(This is Part 2 of the birth story which was featured as yesterday’s post, where Shreya beautifully narrated her birth story. This is the experience of her husband S – narrated more beautifully than we have ever see any dad ever talking about this experience!Don’t forget to share with all the men you know! Enjoy!)
Most of my life I’ve been a confused soul, wandering around looking for the right answers. However, more often than not, I’ve encountered people who seem as bewildered with life as me. Like the time I asked a guy for a simple ice-cream and he seemed dazed. I mean how hard can it be to give someone an ice-cream, but with a blank expression he said, “Sir, this is a beauty parlour not an ice cream parlour…”
When it came to our first pregnancy then, you could imagine the number of questions that filled our heads. But the doubts we had were insignificant compared to the ones others had for us. “Did you pick out a good doctor?”, “Have you picked out baby names?”, “What kind of drugs will you guys choose for delivery?”, “When is the next season of Game of Thrones out?”
As much as I was concerned with the fate of John Snow and the dragons. These birth related questions perplexed me. I realised how little I knew of the entire birthing process. I mean, ‘what drugs will you take?’ sounds like something I’d hear in a dark alley, from a shady guy with a suspicious packet in his hand! Also both Shreya and me were always wary with the amount of C-sections happening around us, amongst friends and relatives.
C-sections scare me, almost nothing stays the way it was, once you cut it open with a sharp instrument… potato chip packets, people’s stomachs, unopened letters that belong to someone else (I’m not saying I’ve opened any, just an example) to name a few. There had to be another way to bring a baby in this world without it having to open its eyes to a knife pointing at it. Maybe that is why babies raise their hands so often, their life begins like they’re being mugged at knife point.
That’s when we ended up doing some research, OK… Shreya ended up doing some research on natural birthing in India. I was around however, looking up research videos on ‘babies laughing at a dog, or ‘babies eating their first lemon’, and it was hard work – there’s a lot of cat videos on the Internet, I’ll admit I struggled a bit. Meanwhile Shreya who acted like she was the one doing everything, told me of Birth Village. A birthing center which is pro natural and not-so-pro cutting people open with knives after drugging them. Our kind of place! Things were looking up. But we were still skeptical, at least I was. You have to admit the word ‘Natural’ gets thrown around a lot nowadays. Natural toothpaste, 100% natural honey, natural wallpaper! Now before you lick the avocado-coloured walls of your house to check it they taste like an actual avocado, I’ll tell you that this place is exactly how it sounds, In fact it’s even better.
Now, because we stay in Mumbai we had to do a consultation session over Skype. This session is what almost completely convinced us of birth village. We spoke to our midwife, who allayed all our fears with ease. The issues that a city doctor would term as an emergency were termed as ‘just another day at work, nothing we can’t handle naturally’, by her. We had heard stories of near natural births turning into C-sections due to umbilical cord looping around the baby’s neck or swallowing of meconium (a highly radioactive substance!) or the baby being large (ironical). I suppose the lack of recreational activities inside the womb makes babies pick up the bungee cord floating next to them and play with it.
She explained how good nutrition (no, vegetable cheese pizza with extra cheese isn’t good nutrition, I checked) and exercise (walking to your refrigerator and back to the bed, isn’t exercise, I’m as surprised as you are!) are the pillars of a natural birth, she also spoke of how Birth Village focuses on the father being involved completely in the birthing process. Men in general aren’t too hands on when it comes to birthing in the Indian society. Most follow the adage ‘Real Men Wear Pink… because they can’t separate their whites from their coloured clothes during laundry”. I was almost tempted to share my ‘baby eats a lemon’ videos with the midwife just to show her I didn’t fall under that category.
And so began our journey and our preparation of bringing a healthy baby in this world naturally. Almost immediately post the session, Shreya was given a list of things she ought to ideally be eating and what to avoid. She was also suggested exercises to do, an important one of which was walking up and down the stairs (I’m glad birthvillage didn’t expect the father participate equally in this). Soon with all the healthy things going in and the innumerable steps falling behind, Shreya hit her ideal weight and surprisingly maintained it right down to the last gram until the very last week of pregnancy.
We decided that Shreya should head to Kochi as early as possible, as she wouldn’t be allowed to fly in the later stages of pregnancy. Low cost airline companies consider pregnant women a threat, as the women seem to fake being pregnant and sneak snacks aboard the aircraft. I did the same in a theatre once, but was promptly caught, I’m not sure what alerted them…
The sweet folks at Birth village also compiled a list of places we could stay in Kochi. It was only when the people on the list started charging us money that we realised they were serviced apartments. We picked one that came with its own pet dog, cause that’s what people look for first when renting apartments.
Shreya and her mom settled in nicely, thankfully they had some knowledge of Malayalam, which helped in the initial days. Their routine was eating vegetables and fruits of different colours making their internal organs see a rainbow, drinking coconut water and raiding local grocery stores once their supply was depleted. But this was only one part of their routine, the other important part included long walks, more stairs and ‘Dancercise with Donna’ – which regardless of whether you’re pregnant or not, you must try.
The baby was due on the 16th of January (Shreya’s birthday) which was great – coz now I wouldn’t have to remember two dates. However it got into an ‘engaged head’ position two weeks before its due date. The engaged head is when the baby gets into optimum birthing position and makes life generally uncomfortable for the mother. This made it seem like we’d have an early birth… So I headed to Kochi on the 7th of January.
After a brief culture shock – where I googled some basic Malayalam words to speak with my UBER driver and he spoke back in Hindi… I got to the apartment.
In a couple of days I found myself standing in a yoga studio surrounded by a pack of pregnant ladies. The glow in that room could blind the sun. Dancing with 8 pregnant women wasn’t even on my bucket list, but I’ve gladly ticked that off. The class was challenging enough cause when it ended I was sweating buckets and actually felt a bit dilated myself. But Donna made the class so much fun that for someone with two left feet, I didn’t feel even slightly out of place. Which is surprising cause I’m the guy that blends in with the furniture when ‘dancing’ happens at social occasions.
There were other things I had to tick off the checklist though. One of which was packing the D-day bag, which would include everything needed on the day of the birth. Birthvillage insisted the father pack the bag, and know where each item is because the mother would obviously be busy birthing and the baby is not supposed to immediately lift heavy bags post birth. I got to packing some comics, microwaveable popcorn, a monopoly board game, some playing cards among other things. Who knew how long we’d be in labour. But turns out the efficiency of Birthvillage exceeded my expectations – they’d already given a list of strictly the only things to be packed. And a portable fishing rod wasn’t in the list, maybe other fathers before me had already tried this.
There was also a crash course on birthing that these sweet folks arranged specially on our request. This however was an eye opener and a bit overwhelming for me personally. I don’t think any amount of preparation would get me ready to see a fake pelvic bone pushing out a baby doll through it. Stuff of nightmares I tell you. We were encouraged during this session to resolve any queries we had. As the midwife pointed out, I skipped all other queries to get to the main one… How do we air travel with the baby post birth? She explained that air travel wasn’t an issue, because when the baby had milk, it’s jaw action would relieve any air pressure and discomfort. I actually needed to know if I could order an extra meal for the baby on flight and eat it myself, it’s a good thing I didn’t tell her that. Shreya ended up asking all other ‘important’ doubts that I missed out. I’ll have the last laugh when I eat two desserts on the flight instead of her!
Our baby however had not received the memo for early birth, and decided to take its time. This meant sightseeing in Kochi and having the time of our life. I think there’s a ton you can achieve when you don’t think of work. Unless achieving tons is actually what you do for a living, then you can’t be helped. We spent our days roaming around Kochi, staycating in a nearby hotel, making origami swans, buying a huge medicine ball to replace a chair in the house and watching almost all the movies released in the late eighties – normal things that pregnant couples do. At one point in time people thought we’d lied about being pregnant and were just having a mini vacation in Kochi. This baby was taking its own sweet time, so we did what any other responsible set of parents in our place would do. We took bets – for the day of birth – from friends and family and made a lot of money. The child has already paid for his school fees by simply delaying his birth date.
Then finally on the 26th of January when India became Republic, we had an appointment with Charlotte, a visiting doula at birth village. Who bears testimony to the fact that anything remotely related to the word ‘Danish’ is sweet. She told us about ‘Rebozo’, which sounds like an android app but is actually a Mexican massage technique which involves a long warm scarf like cloth. The mother is gently massaged using this cloth and it relaxes her body and can induce contractions. She even taught me how to do it, which meant suspending Shreya mid air. It was at this moment I felt the actual weight of the baby, as she was suspended on the cloth. This was also one of the moments I realised that if birthing were optional for men as well as women, most men would stay very far away from that option. It’s a tough job being a mother.
The ‘Rebozo’ worked its magic and by the end of that day Shreya started to get uneasy. This wasn’t the usual uneasiness though, which would go away when we fed her a banana. This we thought was the beginning of contractions, sure enough she lost her mucus plug at night. A mucus plug is like the tiny black rubber thingy at the bottom of a bath-tub. Although contrary to popular belief (ok, only according to my belief) once its gone it doesn’t drain all the water from the uterus.
The contractions kept increasing in frequency and duration. They lasted all of the next day, by this time even my parents had arrived. Both grandmothers now combined their maternal love and asked us to go to the centre for delivery. However we remembered the instructions given to us quite clearly. ‘Contractions must occur every five minutes and last for an entire minute and must be unbearable before coming to the centre’. Failure to comply would result in being sent back home. It sounds harsh but really isn’t, it’s the easiest way confused couples can know exactly when to get to the centre. Since I’ve lost several times to goldfish in memory contests, I decided to note down the contraction times. Around midnight when the contractions and the grandparents panic increased in frequency, we called in and got to the centre.
So finally 6 bewildered souls got into the tiny Uber, the two grannies, Shreya and the baby, me and the Uber driver who almost thought the baby would pop out in the cab! When we got to the centre our midwife was already there getting the birthing room ready. While she set up her equipment to check the baby’s heart rate, the two grannies also began setting up their own baby monitoring system. A lamp and a tiny baby god idol (I’m rolling my eyes right now). The midwife was as nervous at this point as I was, since the grannies attempted to light the lamp with essential oil, the room smelt nice, but no lamp lit for more than a minute. Finally when their little chemistry experiments were done, they had to shut their laboratory and leave. With sad and worried faces they went back, I doubt they had a wink of sleep that night.
Meanwhile at the centre, Priyanka told us the baby was fine and Shreya was around 5 centimetres dilated. She told us the contractions weren’t intense enough and she would have sent us home, but thanks to the ‘Madame Pierre Curies’ we brought with us, she didn’t.
And so began labour at Birthvillage – It smelt like lavender and promised a baby at the end, and it ‘delivered’ on that promise. The initial process was as eventless as my puns. Charlotte was back and she helped massage Shreya through the night making sure both of us got enough sleep. Eventually Anna joined us, a German intern at Birthvillage who took notes of tiny important details throughout the process of the birth. Our midwife insisted on us resting, since we’d need all the energy in the last, most hardest phase of labour.
I assumed that phase was where one pays the bills, turns out it wasn’t. Paying the bills is in fact one of the easiest thing you can do here, I was shocked when I realised how much birth village charges. It was a good shock though, the kind you get when you buy some candles and they give you a birthday cake for free. We were told by our friends how much they ended up paying in Mumbai, sometimes a lot more if an emergency cropped up. Birthvillage provides prenatal and postnatal care too. The most postnatal care you get when you’re in most city hospitals, is the chance to convince them that you really did birth in their hospital.
Back in the birthing room it was now early morning, and things were put in gear. We started with light exercises, walking up and down the stairs of the empty centre, coz it was a Sunday. If Shreya had a contraction she would have to squat. She was sweating but with the encouragement from the Birthvillage team and efficient sweat wiping by me, she was enjoying the process. I swear it was like watching Sylvester Stallone working out in Rocky 1 like he was about to birth Rocky 2!
Now, Birth village also has the option of water birth or labouring in water and birthing outside (just when you thought the place couldn’t get any more fantastic). We chose to labour for a bit in water and birth outside. When pregnant women are put in water (NOT against their will) their contractions space out and they have some well deserved relief from pain. I decided to take the time to get her and the other folks something to eat. I reached the apartment around 7 in the morning and asked them to quickly fix breakfast. The grannies after a basic Q&A got to work fervently preparing breakfast.
At this point in the story I’d like to introduce an important character, Shreya’s Pregnancy Pillow – an ‘U’ shaped, foam filled, magical entity, capable of inducing sleep within 10 seconds. I made a rookie mistake of lying down in that sleep magnet and woke up almost two hours later. I admit I completely panicked when I woke up. Not only had the pillow (made by Chronos the god of time himself) taken away two crucial hours of my life, but I was fairly certain I missed the birth. I cursed the gods for creating pillows and rushed to the centre with the breakfast. Here’s some unsolicited advice –
• Buy the pregnancy pillow (it is heaven sent for mothers to be)
• Don’t sleep in said pillow during the birth (especially dads)
When I got to the centre however, I saw Shreya had taken ‘sleep’ to another level. The midwife told me, that Shreya napped in the birthing tub, she’d never seen anyone do that. At one point they were afraid she’d dunk her face in the water and drown or something. They sweetly sat next to her all through, keeping an eye on her, lest she pulled some stunt in her sleep. They didn’t know of her superpower – that girl can sleep anywhere!
So, when I got there Shreya was still floating in the birthing tub and I sat outside it feeding her Upma – There’s a sentence I never thought I’d say. Post the tub, Shreya sat down to eat the rest of the Upma properly, as our midwife regaled me with the tales of sleeping (in water) beauty. She was now nearly 7 centimetres dilated. We then did another round of walking the stairs which was followed by the most magical thing I’ve ever seen. Something that I personally think would not have been possible had we been in a city hospital. Something that separates the people who run Birthvillage, who treat you like one of their own, from the ‘staff’ at a hospital.
One hour before actual birth, Donna pulled out some speakers and Shreya and everyone else present, Danced. Yes, DANCED! Donna played the music from her dance sessions, and Shreya, Donna, Charlotte, Anna and our other midwife (whilst preparing for birth) matched steps to the songs. They could’ve asked her to dance alone, instructed her to do it, they didn’t really need to join in, but they did – and that is why Birthvillage will always remain special. Not knowing the steps I had obviously blended in the furniture by now, and shot a video of the dance, to this day it remains one of our most prized possessions from the birth… besides the actual baby!
We moved into the birthing room post this and Shreya was about 9 centimetres dilated. It was time to pull out the pièce de résistance from Shreya, literally! It’s important to mention that one of the earlier scans had indicated a chance of two loops around the baby’s neck. Both our midwives were continuously planning and changing their strategies to accommodate for the loops and bring the baby out safely (we found out about this much later). You see, the whole concept of a healthy mother having a natural birth or a healthy baby isn’t all that complicated. It comes down to three simple things – Good nutrition, exercise and a stress free environment. The Birthvillage gang made sure we had no stress whatsoever.
The birthing room had a fat rope dangling from the ceiling. To most, it would seem like an abstract piece of art. And asking someone about abstract art almost always makes me seem foolish, so I didn’t. Turns out it was meant as a squat support during birth. Shreya hung on to it with me supporting her and everyone else huddled around encouraging her to push. It looked deviously tough and I almost thought we should take a break. Sure enough, Shreya was offered black coffee, but this wasn’t a break…far from it. The coffee had a dual purpose, if she was able to drink it up, she’d have a much needed rush of energy. However if she ended up throwing it up, the act of throwing up would still induce a push. Unfortunately she did end up throwing up (which was surprising, because it is her favourite beverage). It could’ve easily turned into a moment of embarrassment. You know that dream where you enter a room wanting to make a decent impression on people, then realise you’re not wearing any pants and people start judging you for your fashion sense. This was somewhat like that, but there was no judgement in this room. Someone helped clean Shreya up, someone wiped the floor, someone else got clean sheets to spread out, it was beautiful. There were only smiles, support and solidarity.
Before the birth, if someone told me that I’d be sitting in a room holding Shreya ready to birth, with four other women in the room, I’d have judged them for their fashion sense. But here I was, with an Indian, an American, a Danish and a German woman, a veritable UN Women’s assembly helping a baby into this world, and it felt natural.
Charlotte had Shreya squat, using her arms for support and it worked. Shreya came close to the final push, the problem was her entire body weight fell on Charlotte. But Charlotte did not budge, that woman is deceptively strong. I tried to help balance the weight, but most of it fell on her. This did not yield the desired result however and we stopped to catch a breath. Shreya tried squatting a bit in the bathroom, as she was wiped with a wet cloth. She then lay down on the bed and a final check was done by the midwife. The baby’s heart beats were checked, and they were loud and fast. The baby was either really excited to get out, or was enjoying the fact that so many people were catering to its whims, might grow up to be a politician. Now the midwife made me use a squatting stool, which would aid birth, the baby was very nearly crowning.
Shreya leaned back into me and both of us went down for a squat together, she was being urged to push. This is when I realised the importance of good diet and exercise, without it, this would’ve been quite tough. But Shreya grinded through it all like a champ. I had been asked by several people to carefully note the time of birth, some said, people also noted exact times of when the head came out, when the arms and legs came out etc. However, not one to stick to conventions, the baby had its own plan. On the second strong push, it came out whole! No crowning, no hands first, then the feet – He (as we soon found out) popped out like a rocket. Thankfully the midwife was ready and she caught him before he could launch into orbit.
There were smiles all over the room, gives me goosebumps when I think about the moment now. I’m not the one to get emotional (except that one time when I didn’t get ice-cream in a parlour) but tears rolled down my cheeks. Shreya was ecstatic, overjoyed, in tears and in complete disbelief – Much like the entire process of pregnancy.
We had a boy! We acknowledged him with a burst of emotions, he acknowledged the world, with a tiny cry and two sneezes. All we could look at were his pretty eyes, all he could look at was the ceiling fan and the lights. After he was born, the placenta was also birthed immediately. Shreya asked me if I’d be cutting the cord. Ahh! The joy of using scissors near a new born baby, of course I said Donna would do it. But Donna handed me the scissors and waited patiently. It’s quite similar to cutting a ribbon when inaugurating a new store, if the ribbon oozes blood after it’s cut. I was really nervous, but with the amount of confidence the midwife had I couldn’t go wrong, I did it.
He was then handed to Shreya for the first latching and feeding. Our amazing midwife helped her understand how a latch should be and guided her with the process, while I fed her chocolate. There was also Bincy who was running around helping out after birth, she was and still remains our problem solver with tiny baby issues. The feeding went fairly smoothly. After this came the part which is called ‘Skin to skin with the father’, and no it is not a tribal ritual. The father and child must bond and so the child is placed on a bare chested father, immediately after it feeds. This releases oxytocin and literally rewires the man’s brain for fatherhood and introduces the baby to the fathers scent. They quickly weighed the baby and handed him to me, I tried to hold him as lovingly as you would a large explosive device. She taught me how to do it in three seconds flat and I still use the same technique. Unfortunately because the baby had decided to literally jump out of the mother, Shreya had a tear which needed stitches. So while the entire team tended to her, I sat there with rocketboy, with the feeling ‘I’m a father’ gradually sinking in. Slowly twenty minutes of bonding turned to almost an hour, I wasn’t complaining, I was afraid the kid would start crying. Shreya was still unavailable and spontaneously producing milk wasn’t a power I possessed. Luckily, he didn’t cry, I think the quiet ambience and soft lighting helped. He stared at me for quite some time, out of general curiosity in the beginning to bored indifference in the end. A trait he still retains to this day.
Soon Shreya was all ready for the next feed and so was the baby, I’d bored him thoroughly. Both the mother and the baby fell asleep a while later and that was how the birth went. Our phones were off throughout the process, so obviously there was panic among the grandparents. Soon they were informed, although there was no need for it. The grannies had stood outside the centre and accosted poor Charlotte for the news, my dad looking on helplessly. Meanwhile, Shreya’s dad who was in Ahmedabad, tracked down the midwife’s number from the birth village website and called her for the update. A delirious and tired midwife told him of his grandson. Moral of the story : INFORM THE GRANDPARENTS IMMEDIATELY.
We stayed at Birthvillage for the night, and were looked after by Bincy, she took really good care of us. The next day, Shreya was given a bath by the Chechi and also a scrumptious meal. Birth village has two beautiful traditions, one is providing the mother a meal of her choice post birth and the second one is carrying the baby to the entrance of Birth village accompanied by the parents before handing it over to the family.
But handing over doesn’t mean, Birth village leaves you, to traverse the tricky path of early childhood. On the contrary, it provides six weeks of postnatal care. With visits to your place of stay for three weeks and another three at the centre. We had Donna, Charlotte and Bincy visit us at the apartment to check on Shreya and Bubbles (yes we’re calling him that until he’s old enough to protest, because of his innate ability to make bubbles with his mouth).
It’s been way more than 3 weeks now, Bubbles aka Kalki recently celebrated his 2 month birthday. However the Birthvillage gang is still just a message or call away.
We went for a birth, but came away with a bond, that’ll last a lifetime. With its simplicity and honesty, the place changed our perception; And with its love and care, it changed our lives.
As I write this, heading home now, eager and excited to see my son, I simply offer you this: The next time you think of having a baby, think of Birthvillage… You won’t be disappointed. And the next time you think of having an ice cream, don’t try the beauty parlour… You will be disappointed.