Popular culture shows us a beaming mother gazing adoringly at a newborn; three women recall how different it is when it comes to childbirth.

Blood sweat and swearing Having children is beautiful but childbirth isnt for manyImage for representation
Voices Childbirth Sunday, May 14, 2017 - 11:29

Childbirth – for those who have not experienced it, the term may bring to mind images of a woman with a contorted face huffing and puffing for a few moments until the child comes out of her body. She holds the baby in her arms, maybe sheds a few tears of joy and then she’s back home, happily playing with the child in no time.

But for women who have experienced childbirth, this sequence of events is way too fictional and filmy. What we watch on reel is but a version which glosses over many excruciating, gruesome and sometimes hilarious details.

For instance, Mumbai-based Jaya was freaked out by the fact that her baby boy neither came out crying nor were his eyes closed. In fact, Aarav went on to make direct eye contact with his mother when the doctor placed him in her arms after a 36-hour long labour. That’s also when Jaya noticed that there was something different about his head.

“It was conical, like an egg! I was just freaking out about how he wasn’t crying, and how eerily calm he was. My gynaecologist had to tell me that my baby was healthy and I shouldn’t go by what I have seen in films,” the 35-year-old writer recounts.

Jaya had opted for a vaginal birth in 2011 after her water broke rather uneventfully. “I was expecting water to come gushing out of my vagina but all I felt was some wetness in my underwear,” an amused Jaya tells TNM. She and her husband lived in France at the time, and relocated to India just last year.

When she went to the hospital, the doctor advised her to get admitted as her contractions had begun. But it was only on their second evening at the hospital that Jaya had dilated 10 centimetres – enough to start pushing the baby out. Jaya, exhausted with the arduously long labour and desperate enough to have a C-section, said that her husband’s part-annoying, part-helpful motivation kept her going.

“He kept telling me things like ‘You can do it J! Just a little more. Push! Harder!’ At times I was like, dude, YOU TRY. But it did keep me going ultimately,” Jaya says. “I was also very afraid of pooping on the delivery table,” she adds as an afterthought. Then, they ran into another problem – Aarav had fallen asleep on her bladder.

“The baby helps you in getting itself out. But because the labour was so long, Aarav was tired. His head was also too big to come through,” Jaya recounts. That’s when the doctor decided to use forceps to help the baby come out.

“She (doctor) told me she’d hold the baby, and I had to push. Aarav had a gash on his temples for a few months because of the forceps. The doctor also explained that his head was conical because the birthing canal was too narrow, and there was nothing wrong with him,” Jaya says. Aarav’s head took on a normal shape after daily prescribed massages for a few months after his birth, she adds.

For Krupa, a Chennai-based speech therapist, it wasn’t the shock of having a less than dramatic water break, but none at all. The day she went into labour in 2013, the 31-year-old just had back pain and some spotting in the night. Worried, she and her husband went to the hospital to get it checked, only to find out that Krupa was in labour.

When she was wheeled into the delivery room, one thing that caused her blood pressure to shoot up was that the doctor they had been consulting with wasn’t there. She was attended to by a male attendant till the time her doctor of choice came. But there wasn’t too much time to dwell on it because of the pain.

Krupa says she was very keen on having a vaginal delivery but the pain became so intolerable during her 11.5 hour long labour that at one point, she wanted to have a cesarean just to have the baby out of her body. “There was even a moment when I screamed that I didn’t want the baby,” Krupa recalls.

Krupa’s husband and mother broke down seeing her in so much pain. “My husband’s arm was covered with my nail marks. But it was a friend of mine who kept me from losing it during the labour. She kept talking to me, distracting me and playing music,” Krupa says.

It was around 11.30 am that the baby started coming out. Krupa says that they had been expecting a baby girl. “But the first thing I saw about my child wasn’t his face. I realised it was a boy and for a tiny, fleeting moment, I felt a twinge of disappointment. But it didn’t last,” Krupa says.

In Krupa’s case, she felt too conscious about herself until her doctor came, but the opposite happened in Pune-based Sowmya’s case. Her doctor decided on an emergency C-section when her daughter showed no signs of coming out after a 26-hour-long labour, which the 31-year-old describes as “a bunch of woefully overweight elephants trampling on her spine with determination."

Once it was decided she was going to have a C-section, Sowmya was wheeled into an operation theatre full of masked doctors. “I was sitting near naked in a room full of strangers and I didn’t give a damn. I remember thinking I’ll never feel a pint of shame after this,” Sowmya says.

Before this happened, Sowmya had spent the first night and the following afternoon quite comfortably. “I had dilated 3.5 centimetres and I could feel the contractions. After getting shaved (not my head) and getting enema (it’s NOT fun), I took a hot shower and even wore kajal to look pretty for the baby. I thought it would be like childbirth in one of those films where mothers look good after delivery,” Sowmya narrates.

But by evening, her cervix remained stubbornly dilated at 3.5cm and the pain became worse. “After my doctor decided on the C-section, a few nurses came out of nowhere, ripped my clothes off me and put me in a hospital suits ten times my size. I was past caring what I looked like at this point. I just wanted the baby out!” Sowmya recalls.

Once the spinal anesthesia was administered for the C-section, the pain numbed. The doctors put an oxygen mask on her face and told her to “breathe for her baby”, something which stuck with her powerfully.

“I focused on taking long, deep breaths, imagining the baby who was soon going to come. Half an hour later, I felt something slide out of my body and the room was filled with the first cry of my baby. It was wild, lusty, and so powerful, I began laughing inside my oxygen mask,” Sowmya reminisces.

The journey after childbirth

Unlike what popular media representations of childbirth teach us, recovery after childbirth is not a cakewalk, and the arrival of the child does not make everything cheery for mothers. Jaya for instance, had post-partum bleeding which lasted for a long 54 days, coupled with painful constipation. “There were times I wondered what I had got myself into,” she admits.

For Krupa, feeding the child sitting up was a painful experience because of the stitches in her vagina. “It’s hard to feed the child while lying down and I was also exhausted. There were times I’d fall asleep mid-feeding and my son would be searching for my nipple,” she says.

Sowmya remembers not being able to walk without someone’s help after the C-sec, and having to pee in front of a hospital attendant. “I was sitting on the commode and this lady was speaking to me like we were having coffee. She told me, ‘Ask your mom to comb your hair a bit. You’ll look nice.’ I was laughing my head off,” she says.

And while the experience was easily one of the most physically and emotionally taxing things that these women have been through, none of them wished that it hadn't happened. In fact, the films seem to have got this one right - Krupa and Jaya said that they forgot about the pain and the excruciating labour the moment they held their babies for the first time. They did remember the horrors of childbirth later, but at that very moment, it was only the baby who mattered, they said.

And while Sowmya could not hold her baby daughter properly right after birth because she was still on the operation table, she was glad that she made it through the tough delivery. “Now I know what I can endure. I know my own strength, thanks to my daughter,” she says.

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