention of home birth, so we had to keep it something of a secret while we met care providers. There were very few scans this time round and a lot of walking, yoga and meditation. She continued taking yoga classes and attending births until just four weeks before delivery; this helped keep her active and it was a healthy pregnancy on all parameters.
Here’s where a fine big slice of luck was served up; she happened to be the personal yoga instructor of one of the very few OB/GYNs in the city who was down with, and vastly experienced in, natural childbirth. They also worked together frequently as a doc-doula team. It allowed a relationship to develop between them and the doc (albeit with reservations) agreed to back us up for a home birth. This was huge.
And so preparations began in a manner and on a scale usually reserved for conquests of rival civilizations; an inflatable pool was ordered, along with an exhaustive list of supplies like an underwater torch, saline drips and medical supplies. A dozen phone numbers of doctors, hospitals and ambulances were fed into and marked as favorite in phones. Dry runs were made to hospitals and many teeth gnashed into near-smoothness.
Another huge achievement: a Doula was found for the Doula; a friend whom she had helped through her own delivery quite recently.
And then we got a bit of a jolt.
The 27-week scan showed a breech-positioned baby.
This was what had happened with our first, Sitara. However, it was still early days and babies have been known to flip around multiple times at that stage. She turned to Acupuncture and Yoga and that seemed to help; at 28 weeks, the baby was head-down.
At this point, we sat down and asked ourselves: are we sure of what we wanted? A VBAC (Vaginal Birth after C-section) at home? Our instincts told us that it would be all right.
At around 36 weeks, the Braxton Hicks contractions began; we were now in the twilight zone-the baby could come at any time, and it was a waiting game. Her nights were long and uncomfortable, with random contractions and endless trips to the loo. Getting up early in the morning and meditating helped her plenty, though.
A possible complication could have been that the official due date was the 11th of November, which also happened to be Diwali that year. I’m pretty sure that if one did some research, one would find the number of C-sections spiking a few days before major holidays, as care providers want to free up the one day they get with their families. Here’s where the personal equations with our Doc and Doula made a difference; there was no pressure to ‘get it over with’.
The siblings, too, braced for the imminent arrival; Sitara was thrilled, her imagination fired by the ‘Baby in Mama’s Tummy’ which was going to be a real-life doll to play with, and Flor De Lis wouldn’t leave her mum’s side.
Early morning of the 10th, she woke up with regular contractions and her water broke that afternoon. Wisdom gained from watching cinema would have us start screaming and running around in circles before speeding to the hospital; I was at work and headed home, we went to the doc’ clinic for a checkup, and made a trip to the supermarket to buy groceries. It was going to be long night. Her friend the Doula was on a quick trip to Delhi to spend Diwali with her family, and quite heroically dropped everything to make a beeline for the airport.
Like the gears of a Swiss watch, the plan whirred into motion. Sitara was picked up by a close friend, the birthing pool (previously inflated) was pulled out and cleaned. The birthing playlist was on the laptop, scented oils and soothing lighting made the mood for a gentle birth. Flor De Lis nuzzled my wife, deeply affected by her mama’s pain.
Fate, however, had other plans.
As soon as the sun set, the ‘real’ contractions of labor set in.
You know how in movies when a woman is labor, she’s always mad at the Husband? Turns out that’s remarkably accurate. As the gentle contractions gave way to painful spasms, she told me with clenched teeth that her back was “Really, really hurting”, and that it was “Not normal” and I, in my wisdom, concluded that it was actually normal and she just hadn’t realized how painful it would be.
Instructions such as ‘Get the blue towel’ and ‘Turn on the shower’ needed to be complied with at warp speed even before they were issued; I was hopping about like a cat on a hot tin roof and the pain was getting worse with each contraction.
By 10 pm, as her friend and Doula landed at the airport, our home looked like the apocalypse. We had been shuttling between the shower, pool and toilet seat where I poured warm water on her lower back while she sat (that was actually the most effective) and the back pain during contractions was close to unbearable.
Unknown to us at the time, the baby was in an ‘Occiput Posterior’ position; that is, facing forward with the back pressed into mom’s spine. She described the pain as ‘cutting her spine with a saw’, which does not sound nice at all.
Just before the Doula arrived around 11 pm, we had called the Doc, who lived a few blocks away in the same community; she told us that she would be there in a short while.
This was the point that she started using the ‘E-word”.
“It’s hurting too much, I need an Epidural. Make it stop, please!”
The fatigue was setting in. I, however, rubbished this demand as we had agreed before.
Another man in my place would perhaps have been offended by the look of relief on his wife’s face when she saw her Doula; I was just happy that I would now probably get yelled at a little less.
She knew exactly what to do and say; thankfully, I retreated to a secondary support role. Once the Doc arrived, she put her in the pool and examined her. She could feel the baby’s head (which was pretty damned amazing!) and told us that the position wasn’t too good as she was feeling the cheek and not the fontanelle, and that her Cervix was dilated by 9 cm.
This was 12.30, and she strongly recommended that we go to the hospital, where she would have better facilities deal with the situation. It was time for a decision, and it was pretty obvious that we had to get her into a well-equipped delivery room. She mentioned that if the baby had been in a better position, it would have been out already.
And so at 1 am, all four of us piled into our hatchback and made our way to the hospital. My wife was on the back seat on all fours, screaming every few minutes and groaning loudly in between; one could hear Portuguese swear words that would make a fisher-woman proud, as well as Mantras and invocations of Gods. The rest of us chatted and bantered cheerfully at times, as if she wasn’t really there; I guess it helped reassure me that the din she was making was to be expected.
At the hospital, it struck me why some women prefer to labor and deliver at home; a dozen people milled about the room, some rather aimlessly. Privacy in that vulnerable condition was non-existent; the lights were bright and the steel shiny. Things had become Medical.
A quick examination revealed that my wife was fully dilated and the baby’s head was in a better position.
So she pushed, heroically. It was the culmination of the physical, mental and emotional marathon that is Childbirth, and she was a few steps from the finish line. I held her hand, mopped her brow and muttered soothing nonsense, but her pain was hers alone to bear.
In a while, we moved to a warm water pool; I stripped to my shorts and got in with her. It was the point where the fatigue was getting very real; it was also the first introduction we had to our unborn child.
The hospital staff monitored our child’s heartbeat; it was slow and steady. Nary a dip or spike; it was as if baby was telling mum “It’s all right; take your time and don’t worry, I can handle this.”
Soon, I could see the baby’s head. As a contraction started, she would pull herself together and push with whatever will she could muster; however, the head would come down and go back as soon as the contraction finished. It was infuriating and agonizing. She had been pushing for five hours by that time, and was completely exhausted; that was when she decided she needed help to get baby out. Here’s where the doc shone: She was a wizard with the Forceps, and it was time to demonstrate her skill. Gripping the forceps, she told my wife to time her push with the peak of the contraction, and then turned to me:
“I think you should look away now.” I did.
There was one last scream, and that was it. In a moment, she had pulled out our 4.2 kg child. The cord was around his neck two times, which was why he kept pulling back.
Rudrah was our Diwali gift from the Universe; he is strong and fearless. He has my farmer/soldier frame, and her temper and laugh. My wife finally got the natural childbirth she was longing for; we were home by lunchtime that day, and our journey as parents continues.