Delivery options: Where in India?

I have been thinking a lot about delivery options lately. Most of the Western women that I know who spend many months of the year in India or who are married to Indians return to their home country to give birth, but it is not an option for me. I have been living away from France for too long and I am not even registered on the national welfare system anymore. I would need to go back three months before delivery to be entitled to receive benefits, and I really don’t feel like spending so much time there. I feel better in India – I feel more relaxed here and I feel my place is here. It just feels more right somehow.

Delivery options: Home birth in Khajuraho

If you have read my post Indian hospitals: 8 hours for my first ultrasound, you will know why I don’t want to have my baby at the Christian Hospital in Chhatarpur (the capital of the district in which Khajuraho belongs, 50 km away).

The (only) other delivery option I have in Khajuraho, is at home with a globe-trotting Western midwife, who will be travelling around India between December and April and who told me last month that she could come here to assist my birth. Just a few hours after I had joined the Birth India group on Facebook and written about my concerns, globe-trotting midwife Suyai wrote to me a private message! I was amazed! It almost made me drunk with confidence and adrenaline and love. She offered to come with all her equipment two weeks before the birth and to stay a week afterwards. What luxury! A Western midwife fallen from the Heavens for me! The next day I spoke to her on the phone for one hour. She has been trained in the UK and she currently works in the USA, she is the same age as me, I had liked her face on the screen and now I liked her voice (and her laughter) on the phone. That conversation with her threw me completely. She raised some issues I had never thought about, making my pregnancy more real than I had ever dared consider. She was also very spiritual and I loved it. At the end of our conversation we talked about how much it would cost, and unfortunately it was a lot more than I could afford. It put me off a bit but I thought I would still consider the option for my baby’s sake…

I have to say I have been dreaming of having my baby at home from getting so much amazing, natural-birth related information from Frederick Leboyer, but there is a big ‘BUT’, the big ‘What if?’. If there is any problem at home, I am one hour away from a hospital I don’t even like. And I will be 39 years old when I deliver my baby. After I hung up the phone my mind really needed to rest and digest. Someone had stirred the lake of my mind with a massive stick, all the mud was whirpooling within it and I couldn’t see anything through the muddy waters. I had to wait until the mud had slowly fallen back down to the bottom and the waters had cleared up again. I spoke a long time to my sister, then to Kishan and later even to my father. My sister was very positive about the midwife. Kishan too. I asked my father if he thought I was crazy, but he said he trusted that I would do the right thing. Some more days passed, and after the waters had cleared up, indeed, that ‘What if?’ was still here big time. I would love to give birth at home but I need another safe option just in case. And in Khajuraho there is just no other option…

Delivery options: do I want a home birth?

Another issue also cropped up: the in-laws! However well-wishing they are for me, I started fearing their overwhelming presence! For a few days, two of my sisters-in-law visited with their husbands and children and I found it hard to breathe. Kishan’s uncle imposed himself at home for four days, and every time he opened his mouth in front of me, it was to tell me that I should wear bangles and sarees, and that I should marry Kishan with a grand ceremony (we’re already married, I know!) feeding the whole community and wearing the required, shiny, christmasy wedding dress. He even said he was going to arrange the wedding himself, but obviously I knew he didn’t mean it. After a couple of days I just spent as much time as possible in my room, just to avoid him. He oppressed me so much that a week before leaving to Varanasi I started counting the days I still had before my eight-day escape! And I couldn’t possibly imagine having my baby at home! What if all my sisters-in-law come at once before the birth, and worse, after I’ve had my baby and I need time to rest – what if they impose their way of doing things? Kishan assured me that they would give me space, and I think he’s right, but only to some extent. There is no intimacy in India after all, despite their biggest efforts! The thing is, I have no trusted friend in Khajuraho apart from Kishan! No-one like me, with whom I don’t have to constantly limit myself in talking and being, and whom I am not scared to shock by breaking countless Hindu taboos. So at such a personal and intimate time like birth? No-way! I’ll have to do things the way I feel them! It will be impossible to compromise! I will have to be myself fully! I need support from a Westerner, not just the midwife I don’t even yet know…

Delivery options: Phoenix Hospital in Delhi

In Delhi, I know the amazing Phoenix Hospital because this is where I got my coil removed in May. I briefly mention the Phoenix Hospital in this post. That hospital is spotlessly clean according to Western standards – actually almost too sleek for me!

Even though I have friends there now who live less than five minutes walk-distance from the Phoenix hospital, Delhi is Delhi! And do I want to spend one to two months in Delhi before and after giving birth? The more I think about it, the more I just think “No-way!” Besides it would probably be way too expensive for us as well… So Delhi is no longer a delivery option for me…

I had planned to go and check out the hospital in November but I don’t know if I can be bothered now…

Delivery options: Ashok Care Home in Varanasi

Ashok Care Home, Varanasi
Ashok Care Home, Varanasi

I came back home yesterday after eight days in Varanasi. It was very nice to spend some time in the City of Light again after five long months. It was lovely to spent some time with my Western friends again, to walk along the Ganges river, and to go to the best concerts I could have dreamt of while on such a short stay in Varanasi – namely by world-famous Hindustani violinist N. Rajam and insanely talented sitarist Niladri Kumar!

I also visited a small hospital located less than hundred metres away (!) from the flat I share with my friends, Ashok Care Home. This is where two Western mamas I know gave birth a few years ago, and which – they told me – was great.

The fact that this hospital is so small seems like a miracle in India. Most hospitals I have visited are huge, with crowds of patients waiting for hours without food before they get seen by a doctor. (Again, you can read Indian hospitals: 8 hours to get my first ultrasound to get an idea!)

Ashok Care Home almost feels homely because it is so small. I walked into the small reception and I told the lady I was seventeen weeks pregnant and that I wanted to see the lady doctor. I just had to walk a few steps into the waiting room, which was modest and nice and clean, and where just a few patients were waiting. Within ten or fifteen minutes only I was called in to see the doctor, in a room just behind the waiting room. I lied down on the bed and a nurse checked my blood pressure, then the doctor came in and felt my tummy. A few minutes later I got up and I popped onto a scale. 67.3 kg, which means I must have put on about four or five kilos. Then I walked into the next room and sat at the desk with the doctor, who pulled out a sheet of paper and started writing results and a prescription. Her English was perfect, and it was a big relief because although I am fluent in Hindi, talking about medical stuff in Hindi is just too difficult for me. English feels a lot more natural when it comes to a serious subject like birth, because I want to understand absolutely everything.

Delivery options: Distance from home to hospital in Varanasi
Delivery options: Distance from home to hospital in Varanasi

The ‘lady-doctor’ was kind. She told me to get a ‘triple blood test’ done to check for the baby’s anomaly according to hormone rate. I had planned to get that test done in Varanasi and so I was glad she corroborated! She also wrote that I should get an ultrasound test done; I had thought I would wait for the twentieth week but she told me the laboratory would probably insist for the ultrasound… I asked her a couple other questions about how she assisted delivery and how much the hospital charged: 10,000 to 15,000 rupees for normal delivery (210 €!) and up to 38,000 for a C-section (with AC room)! A friend who has been volunteering for over ten years in Varanasi and who knows all the establishments and doctors in town told me that it was expensive, but for me it’s absolutely fine, and a lot more affordable than the Western midwife… Then I asked to see the rooms of the hospital. Within five minutes I went upstairs with the receptionist, to find modest but pleasant and clean rooms. I was out of the hospital within about thirty minutes, really happy except for the fact that the lady-doctor had told me she only performed deliveries lying down. But apart from that, frankly, that hospital was just heaven. Just three minutes’ walk from my flat, in my favourite, quiet, familiar area of the city, opposite my favourite bread shop and just behind my most familiar chai shop. And right by the Ganges, too!

Second ultrasound in Varanasi

Pregnancy in India : ultrasound 2
Delivery options:  ultrasound no. 2

In the afternoon I went to the pathology lab, which the lady-doctor as well as two friends of mine had recommended, just over ten minutes walk away from my flat. They told me to come back on the Monday at 7:00. On the Monday it was difficult to get up early because I had gone to one of those amazing concerts the night before and it had ended late, so I went for 8:30. The receptionist hadn’t told me there was a token-system so he told me to come back at 14:00. I complained, as I had things to do, and then he agreed that I could come at 10:00 (a favour because I was a foreigner). I left and returned at 10 with my French girlfriend so she would see the ultrasound with me. A man took me through the waiting crowd straight through the glass doors and into the ultrasound area. We waited for about thirty minutes, and I got my scan done. The ultrasound room was nothing like that of the Chhatarpur Hospital, cleaner and a lot better equipped. The doctor took his time, not like at my first chain-work-ultrasound, and he was friendly and spoke good English. After a short while he turned the screen and here we were! Amazed by what we saw! My baby, in so much details!!! I almost saw him/her smile. The umbilical cord, his/her little fists next to his/her face, wow! Amazing, and very cute! After that my friend left, and two photocopies and a withdrawal at the ATM later, I got my blood test done. I didn’t have to wait a minute as the nurse took me in straight away. On the following day I could go back to get my results.

Delivery options: Ashirvad Hospital in Varanasi

In the meantime another friend, who has been living in Varanasi for over fifteen years, had told me about the best gynaecologist in Varanasi, Usha Gupta, who works in a certain Ashirvad Hospital in Mahmoorganj. I had found her phone number on the internet, and had even found out that she has been established since 1974 and that she’s 68 years old! I had phoned her to ask her if there are any midwives in Varanasi, just to check. She told me “There’s no midwife in this city, my daughter. Only doctors!” The tone of her voice had not impressed me, but I thought I would check her out anyway, for the sake of certainty. She had told me to come at 5 o’clock the following day, that was the day I’d get my test done. Now, Mahmoorganj is really far away from my part of town, and 5 o’clock is possibly the worst time of day to take a rickshaw there, because of crazy traffic. But my friends and I had been invited at an engagement party (last minute invitation!) in a posh hotel near the station, which was kind of on the way, so I thought I would go to see Usha Gupta and then join them at the party. I was a bit late to leave the flat because I had taken a nap. First I took a cycle rickshaw to the main crossing of town (Godawlia). The road was so bumpy that I had to protect my pregnant belly by supporting myself with my hands on the back of the seat to stay standing  and to absorb the shocks with my knees! Half-way we met some kind of Muslim festival so the road was blocked and I had to get off and walk for the rest of the way. Once at the crossing I thought I would find an autorickshaw for the Mahmoorganj area, but I had to walk to the next crossing, as no rickshaws were to be found (a new rule to lessen traffic, I guess?) After I had walked five minutes, a man stopped me and asked me where I wanted to go. I understood he was a kind of ‘mediator’ who was helping pedestrians to find tuk-tuks to their destination! He told me there were some roadworks and the traffic was terrible to go to Mahmoorganj. I was late already. He stopped a first rickshaw driver who refused to take me there. Finally after at least five minutes, a driver stopped for me and the ‘mediator’ told him to drop me at “Usha Gupta Hospital”. She was famous indeed! I was glad I had managed to find a shared auto as it would be cheaper, but I didn’t know when the heck I would reach my destination. The auto took the road, I covered my nose with my dupatta (shawl) to avoid breathing fumes, and after some time we found ourselves in a traffic jam that looked like it would never resolve. I had already started losing motivation for this hospital, thinking if I had to deliver there I would probably give birth in a rickshaw in the middle of the smelly, noisy, Varanasi traffic! No way!!! After some time I phoned my friends to say I would probably be late at the party. But within five minutes, somehow the vehicles started running again and I reached the hospital!

I walked through one of the hospital gates but was directed to walk out and into another across the road. The hospital was huge. Through the gate and into a building, people pointed me to some kind of waiting hall, surrounded with numbered rooms, and they told me to go to Room no.3. The waiting hall was full of people, and Room no.3 was the only one in front of which a crowd of people stood, stuck together. Above this room only there was a screen with token numbers. I went out and asked two people where I could find a number, but they just told me to wait in front of the room. When I went back to the small waiting crowd I realised they were all holding reference files with a number on. I had no file from this hospital to show of course, but I started waiting. I noticed a pregnant woman who was at least in her eighth month – she too was standing – and I thought I would never accept such conditions for myself! After about five minutes of vain attempts to look into the room when the door opened to try and see the famous gynaecologist, I decided I had enough and the hospital was too big and too far to even bother. I left, as it sounded way more fun to join my friends at the engagement party…

Back in the small (miraculous) Varanasi hospital

On the next day, my last day in Varanasi, I went back to Ashok Care Home, grateful for its miraculous proximity! I wanted to show my results to the doctor, with my French girlfriend so she too could check the place out. We waited even less than the first time, maybe three minutes (!) We spoke to the doctor, who told me that my placenta was low and that I had to be extra careful with bumpy roads (oops!) and I should not carry heavy weight. She told me not to worry though because in a few weeks it will go up. From the next day onwards I would be fine with the bumpy roads anyway, as I would be back in Khajuraho! We saw the doctor longer than I had seen the first time, and she appeared even more friendly. She was nice and comforting, and positive too. She told me that they recommended women to move and walk during labour so that the baby goes down naturally with gravity, and for me, it really compensated for the lying-down-delivery. I told the doctor that I had decided to come here for delivery, and I asked when it would still be safe to travel a night by train. She told me she thought my baby would probably come ten days before delivery date (How would she tell!?) and that I should come no later than 10 March. Within fifteen minutes we walked out of the hospital. My friend told me how perfect she thought this hospital would be, and how much she had liked the doctor! Besides, if my baby came early my French girlfriend could probably be with me at the delivery!

Delivery options: A birth 5 minutes walk from Assi Ghat, Varanasi!

Back in Khajuraho I told my mother-in-law that I wanted to have my baby in Varanasi, and she expressed her understanding and support.

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