Before my son was born—before I even knew for certain I wanted to conceive—I was firm about my birth plan. If I chose to have a child, here's how he'd enter the world—gently, from amniotic fluid into a sterile pool, from water to water. No bright lights to startle him towards breath. No cold operation theatre for us. No talk of anaesthesia.
It was this plan I pursued with a vengeance after surviving a debilitating first trimester. I found an exceptional ob-gyn committed to water births; I signed up for wonderful prenatal classes—Seema's—to tone my body for the rigours of delivery; I trained myself in the tenets of hypnobirthing, so surges and contractions would pass me by. I sought the presence of a doula to make birthing the transformative experience it was meant to be.
As it happened, my plans collapsed like cascading dominoes. During labour, after a nonstress test—the last formality before initiating a water birth—it emerged that the foetus was displaying signs of distress.
'We can't pursue the birth plan,' my doctor informed me.
I only half-listened. 'Does it need minor tweaking?'
'Not quite. It must be abandoned.'
'So it's the worst case scenario—a regular vaginal delivery?'
'No, we're scheduling an emergency C-section.'
Soon, my doula arrived. I was wheeled into the OT. White lights. An epidural. Gloves and masks. The scrape of surgical equipment.
It wasn't at all as I had envisioned my baby's arrival, with soft music, dull lights—his wet body welcomed by water instead of an unyielding earth.
Rather, in an anonymous space, all brick and steel, my son was to be hoisted out, just in time before the meconium could do damage.
As the curtain was lowered, I saw his arm, slippery and damp, tearing out, seeking skin. This was my first glimpse of him—
And, all at once, the plans I had cherished, the ones I had spun and respun—all of them receded. They did not matter.
'1:59 pm,' my ob-gyn whispered. 'Baby born. Mamma cries.'
A little later, after confirming that the boy was well, the doctor returned him to me. I watched my baby's face—tinier than a blood orange, as red. His eyes—black, wise. His mouth, an O, seeking my breast under my doula's supervision.
A few drops of colostrum.
Already my body was welcoming this child.
Birthing, I learnt, was a river, it passed by.
What stayed firm—what changed everything as I knew it—was that one instant. When my baby, new to the world, opened his hand out to me.
Giving birth is meant to be a life affirming experience. Yet it can also be stained with trauma, with babies being confined to the NICU, tubes crisscrossing their tiny bodies, or worse. By that yardstick, my dismay at not experiencing the birth I sought seems almost trivial. A first world problem.
In truth, the C-section ensured that my baby emerged whole—and, for this, I remain indebted to my ob-gyn. As committed as he was to a water birth, he was doubly committed to ensuring that my son and I remained secure—and when he detected signs of trauma, he acted with authority and swiftness. Maybe this is what marks an extraordinary doctor—he acknowledges your dreams, even backs them to the hilt. But he knows when it is time to let them go.
I had to plunge in the dark when I was told that a C-section was unavoidable. I had done little reading on the procedure, barely knew what it entailed—a rarity for someone like me, known to over-prepare. As it turned out, the C-section was painless, the epidural numbing the contractions, those steady spasms, then muting the trauma of surgery. The post-operative period wasn't physically challenging either—my feet supporting my body within a day.
A part of me knew that the exercises I had practised to prepare myself for a VB had granted me huge energy reserves. A part of me also knew that handling my baby, tending to him, placing him at my breast within minutes of his birth had given my body a clear signal—it had no choice but to recover.
That day, and ever since, I've kept my baby close to my skin, sitting up nights so he knows the comfort of a beating heart, a warm pair of hands, a voice.
It's said that our collective unconscious has, over millennia, been conditioned to believe that if the baby we have delivered isn't physically close to us, he hasn't made it past birth. The body goes into shock, as does the mind, hurtling into the abyss called postpartum depression.
If I could collect myself after delivery, and in the weeks to come, it is because of my child's proximity.
Hold that talisman close.