Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Face-off with Death

photo credit: sandeep banerjee aka smokey bandit / Baby N at 6-months

I won’t forget that night. Maybe, time will take the edge off the shock and pain…maybe, just maybe. But I’m not sure. When you see death in its wolverine cape, lurking around in the inky night, looking for a baby to prey on, you have a hard time banishing it from your memory.  That memory has a pulse of its own. It reminds you of what loss feels like, of how it feels to stand on the fine line between birth and death. Of the two faces of the same coin – life and loss, happiness and grief.

That night, as my baby rasped through his first few hours on Earth, my world fell apart. It shattered around me in a million little pieces. I felt broken, my body raw and bloody from the birth and my soul, stripped, bare and burnt. I lay there on the bed in the birthing centre, where just a few hours ago, I had brought a chubby, chocolaty baby into the world. Where the air still smelled of afterbirth… where every corner held a memory of those hours as I labored through my contractions, each contraction bringing me closer to meeting my baby.

Fifteen hours of strong labor felt like a strip of satin, each contraction riding on the excitement of meeting this little being, who’d grown in my belly. This tiny baby with almond eyes like his father’s and round pink toes like mine, who’d bawled and cried and mewed at the indignity of being pushed out wet and naked into the world. Purple and brown and pink, this little baby of ours, who’d morphed us from a couple into a tiny pod of a family. I reveled in those minutes, marveling at the life we’d created, at the rebellious little being I’d nurtured and nourished in my belly.

But at the tenth minute, our bundle of chocolate stopped writhing and complaining. Had he gone to sleep or had the fight gone out of him, I wondered out aloud? Little did I know that his lungs had given up on him and in that long minute he stood in the tunnel with the light at the end.  That very passage that the living take to crossover  into the world of after-life.

Like an out-of-body experience, I watched the expressions of those around me change from happiness to horror as they suctioned and pumped, begging and cajoling the limp little baby lying on my stomach to wake up and bawl again. The in-house child specialist rushed Baby N to the Neo-natal ICU to give him oxygen. And all this while I floated on the hope that my baby would be back in a few hours, back in this room where we could resume being a family.

Just as the final stitch was made in my perineum tissues, just as I decided to go down and visit my baby in the ICU, we were asked to make the decision to rush him to a more specialized neo-natal ICU in another part of the city. Baby N needed more oxygen, much more than the present hospital could provide. He needed specialized care. He needed the expertise of the team of doctors, who would try to make him live.

The next few hours passed in a strange kind of lucidity. My soul seemed to be hovering in the hospital where my baby lay on a tray, hooked on to a ventilator, oscillating in that in-between place, that tunnel with a light at the end. And all the while, the shell of my body stayed in the birthing room, broken and bloody like a wounded soldier.

But as velvet of the dark wrapped me in its shroud, as I placed my hand on my belly – an empty sack without its precious inhabitant, I felt my life seep out of me. Drop by drop, breath by breath. Every minute was agonizingly long. I feared the morning, the news it would bring. I found the edge that the night carried, sharp as a knife’s, unbearable. I found my life to be a heavy burden. And life wouldn’t be LIFE in all its vibrant glory, if my baby did not make it to the next day.

I lay there on my bed, the same bed where my baby was born, clutching on to the first few moments – those minutes when my baby had popped out into the world, all red and angry. Those few minutes when my baby lay writhing on my belly. Those moments when I waited for him to wriggle up to my breast. I placed my hand on the space besides me, the place where my baby would have been lying in with me. I wondered about the texture of joy I would have felt if we had spent our first night as a family.

My feelings were ripe and raw, like a wound split open again and again. I couldn’t steady myself enough to pray. All I could do as fear and grief clawed at me was to strike one bargain after another with God – “Give my life to my baby. Take my soul if you take my baby’s. Take me away.”

I gave birth that day. But that night I died a thousand deaths.

Note: These essays that I'm writing and posting here on my personal blog are part of my motherhood memoirs...writing that's essential and cathartic. Thoughts, hopes and prayers that I hope to capture and share on paper, before they get buried under the debris of the mundane.


  1. This gave me goosebumps.You are a fantastic writer and I am so glad that everything worked out.'Texture of joy'... fantastic.:-)

  2. Beautifully expressed. Brought on tears. You ARE very talented.


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