It wasn’t what I had envisioned.  There is a short film from Mexico called Birth Day that shows a woman’s third birth, at home, in water.  The mood is celebratory.  Her family is all around to support her.  A midwife is there, but in the corner, only to come forward if there is a problem.  You can see what hard work this is for the mother as the contractions grow stronger, but there is joy in it as well.  When her baby is born the mother catches it herself and brings the newborn up out of the water.  There is something so pure about this birth, so natural, so non-medical.  This is what, in an idealized form, I wanted.

My first birth, not in Bangalore, was very traumatic.  Even though it was a so-called ‘normal birth’, the midwife blatantly disregarded my wishes.  She insisted on several internal exams.  She broke my water without asking my permission.  The more I resisted the more determined she became to wield her authority over me.  Even though I had only been in the hospital for a little over six hours at this point, she was growing impatient.  She wanted to do yet another internal exam.  I just wanted to be left alone to labour.  She kept at me, kept clamouring, kept insisting like the most irritating mosquito buzzing around my ear.  She coerced my family to ask me to lie down.  I had no support left.  I relented.  This was the biggest mistake of my life.  She announced that I was nearly fully dilated, there was only a tiny ‘lip’ left of the cervix.  She said, “I’m going to push it open with my fingers.”  I yelled out “No!” I tried to get up from the bed.  But the nurses held me down as she forced open my cervix.  Then she created near panic in the room.  She started yelling that the baby’s heart rate had dropped.  The nurses immediately wheeled over oxygen and a mask was strapped to my face.  I was still flat on my back and she was yelling at me to “Push, push!”  I told her that I didn’t feel an urge to push.  She yelled out “This baby needs to be born NOW.”  I was so frightened.  I thought my baby was going to die.  An animal instinct came over.  I pushed with everything I had.  I was pushing, in my mind, against death.  I pushed three times to birth my son.  With each push, she cut a new episiotomy.  She was stitching me up for 45 minutes after the birth.  I was unable to walk for more than two weeks.

 

The birth of my second child, in Bangalore, was much better.  But given my prior experience, I approached it from a different perspective.  I still longed for the private, sacred, certainly non-medical birth that was my ideal.  But I arrived here seven months pregnant with my husband and now 3-year-old son.  I knew I would have to birth in a hospital.  I shifted priorities.  I decided to focus on finding a doctor whom I could trust implicitly, who would not get into a power struggle, who would respect me, a birthing mother, and my wishes.  I made my doctor listen to the story of my first birth.  She had to understand that this could never happen to me again.  I wanted to be informed and involved in all decisions.  Luckily, my doctor really understood me, and we formed a connection.  

One thing we discussed at length, but that I hadn’t anticipated being an issue, was how many days past my due date she would allow me to wait before pressuring for an induction.  She said 5 days.  I told her that in the US and elsewhere, two weeks is standard.  We went back and forth.  She told me she wasn’t comfortable going past 7 days. 

As it happened, my due date came and went.  I walked and walked each day, talking to the baby, willing her to come.  Finally, on the sixth day past my due date, I had my regular office appointment with my doctor.  She was talking of induction.  I told her I’d like a few more days.  She agreed, but asked me to have a non-stress test.  The test showed the baby’s heart rate dipping.  They put me on fluids (I should mention that when we moved to Bangalore, my whole family and I got sick with Giardia.  My husband and son were treated and soon recovered.  I had suffered these last three months with dysentery on and off every week or two.  At this point in my pregnancy, I had actually dropped weight.  They thought I might be dehydrated, and put me on fluids to see if that improved the baby’s heart rate.  It did).  The doctor asked me to be induced that night.  She didn’t like the fluctuation in heart rate, even though it had been helped with the fluids.  Even though I had been weakened by the Giardia and had actually been losing weight in the past few weeks, I had had a relatively good week that week, and felt strong enough to get through labour.  I told her I didn’t want Pitocin (the drug used to induce labour).  We agreed to try with a prostaglandin gel applied to the cervix.  She was willing to try this three times, over a 24-hour period, before we would talk again about what to do next. I agreed to induction of labour.

Miraculously, within an hour of the first application of the gel, contractions started.  I was still on IV fluids and I laboured throughout the night, pacing the room.  The contractions were quite bearable until the last hour.  It all got a little fuzzy then and I can’t remember what happened.  At some point, the doctor showed up and checked the baby.  She seemed to have gotten stuck when she was turning.  My doctor was able to help the baby turn with her hand.  This was excruciating, lasting for three contractions, but I am forever grateful for her skill.  Soon after that, I was ready to push.  I was elated!  I had made it!  The doctor had included me in every decision and had talked to me as a person.  After she was born, my daughter was immediately placed on my belly.  I was filled with such a wonderful feeling of goodness.  Mother-love spilled from me.  Nothing could break that mother-baby connection.  My daughter and I cuddled until I told the doctors they could weigh her.  She remained by my side the whole time and within a few minutes I nursed her for the first time and we both slept.  It was a deep, blissful rest.  

Summary: Even though this birth was much more medical than I would have ideally wanted, I did have a good experience. 

Little Piece of Wisdom:  Choose your care provider with care.  Ask a lot of questions.  My mistake with my first birth was that, because I had chosen a midwife in a birthing center and not a hospital, I assumed that my wishes would be respected and that I would be treated with dignity.  I wish I had had better support for myself during both of my labours.