NOTHING NORMAL ABOUT IT

Degraded and helpless: An Indian woman details the horrors of a “normal birth”

Quartz india
Quartz india

The nine months of my pregnancy felt like a breeze (of course, barring the first trimester when your body is adjusting to a tiny human growing inside you. Read morning sickness, heartburn, severe anxiety, intense hormonal changes). I was extremely pleased with the fact that I could work until the very end of my term, I was physically fit (thank you yoga) and I could live my life as usual. In short, apart from a growing belly and severe tiredness towards the end, I didn’t face too many health problems.

It’s been five months since I delivered my beautiful child and I am yet to fully recover from what can only be termed as a traumatic postnatal experience.

I clearly remember the night of December 15, 2016, the day before my daughter was born. My husband and I had finished dinner and were catching up on the day that went by. The first set of intense kicks started around 9.30pm. I dismissed them as normal since our visit to the doctor that morning confirmed that the baby is in no hurry to come yet. She was due in 10 days.

As the night progressed, the kicks started getting intense. Since I had trouble falling asleep, we continued chatting into the night. By 2.30am our eyes were shutting and we were failing to comprehend what the other was saying.

That night I had a dream that my water broke in an elevator. I woke up in shock and realised that what I’d dreamt had turned into my reality. At 3.45am, there I was, in a pool of clear amniotic fluid and my bed linen was soaking wet. I slowly got up and went to the washroom to check. As I sat on the pot, I felt an intense gush coming from me, with streaks of blood and mucous. I didn’t panic. I knew it was time to head to the hospital. I knew she was coming.

Once at the hospital, while I was being prepped for labour, I started practicing the breathing techniques I’d learnt at my prenatal yoga class. As the contractions grew intense, I spread out my yoga mat and practiced the cat-camel pose. See, I desperately wanted a normal delivery. Throughout my pregnancy, I’d read horror stories of women who had trouble recovering from a C-section. I’d read about how hospitals in India force mothers to go through C-section to make money. I’d read about women who never managed to lose their pregnancy weight following a C-section. I felt that a normal delivery was my only chance of having a happy postnatal experience. Little did I know that there is nothing “normal” about a vaginal delivery in India.

At 8am, I was taken to the labour room. I’d already dilated 3 centimetres and was in a lot of pain. By this time I’d spent four hours at the hospital, being poked to draw blood for various tests and under the effect of enema. As the pains grew, I remember banging my hands against the iron bed. I remember kicking so hard, hoping that pain would dim what I was feeling throughout my body. But nothing helped. To make matters worse, the doctor soon administered a dose of Pitocin IV drip as my baby had apparently not descended into the birthing canal. Contractions grew intense within minutes. By now I’d reached pain level 10. I screamed and screamed some more with little to no sympathy from the attending nurses. My husband was not allowed near me. He could only watch the “show” from a distance. His repeated requests to be allowed near me fell on deaf ears. He just wanted to hold my hand and tell me I’ll be ok.

In fact, he was asked to leave the room several times. All this happened as I lay there in pain, crying and feeling helpless.

(Indu Harikumar)

By 9.30am, my body started to give up. I could see my resolve of having an intervention free delivery shatter in front of my eyes. Thanks to that strong dose of Pitocin, my body was not allowed to labour naturally. Our spiral of interventions had begun. Unable to take the pain any longer, I requested for an epidural.

After a few minutes of feeling numb and painless, I found myself in pain again. This time I’d dilated 8 centimetres. But the baby had still not descended. I was given another strong dose of Pitocin and had to take another epidural.

Finally, at 11.15am, my doctor announced that I can start pushing now. But wait, how do I push or what do I push, when I can’t feel a thing waist down. I started pushing like throwing darts in the dark. At one point, my anesthetist—who would have easily weighed a 100kgs—sat on my stomach to apply fundal pressure. I kept pushing, with no clear instructions. Finally, at 11.39am, I heard a faint cry. I shut my eyes for a minute and my doctor announced that she will stitch me up now. She had to use an episiotomy (a cut made at the opening of the vagina) to get my daughter out. I had clearly discussed not wanting an episiotomy during one of our prenatal visits. But I was told that it’s standard procedure in India. I wish I’d protested harder.

Since I’d also requested skin-to-skin contact with my child, she was kept on my chest for exactly 30 seconds before taking her away to clean her. Even in the daze, I remember how the anaesthetist thought it was appropriate to joke about my wishes.

The deep cut (around 10 centimetres) resulted in a lot of blood loss and my haemoglobin dropped to six (from 12). I was given two bottles of haemoglobin and when that didn’t work, I was given a bottle of pure RBC blood. I spent four extra days in the hospital, being hooked to an IV, unable to hold my newborn or nurse her without pain. All the poking resulted in nerve damage on both my hands, to the point that I couldn’t lift them because of throbbing pain for two weeks. Since then, numerous complications surfaced: thrombophlebitis, fissure, intense pain in the coccyx and perineum. But my daughter’s smiling face kept me sane through all of this. And of course, love and support of my family and friends.

Now my daughter is five months old. I’ve nursed her every day since she was born, even with two IV needles sticking out of me. I could not sit straight—even for five minutes at a stretch—for almost two months. But I continued breastfeeding because I wouldn’t have it any other way. I still have a lot of pain to deal with. But the most difficult has been the pain of not asserting my rights as a mother.

I’ve tried to be a good mother and caretaker to my baby. But I know I could have done much more, had my postnatal experience been as smooth as my pregnancy. It’s unfortunate that mothers are not allowed to birth as they wish. It’s unfortunate that birthing rights are a joke in India, even today.

This post originally appeared on Medium by India Birth Project, a series of crowdsourced birthing stories that highlight the highs and lows of giving birth.

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