My mother says I was born with a list of questions on my mind. She says I used to ask why why why in a loop about everything around me till it pissed her off. That habit never left me. When the time came for marriage I asked my now husband another set of questions until I made up my mind to marry him. Any small or big decision, I have to sort through a list of questions and find satisfactory answers. So it was only natural that my pregnancy and delivery also took the same route.
I got pregnant in September. One of the first things I did was to hire a “Doula”. A doula is someone who walks with a would-be mother through her pregnancy and delivery, providing her insight into nutrition, exercise, and educating her about what to expect during labor and delivery. I attended a 7 session course with my friend Luthfa ( who’s an AMANI certified doula) that covered the main topics that I need to be aware of in this journey. I wanted le husband to be a part of this journey, so convinced him to attend as well. After an initial hesitation, he came around and actually began enjoying the classes. Especially in the nutrition section of the class, it opened his eyes. He took over the responsibility of making sure I was having all my necessary meals/supplements and would threaten to report me to our doula if I was being lazy. These classes and my husband attending them with me turned out to be one of the best things I did for our family.
I slowly and steadily started the preparation for the greatest marathon I have ever run in my life. One which would test me in every single way and push me to my physical, emotional, mental and spiritual breaking point and pull me back just before I hit the ground.
In the next 9 months, I read and researched and learned and discussed as much as I could about pregnancy and childbirth. I always thought I knew what pregnancy is, but this proved me wrong. I mean…who knew labor has different stages? Over the months an outline of a birth plan began to emerge. What was most important to me was that I have a natural labor and delivery, to the extent, it is possible, with minimal medical or surgical intervention.
Everything seemed on track and then I went to a prenatal visit to the doctor I was planning to deliver within Riyadh. She noted something in my medical history- I’d had two eye surgeries in the past to treat holes in my retina. This, she said, might mean I would have to opt for an elective C section as a normal delivery may result in loss of vision. The surgery had happened 10 years back and was something I hardly ever thought about. I’d never imagined it would come back and haunt me like this. I was upset. Suddenly all my plans seemed to crumble into nothing and no preparation would help as I’d have to go for C section anyway.
I decided to take a second opinion and asked another gynecologist. She told me the same thing, usually, women opt for C section in such cases to subvert the risk of loss of vision. So as the days went by I began to reconcile with the idea that I may have to opt for surgery to meet my baby. Soon my husband and I were joking about which day to choose as our child’s birthday. Then we realized, hey we haven’t spoken to a retina specialist about this yet! They would have some insight into this right?
So in February my husband and I flew down and met the best retina specialist in the state. When I asked him if normal delivery is possible with my history he laughed. Not in a “this is funny” way, but in a “this is the most absurd thing I’ve heard in my whole career” way. He told me he’s performed many such eye surgeries and not one of those ladies have come back asking about this. He told us he sees absolutely no risk in having a normal delivery specifically due to this. His words unburdened the weight I’d been lugging around in the back of my head- I did have a shot at natural delivery, inshallah.
Now all I had to do was decide whether to deliver in Saudi or India. After some thought, I decided that pre and post-delivery care was more important for me and after praying istikhara made the final decision to fly back to India at 34 weeks and deliver at my hometown.
Coming back to India was really the best decision for us in all respects. I got one solid month to relax and de-stress before baby Z’s arrival. I was never gonna get this kind of time again. So I did everything I want to, to my heart’s content. I devoured mangoes all day every day. I slept in. I read for pleasure. I binge watched series. My mom spoiled me crazy. We’d go on impromptu drives to the beach, walk around there, and grab some vada paav (western Indian snack) on the way back. Those 6 weeks before my delivery made me feel calm and ready to face what’s to come.
The only thing missing was my husband. I could not bear the thought of him not being there with me during the delivery. This was us bringing into the world a product of our love. It was important to me that he witness this moment with me. Oh also so that he knows how serious this baby business is and I can bring up the painful delivery in case he refuses to wake up for diaper duty in future (what can I say, I like to plan my moves ahead). I kept praying that the baby comes out only when she knows daddy is here to catch her.
At 36 weeks though I had some contractions. I was almost heartbroken but turns out it was just Braxton hicks.- practice contractions. Phew. After that episode, it was relatively smooth sailing, as well all counted down to my due date- June 02.
My last appointment with the gynecologist was on May 25th. I had decided to go with a hospital exclusively for maternity after visiting a couple of hospitals in Calicut. I liked the rooms and the general ambiance of the place. It’s calm and lush green around. Now it seems like an even better choice as patients from other hospitals is coming here to deliver because of the Nipah Virus scare. Yes, that’s my city which has been in news lately.
So the doc checks and tells me all seems normal and asks me to come on the due date – June 02. By this time I had already discussed my birth plan Talking about my birth plan, I took like ten copies of it and showed it to any and every medical staff that would care to have a look. I sat down with my mom and explained to her point by point what’s on it, in case my husband didn’t reach on time and she would have to be my labor partner. In the beginning, she outright laughed at me when I shared my plans with her.
Here’s why- my family knows I am nuts and they put up with it. But this time they thought I was completely bonkers because I was talking about doing stuff in labor that no one back home does or even thinks about doing.
Here the attitude is you get pregnant, eat some mangoes, watch your tummy pop, let people poke and prod your body, and, most importantly let the doc tell you what to do and do things to you, no questions asked. I wasn’t ready to do that. I wanted a positive and empowering birthing experience and it was what I was working towards since the beginning.
My parents initially advised me to relax and not be so rigid but at the end of the day they respected my wishes and let me do what I felt is best for me and baby. (One of the many reasons I feel blessed to have them as parents)
Now, all that was left was do my best to prepare my body for labor and deliver as naturally as possible and pray that Allah provides me with the outcome best for me and the baby.
So what did I do? First thing is I went and bought a huge orange exercise ball to bounce on. (My Beloved Orange Bouncing Ball will be henceforth referred to as BOBB). Of course, this was enough for my family to make fun of me. I told them they can laugh all they want but when the time comes to deliver they are going to carry the ball for me into the labor room. Of course, they all said they would rather be dead than be caught walking around with a huge orange bouncing ball. Well, they had no choice.
By this time half of my family was calling me every day to find out if I had given birth. My grandma actually called and said don’t hide your contractions from your mother. I was like WTH grandma, why would I hide my contractions? I don’t want to secretly grow this baby into her adulthood inside my womb.
By 26th of May, my immediate family had started arriving. My father came first, loaded with Ugandan mangoes and avocados (he works in Uganda), the next day my brother flew in from his University, and the day after that my husband finally reached. Just seeing his face after 5 weeks of separation was a push in the right direction for me. Then on May 29th, my other brother surprised us by coming down for a quick visit. Now the whole fam was here! The environment was right, my preparations were on track, I was surrounded by loved ones who came from across the world to be there with me as I bring this new person earthside. Now all that was left was for baby Z to knock (or kick up a contraction) and let us know she’s ready to come out.
I could feel all eyes on me each time I so much as groaned due to a small ache. Even I, in the back of my min, had the thought all the time, “Is today going to be The Day?”
I started walking more. I went shopping with le husband. At night we went out for late night treats near the beach.
On June 01, a day before my due date, around 6pm, I got my first contraction. It was just 20 secs long but was distinct from the Braxton Hicks. The next one came after 20 mins. I took a shower and changed into the clothes I wanted to labor in. I informed my family about what’s happening and they asked me if I want to go to the hospital now. I let them know that we can start when contractions are at least 10 mins apart. Ideally, I Would have waited for 5 mins apart but the hospital is 30 mins away, the roads here are unpredictable, and the weather was being moody. And, despite all my nuttiness, I definitely am not cut out for a car birth.
I asked my family to keep their stuff ready and in the car. My husband deflated and packed my BOBB as I organized my things. My diaper bag and hospital bag were packed and ready to go since my first false alarm at 36 weeks. What was left was the last minute things chargers, medical files, dates etc. I had made a checklist of all the items I would need last minute and kept it on my dresser. That helped tremendously because now I didn’t have to think about anything and could just follow the checklist.
By 8 pm my contractions were 8-10 mins apart and I decided to go. My husband, parents, and I bundled up in the car, all of us excited and nervous, and set off.
The doctor I was consulting was already in the hospital, attending another birth. I wasn’t dilated enough so she asked me to proceed to the room so I can labor naturally there.
The room was one of the best things about this delivery. It felt like I had gone for a vacation lol. The lights were dim, there was wooden flooring, a nice bathroom, and a really comfy bed. My parents and brothers stayed for an hour more and then they left. It was almost midnight now and my husband and I tried to get comfortable for the long night ahead but my contractions didn’t let me sleep the whole night.
The next day the contractions slowly started getting more and more intense. As the pain increased in intensity, I started alternating between squatting and going on all fours on the floor of my room. It was a manageable pain though and I was still able to joke around and relax between the surges. Whenever I felt tired I would either lie down or sit on BOBB.
My husband made me drink water regularly and kept reminding me to be active and keep walking. My mom would take over in between and we would step outside the room to walk back and forth.
At 3pm my doctor asks me to move to the labor room. I pray istikhara and beg Allah to help me make the correct decisions. My husband prays too. Now begins the end.
To be continued…..
Note: This is part one of this The Great Indian Birth Story written by an Indian Muslim writer Nazreen Fazal. This story was reproduced on Dunya Blogs with the permission of the writer.