Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Birth and its Battle Hymn

'Baby N...16 days old and just back from the of his rare naps :-)' / photo credit - sandeep banerjee

Today, someone I know is right in the midst of labor. That phase in a woman’s life…yes, ‘phase’ because it feels like a lifetime when you’re in the throes of it, when your insides twist and turn, push and pull, open and bloom to let your baby pass into the world, and then into your arms. Labor is a bouquet of emotions, a tsunami of physical reactions, all at once. Pain and anticipation, excitement and agony, a sense of power and helplessness, all of these tango together, making each moment memorable yet unbearable.

As I pray for this woman, who is about to deliver her first baby, I can’t help but think back on the fifteen hours of labor I went through to bring Baby N into the world. It was all of the above, and more. It was a march of time as I let each contraction bring me a moment closer to meeting my child. It was like a snail, slow and ponderous, as I sat up on my bed at home, waiting for dawn, waiting to transition to Active Labor, waiting to drive to the Healthy Mother Sanctum, a Natural Birth Center in Hyderabad, where I would give birth with my birthing partners, Dr. Vijaya Krishnan, who runs the centre and my husband at my side.

The first contraction was like a gong, like a prayer bell sounded right after dinner at eight o’clock. The sharp pull, the shooting pain, the excitement that rode up intuitively made me sit up and take notice. “I’m in labor,” I declared to my husband, my face painted with happiness and pain. While he rushed to switch on the contraction timer on his tab, I prepared myself, mentally and physically to stand guard all night. 

I waited, I breathed – deep, nourishing breaths to ride through each contraction, just like Dr. Vijaya had shown me during our Lamaze classes, I walked and drank lots of water. I tried to snooze, resting my head on my husband’s shoulder, but sleep was elusive. Like a soldier stepping onto the battleground, like a student on the eve of her exams, I stood vigil, prepared to take on the challenge of labor, prepared to surrender to the experience.

The night stretched on like a rubber band. While everyone in the house slept, we worked the contraction timer, looked at the clock, called Dr. Vijaya, who was attending to another birth, and breathed those deep breaths that actually helped me crawl through each contraction. As the first slant of blue morning light slid through the window, I knew that the time had come to head to the birthing center. The baby had moved down, the contractions were more frequent and powerful. So, I called Dr. Vijaya and then tried to waddle out, stopping at every step as one contraction after another shot through my body. Just as I reached the threshold of the door, my water bag broke, leaving me in a pool of amniotic fluid. 

I managed to plop myself into the car, a hot water bottle pressed against my tummy. My husband drove like a person possessed, maneuvering through the cantonment roads and the road blocks that had been set up just that morning because of a parade that was about take place. We made it to the birthing center in record time, which was about 35 kilometers from my in-laws’ house, where we were staying.

As I walked through the doors of the birthing center, aptly named the Healthy Mother Sanctum, I felt a blanket of peace swathe me in its calm. Surrounded by the people I wished to have at the birth – Dr. Vijaya, confident and reassuring, and my husband, I got down to the brass-tacks of giving birth. I walked around the sunshine-filled room, sat on an exercise ball, used birthing positions that came instinctively to me, shared a mug of steaming coffee with Dr. Vijaya, and managed to eat a few spoonfuls of vegetable biryani that she fed me to give me a shot of energy.

The last stage of labor, where every contraction merges into another, where a handful of seconds is all you have to come up for air, where your strength comes from the very core was a totally physically and primal experience. It was probably the first time I had completely surrendered to the now. When I let the inner wisdom of my body take over, when I didn’t have the time, scope or energy to think or ponder. When I understood what real trust is like – trusting my own body, trusting my health practitioner to help me through this experience, trusting the amazing team of nurses and caregivers with my body, trusting the Universe.

I felt like I was trying to push out a truck out of my body. I felt stretched. I felt like time had stopped and I was in a trance. I felt that the time had come to summon Goddess Durga – the Warrior Goddess, because a mother birthing a child is really that…a mother, a goddess and a warrior. 

After three hours of active labor – three hours of the most intense work, a total of fifteen hours of riding the waves of contractions, and nine months of waiting and nurturing a tiny being in my tummy, I gave birth to a chocolaty baby to the rhythms of the flute. Bawling and wet, brown and beautiful, a spunky little boy with fire in his belly and Reiki prayers (from his father) on his shoulder.

P.S. :

You already know what happened a few minutes after this beautiful birth.
Like black and white, sunshine and storm, the beauty of this empowering birth and the shock and sadness at what happened to Baby N are entwined. They are like the two faces of the same coin. I can’t remember one without glancing at the other.

But this post is about the good part of my birth story and the kindness that I encountered. A phase, a rite of passage, where I was supported (by Dr. Vijaya and her team, and my dear husband) and cared for (thank you Dr. V and Team & thank you my mother). I was held together and looked after, when I needed it most, when the nights were dark and long, when my body felt wounded and my soul broken. I was treated like a Warrior Queen.

Yes, birth is all that they say it is. Messy, painful, scary, bloody. But what they don’t tell you, and what I learnt through my experience and from what Dr. Vijaya showed us, is that birth can be empowering and uplifting. It can be sacred and auspicious. It can be a celebration…of womanhood, of a new life, of human relations.

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