When your first child is growing inside you, it is hard to believe all they say about childbirth being the most amazing experience of your life. How could the legendary pain of giving birth be memorable or amazing, you wonder? You tend to dismiss it as mere romanticism. But it is amazing. I can vouch for it because I have crossed that bridge, joining the legion of mothers who have instantly forgotten the agony of childbirth on catching the first glimpse of their babies.
Our son, Kabir, came into the world on August 14, 2000. He weighed just over 3 kg and gave a hearty wail moments after his slightly difficult journey out of the womb.
The last ultrasound during my pregnancy, close to the end of the eighth month, revealed that there was one loop of the umbilical cord around the baby’s neck. My gynecologist then onwards kept a close watch on the foetal heartbeat, making me undergo what is called a “No Stress Test” a fortnight before my due date, August 18, to monitor how the baby was doing. The heartbeat was steady.
But I was enormous, terribly uncomfortable and running out of patience. I wanted the baby out soon. I urged my doctor to speed up the process and after stalling for as much time as she could, she finally relented, possibly because she realised she would have to induce labour any way as my cervix was not quite ready for a timely delivery.
I was admitted to hospital on August 13 night. That night the doctor initiated a procedure to soften my cervix. At 6.40 a.m. the following day I was put on what the nurses euphemistically called the “pain drip” to induce labour. My contractions began soon after, but till about noon they were mild and erratic.
Not quite the way things should progress. My patience was wearing thin as two other expecting mothers who came into the labour room after me, delivered while I was still lying there wondering when the real pain would start. Both delivered through a Caesarian section. The prospect of a C-section seemed extremely appealing to me at the time.
After about 1.00 p.m. the contractions intensified suddenly, but they were still erratic. They did not last for the same duration and were not coming with the required regularity. The resident gynaecologist told me that my threshold of pain was very high as even at the peak of my contractions I did not seem to feel too much discomfort. So, even though I felt the contractions were mild, they were not quite so.
My water broke at about 1.30 p.m. and then began the series of internal vaginal examinations that can be extremely uncomfortable when the contractions are strong, which they had become by then. The verdict was that my cervix was still a long way from dilating enough for the baby to come out. That was disheartening news as the pain had begun to get really acute. By the time my gynecologist arrived, the pain had intensified enough for my breathing to become laborious during contractions and I let out my first few muffled moans.
Her internal examination increased the pain, but she told me there was a long way to go before the delivery. I was extremely uncomfortable when lying on my back and was therefore tending to turn to my side to bear the pain better. But each time I turned to my right, the foetal heartbeat would drop a bit, causing the doctor some concern because of the cord around the baby’s neck.
A drop in the heartbeat often indicates foetal distress, requiring a speedy Caesarian to save the baby. But since the heartbeat was fine when I was lying on my back or on my left side, the gynaecologist advised me to hang on. But she told me I wasn’t even halfway there yet. Since my cervix was still far from prime condition for delivery, the doctor asked for another drip that apparently serves as a catalyst. Soon after the drug was administered, I began to cry out in pain — something I have never done before in my life.
I was embarrassed to be making such a racket, even in that condition. But there was no way I could control the howls of pain that came out of me. The presence of my husband, Arvind, was a great help. Having him hold my hands through each contraction somehow made it easier to bear the pain. By then I was begging the doctor to get the baby out of me by opting for a Caesarian, saying I did not have the strength to go through a normal delivery.
Seeing me writhe in pain, Arvind too said maybe a C-section would be a good idea. Our pleas earned us a firm scolding from my doctor. She conducted another internal examination and said I had begun to progress better now. She said that though it was a matter of a few minutes for her to conduct a Caesarian, it was “just not an option” when a normal delivery was a real possibility. But she conceded that I still had lots of ground to cover.
In the following quarter of an hour, things changed dramatically. Seeing that it had suddenly become really hard for me to bear the pain, the gynaecologist said she would have to conduct another internal examination to decide what to do. She shocked everyone in the room when she suddenly announced it was time for me to start pushing during the contractions.
The next few minutes are a confused whirl in my mind. The doctors and nurses hurriedly prepared for the delivery. The paediatricians were summoned. I was transferred to a trolley and wheeled into the delivery room. Though I wanted Arvind to be by my side and the doctor too favoured his presence as he obviously gave me the strength to respond better to her directions through the pain, hospital policy was against allowing spouses into the delivery room.
Within minutes of my being positioned on the delivery table, the urge to push overcame me. “Don’t waste your pain,” the doctor kept telling me. “Push with all your might each time you feel the contractions,” she said.
What you feel really is tremendous pressure on your vaginal and anal floor, almost like an uncontrollable urge to pass stool. Each push had me screaming my lungs out, but the ordeal did not last too long. Suddenly, I felt a huge burst of energy that gave me the strength to push this new life out of my body. I saw the doctor catch my slithery, slimy baby and pass it to the paediatricians standing behind my head. It was 4.40 p.m. The baby, to me, appeared almost ashen in colour and my first — not very motherly — thought was “Goodness, what have I given birth to?”
Within moments, I heard its first wail and as the doctors went about their work at a feverish pace, I kept asking if it was a boy or a girl. Finally the head paediatrician told me I had delivered a healthy boy. On learning that, I realised how as soon as the baby came out, the pain just stopped. It really just stopped.
And even as I lay there on the delivery table, the memory of the pain began to fade, especially after the resident paediatrician brought me my now-cleaned, pink and heavily swaddled baby. I managed to raise myself enough to plant a light kiss on Kabir’s cheek.
What I felt right then is hard to explain. I could not believe he was mine, that he had been inside me for nine long months, growing constantly. And even in that condition I knew I had a stupid, content grin across my face. Though things were a slight blur soon after that, I was aware of my doctor getting busy stitching up the tears that Kabir had caused while making his way out. But I felt no discomfort, no pain.
Only later did I learn that Kabir had not one but two loops of the umbilical cord tightly coiled around his neck. That had complicated things a bit because as I was pushing, the cord was pulling him back. The poor child had a hard time coming into the world. The doctors apparently cut the cord and then allowed spontaneous birth, which took just seconds. They did not have to use forceps or suction.
On hindsight, I am glad my doctor pushed me to go through a normal delivery. I am infinitely thankful to her. Only because I had given birth the way nature intended was I able to climb down a flight of stairs in the hospital the same night with my husband to take a peek at our baby in the nursery. I was up and about within hours of childbirth and one realises that is a blessing once the baby is in your arms.
I hope my experience gives all expecting mothers the conviction to try for a natural childbirth. The pain, really, is all too easy to forget.