Kalyani was born on 11 March 2016 at 2:21am, and this is my Varanasi birth story.
Perhaps it all started on the evening of 8 March, when we found out that there would be a solar eclipse on the following day…
My Varanasi birth story : solar eclipse & waters breaking
Eclipses are a bad omen for pregnant women in India – not that I cared about it, obviously… But suddenly Kishan was all worried about the eclipse, and he told me not to look at the sun the following day, blah blah blah. He had been planning to go back to Khajuraho on 9 March and to return on the 14th, since according to the doc Baby would arrive any time after the 15th. I really didn’t want him to go, but I couldn’t convince him otherwise as he had some ‘important’ work to take care of for his family. Then he spoke to his mother on the phone, and suddenly, she told him he should absolutely not leave me alone in Varanasi, because of the solar eclipse!!! Now, this was the first time I was thrilled about a silly superstitious Hindu rule, which for once was doing a lot of good to me!
We were going for a walk along the Ganges when we found out about the eclipse, and on the way we met a baba-friend who told us it would happen between 6 and 6:45 am. I started wondering what the big deal was, since after 7am it would be all over, but I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want Kishan to change his mind about going to Khajuraho… In the morning of 9 March I woke up at about 6.15am for a pee and could not help but glance at the sun through the window on my way to the loo, knowing that I was not ‘supposed’ to look but never mind, haha… Then I went back to bed. Later that morning Kishan’s mother phoned again to say that the eclipse/bad omen was over now and so I could go out, but she still insisted that Kishan should stay with me, and we did cancel his train tickets, YAY!
I guess the eclipse was not such a bad omen for me: At 11:00, I was just finishing sweeping the floor, squatting with one of those Indian straw jharus (brooms), when I felt some liquid wet my pants uncontrollably!!! “Oh my God!” – I thought. I ran to the toilet and screamed at Kishan to come immediately. My waters were breaking, just about four hours after the solar eclipse! What an odd feeling! Hot liquid running down without your control… And so I squatted over the toilet to let the liquid run down some more, but it kept leaking for a while, then stopping, then leaking again, etc. so it was really difficult to know when I could leave the toilet! At that very moment, I heard Marie come upstairs – she was just coming back from a short trip to Delhi when my waters broke!!! It was amazing! Baby had chosen to come just when Marie came back from Delhi and before Kishan even had a chance to go to Khajuraho!!! And it was a lot earlier than expected, Marie’s visa was only expiring ten days later – yes! This meant she was going to assist my delivery!
My Varanasi birth story : admission at the hospital
We had not really packed anything for the hospital yet since it was so early, but it was just two minutes’ walk away from the flat so it was not much of an issue. We grabbed Baby’s file, I popped a skirt on and a (useless) pad in my pants and we walked to the hospital. My waters kept leaking down my legs and I was seen straight away. The doctor did an internal check and found out that I was one-centimetre dilated. She seemed really concerned that Baby was coming so early. “I had hope s/he would wait for another week” she said. Then she added that as Baby was three weeks early s/he might be a little premature, and as the hospital had no nursery, if s/he had difficulty breastfeeding they might take him/her to a nursery further away. “Gulp!” I thought. That was not exactly reassuring. And then she said that because my waters had broken and I was having no contractions, the delivery had to be induced straight away. “No way!” I thought. I had read horror stories about pitocin, i.e. artificial oxytocin (the hormone of birth, sex and breastfeeding, which triggers labour), and I wanted my labour as natural as possible! So I asked if we could wait to see if labour picked up on its own. She agreed.
But I was admitted at the hospital and they showed me my room – the same one I had visited back in October. It was pleasant, and there was even an extra room with a sofa for visitors. Modest but spacious and comfortable. The weather too was miraculously pleasant for the season. Then Kishan and Marie did a few trips back and forth from the flat to bring in some of my stuff as well as snacks and fruits. The nurses who came to see me were very sweet. Marie would sleep with me in the night, but Kishan decided that he was too scared.
Then a nurse came to see me and told me that she was here for the enema and shaving. “What!?” I didn’t want any of that; it all sounded useless and silly! But she didn’t insist and left me. After that we were given a list of medicines, which Marie went to buy from the hospital’s medical store downstairs. Almost 3000 rupees and a huge bag full of medicines, which I really, really didn’t like at all… I started fearing the delivery would be all medicalised and horrible, but then the ‘enema & shaving’ nurse came back and told me that if we didn’t use any of the medicines we could just return them and get the money back, and she added another thing that reassured me big time: the doctor had told all the nurses that they should induce my labour only when I decided to do so. Wow, then! They were respecting my decisions, and I was really happy!
Miraculous distance-midwives & trying to get the contractions to pick up
But the contractions hardly started to pick-up. Marie had just met a friend of a friend on her train back from Delhi, who was… a Swiss midwife and who was going to be in Varanasi until the following day!!! So she managed to get her phone number to ask her for advice, but she didn’t answer. How long could I wait for the contractions to pick-up after my waters had broken? I googled my smartphone, asked my sister on WhatsApp and wrote on the Facebook birth group. It seemed the average was about twenty-four hours, although there is a risk of infection and baby’s distress if too much amniotic liquid has leaked. However, in India people don’t wait that much time for hygiene issues. I knew contractions could be encouraged by walking and climbing stairs and basically moving about, so I started walking about in the hospital. All that time walking around the corridors of the small hospital would drive me nuts though, so Marie suggested that we go for a walk near the Ganges. She also decided I would feel better at the pizzeria with a fresh fruit juice and an apple pie, so we walked to the pizzeria that overlooks the river Ganges ♥.
As we walked Marie tried to call the Swiss midwife again, and she finally picked up her phone. Amazing! A midwife on the phone for me! She asked me some questions about how my pregnancy had been going and according to my answers she told me that I could probably wait for about twenty-four hours. A few minutes later Kishan passed me his phone and said an English woman wanted to speak to me. I wondered who it was, and when I understood, my eyes grew wide in bewilderment. Yes, it was her, the globetrotting midwife who had offered to assist my delivery after reading my very first question on the Birth India group back in September!!! She had read my question today, and had decided to phone Kishan to speak to me rather than reply online! I didn’t even remember giving her Kishan’s number, and there she was, on the phone, being amazingly supportive and helpful. I just couldn’t believe it. There was no such things as midwives in Varanasi, and yet I was receiving advice from two midwives over the phone! The globetrotting midwife also told me I could phone her whenever I wanted over the course of my labour if I had any questions. I sure was a bit anxious and sometimes not completely confident about waiting for contractions to pick up, but surely the Universe was with me, and the fact that the doctor had not insisted on inducing my delivery meant that she wasn’t too worried either…
Back to the hospital & still no strong contractions
Then we went back to the hospital. I was having a few contractions but really nothing serious or too painful. I phoned the globetrotting midwife again, who told me that as oxytocin which triggers contractions is also the love hormone, snuggling with husband might help!!! So I tried that with Kishan, and wow, the contractions became stronger and more regular as we cuddled! So we had a few ‘cuddling sessions’ like that, then I would go and walk around the corridors and up the stairs of the hospital. But when I got tired I had to come back and rest, and as I rested, the contractions almost stopped. I came to a point where I felt I had to do something to have contractions, and I was scared to rest in between as they would stop! Then night time came and I slept through it, not disturbed by the contractions but by the nurses who came every two hours to check Baby’s heart beat!
On the following morning the doctor came in for a check and told me I was two-centimetre dilated. So I carried on the work, alternating snuggling sessions, walking, belly dancing, visualisation, etc. Marie and Kishan were amazing, bringing me food and fruits to eat (food is not provided in Indian hospitals). I kept drinking a lot of water to minimise the risk of infection. The nurses sometimes were late to come and check Baby’s heart beat so I would knock at their door and they came to check. By 4:00pm I started wondering when the doctor would come back and check me again. With Marie I went downstairs to ask when she was going to come – 5:00pm, then 6:00pm… Oh, India! In the end Marie went down again to ask to see the doctor. When she came back, she sat down on her bed and started talking to me seriously. “The doctor is concerned now. It’s been over twenty-four hours and your contractions are not strong enough. I didn’t tell you, but since this afternoon I’ve also been worried. You can’t go on like this.” I had been concerned too, but I hadn’t wanted to admit it. I burst into tears and Marie took me in her arms. I felt like a very, very little girl. “Perhaps you don’t want that Baby to leave you, or you’re scared”, Marie told me. And I realised that I was. I had to let go, and I hadn’t wanted to. Despite all the stuff I had read about letting go in yoga books and pregnancy websites, I was actually being a control-freak, as usual, and it was not going to work during labour and delivery – I knew it, I had read it, but now I had to actively let go! It all went with the tears… I also told Marie I was scared to have a child. Perhaps I was so scared because I hadn’t had a mum for so long… But she was right. I couldn’t go on like this. I had to trust the doctor! It was evening now, and I had been worried about another night. I didn’t want to just sleep through it this time, and so I accepted my labour should be induced… By about 7:00pm the doctor finally came to my room. She did another check; I had hardly dilated any more since the morning. Doctor reiterated what Marie had told me, and again I burst into tears, with the doctor this time! I accepted to be induced, but I told the doctor to start the drips slowly-slowly… The doctor did instruct the nurses to get on with the pitocin drips very gradually…
Kishan was out doing something so I phoned to ask him to come straight away. We spoke and of course he was okay for me to be induced. He couldn’t wait to see his child anyway! But seeing me cry like this, he decided he too would stay in the night with us, in the sofa room, horray! And so we waited for the nurses to come back with the pitocin drips…
My Varanasi birth story : induction
I got induced at about 10:00pm on 10 March. Before that, one of the nurses told me to eat something. Marie thought it was really odd-practice, but I was a bit hungry so I had the yummy pasta leftover which she had cooked for me at lunch time…
Then the nurse I liked – the one who was really friendly and who kept saying I was her “best friend” placed the perfusion just above my left wrist. I had actually never been on a drip before and it made me feel like a sick patient for a bit, but then I knew it was only in my head. I was quite uncomfortable to move my hand around, not used to the confined feeling of being attached to a tube! As soon as the perfusion was set I started feeling nauseous for maybe half a minute, but then it passed…
So the nurse, as promised, had put me on “very gradual” drips. It seemed like it was doing nothing for a while, so I tried to go to sleep for as long as I could. I didn’t know where to rest my left hand because of the perfusion at first but eventually I found a place on the bed. The nurses came regularly to see me and ask me if I had “dard” (pain) but every time I said “not much”… I was lying on my right side as usual because it was comfortable. Baby had tended to curl on the right side of my belly for the last few months of my pregnancy, too. One of the nurse advised me to lie on my left side, as it would place the baby in a better position for delivery, and as soon as I did so I realised she was right…
Minutes passed, no idea how long, and I couldn’t really sleep but I rested focusing on my breath anyway. I had very mild contractions, and for a while I wondered if those drips were doing anything to me. Yes, I know, I always tend to distrust doctors in India – and I really had to let go this time! After maybe an hour (?) I expressed my doubts to Marie but soon after I started feeling some stronger contractions, and suddenly there was no way I could carry on pretending to fall asleep…
My Varanasi birth story : finally labour starts
I sat on the bed and tried to focus on my breath, because it was starting to be seriously painful like very strong period pain. I hurried Kishan to sit by my side and to rub my back so that I could focus on the pleasant massage rather than on the pain in my tummy. I had read that in one of my books and it was really, really comforting indeed! After a while I started feeling nauseous and oh, oh, oh! I called Kishan to hold my drip bottle up, and with him I (kind of!) ran as I could to the bathroom and vomited my entire pasta dish into the toilet! Indeed very odd advice to eat before being induced… I was squatting over the toilet because it seemed to be the only comfortable(ish!) position, but it was tiring – and the contractions were really painful. I shouted at Kishan for some more back massage, not exactly a romantic situation squatting over the toilet vomiting. There was a plastic basin on the side of the toilet and I reached and grabbed it, turned it over and sat on it to rest my legs at least. I stayed in that position for a while although I had stopped vomiting, because somehow it was helping me deal with the contractions… After a while though I went back to the room, because I wasn’t going to stay in the toilet forever!
The nurses were popping from time to time to see if the pain had picked up, but apart from that they left me alone with Kishan and Marie, which was really good. A woman in labour just needs to be left alone; it’s so true! Marie was amazing at hugging and holding me when it was too much for Kishan. Soon she advised me to do some short ‘doggy-type’ breathing practice like she had done when she was pregnant forty-four years before. That too really helped, but when one of the visiting nurses saw me do that she tried to stop me, telling me that this type of breathing would make the baby go up!!! Now what kind of silly theory is that!? Marie protested and I carried on breathing like a doggy obviously, not caring about the nurse. As always since the beginning, they were telling me things but not imposing anything – I guess they knew they couldn’t with educated foreign women!
I had learned walking and moving about is good to soothe contractions but I was feeling far too groggy and weak to move from the bed, and it was really impractical while being attached to a bottle through that perfusion anyway! I also started to feel really cold, regretting not having brought my sweater with me. Marie threw her thick shawl onto my shoulders and it was quite impractical as it kept falling down, but I had to make do with it. I was also feeling thirsty and had to drink water regularly so my mouth wouldn’t dry up. The contractions now were really strong and oh, by the way, groaning was also soothing me a lot – while hugging Kishan and swaying from side to side, just like in those hypnobirthing videos. I was so happy Kishan was with me! All along my pregnancy he had been unable to prepare himself for birth – men in India are forbidden from any “ladies’ affairs” in hospitals, and they really are conditioned into thinking they have nothing to do with birth. Interestingly, one day during my pregnancy I came to realise that in India, birth is a woman-only affair, while death is man-only! Odd, when both men and women are born and die! So Kishan had been incapable of thinking about birth beforehand, and he had been quite anxious at the thought of it. Yet, on the spot, he did exactly what I had dreamt he would do for me – being there for me in labour.
My Varanasi birth story : contractions get stronger…
Soon I had very little rest between contractions, and I knew that was a disadvantage of pitocin. I had oscillating but constant pain, rather than proper rest between contractions. Somehow though I could manage through the pain, knowing work was under way. Oh, and it’s true that TIME STOPS COMPLETELY during labour! It’s amazing how much IN THE MOMENT you have to be to deal with those sensations, this unique process, and how superfluous etiquette is thrown out of window in favour of feeling and intuition!!! When the contractions were really intense I just couldn’t do anything but be with it, I had to warn Kishan and Marie that I couldn’t move or speak or whatever and oh, wow, gasp, no! Breathe! And moan, moan, moan into it… Soon a nurse came and seeing I was in so much pain she did an internal check. It was hardly impossible for me to sit onto the bed and move into a lying position – I had to do it in stages between the pains and the moans. Eventually, “Quick!” She said. “We have to go to the delivery room!” What?! Already!? I was fully dilated and really excited to find out about it. I sat back up clumsily, dealing with the pain as I moved and really wondering how I would be able to walk up a floor and to the delivery room! But with Kishan and Marie’s support on both sides, somehow I could and as I walked the pain almost stopped, miraculously. I was glad it was night time and no-one was around the corridors, because some more of my waters were leaking as I walked, almost making me lose my flip-flops at each step, and I had given up on my pants and skirt as it was too impractical to deal with – thus just wearing my tunic! I wasn’t feeling particularly bad because I was excited Baby would be there so soon, but I must have been a very painful sight for the outsider! And I couldn’t care less!
My Varanasi birth story : off to the delivery room!
Although I had known and accepted from the beginning that the doctor only assisted deliveries lying down, all along I had wondered (dreamt?) if I would be able to put a stack of pillows underneath my back on the delivery bed to help myself with gravity. However, when I saw that hard table – not even a bed – I realised there was no way! I would have to deliver lying completely flat on my back with my legs up – the typical position that’s convenient for doctors but not birthing women… As soon as I was settled I was told to push – the nurses actually told me “to poo” as hard as I could. I had read pitocin prevents you to feel the natural urges to push, but in my case (happily!) it really wasn’t the case! And wow! What powerful urges they were!
I was feeling so hot now that Marie applied some cold water on my forehead and made me drink from her bottle. She really was amazing at guessing what I needed. But the nurses panicked and said that drinking water would make me vomit! One of them even presented me with a basin, but I was surprised and I said I didn’t need to! Despite the nurses’ warnings Marie pampered me with cold water and wetted my lips. She even sparkled some water into my face and neck and it felt like heaven. It was so comforting and perfect!
And whenever the urges came, the nurses told me to push as though I pooed. Wow, oh wow! I screamed like I had never screamed in my entire life before! Marie told me afterwards that to her I hadn’t screamed apart from one uncontrolled shriek. I guess she’s right – but I shouted, no, I YELLED MY LUNGS OUT, the loudest in the entire world. (I actually yelled so loud that for two days after delivery I had a broken voice!) Could all the patients of the hospital hear me, I wondered!?!?!? I wondered but couldn’t care less!!! I was lucid throughout the process – the entire birthing process. And as I yelled I kept finding it amazing – IT WAS NOT PAIN – IT WAS INCREDIBLE FORCE, INCREDIBLE POWER. I thought the veins around my eyes and forehead would pop, and my face must have been so red! And I yelled and yelled and then rested, breathing with my mouth open – it just happened, you really do what your body wants you to do – and those times of breathing with mouth open as I rested were amazing. My sister had just told me the day before that opening one’s mouth helps opening the cervix, and I wondered if it was true. And then again I yelled, “Eeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!!!” – “Ooooooooooooooooooh!!!!!!” – Marie told me afterwards that Kishan had run to the other end of the corridor as soon as he heard me yell, haha. Again it must have been an awful sight to see me from the outside, and that horrible birthing video from my biology lesson in eighth class came to my mind as I yelled, for I probably looked and sounded exactly like that woman. But inside I was fine. Pushing was nowhere near unpleasant as labour, and I had quite a good rest focusing on my breath in between pushes.
I also kept shouting “No cut! No cut!” to the nurses because I didn’t want an episiotomy. After a while, after the doctor had finally arrived, she said the head was one centimetre away from the exit. It was incredible to hear. But she said I still had to push a while and I would probably tear so she advised me to accept the episiotomy. I was tired and a bit impatient at that point so I did accept the cut in the end.
In that state anyway, I couldn’t care less about the consequences and recovery. I just wanted my baby out! So she did it, a small injection of anesthetics in my perineum that felt like nothing, and then I resumed pushing. I did have to push quite a few more times (stupid lying position!) always trying to focus on keeping Baby’s passage relaxed, as I had practised with energy yoga. Then the head came out, the doctor and Marie told me, and I could actually feel it. As the head passed through the last door it felt like stinging around there, not so nice when the pushing urge stopped and I had to rest and breathe – but I so was near the end (and the new beginning!) that I was happy. Oh, and just before that – I forgot to mention – I recognised the transition phase very clearly – the phase just before Baby pops out, during which you basically feel so vulnerable as though you’re going to die. It really felt like that, like I was going to die! But as I had recognised the phase, and I knew it was the shortest, I didn’t worry and I relaxed into it. Soon the head was out, and as soon as it was out I felt the shoulders and the rest of my baby’s body came out.
Hello Kalyani ♥ !
As soon as Baby was out I vaguely saw the nurses carry my baby up and approach him/her with scissors, about to cut the cord. “Wait til it stops pulsing!!!” I shouted. “Wait! Wait!” But they were acting in automatic mode, and Marie later told me that my shouts had been vain – because I couldn’t see anything, being in such an exhausted and emotional state, and without glasses on my nose! Quickly they placed my baby on my tummy but in the midst of the emotional rush and in tears, I tried to get the nurses to lift my tunic up so baby would actually be on my skin! Even though I had especially confirmed with the doctor beforehand that there would be a skin-to-skin stage… And they clumsily lifted my tunic up and placed Baby on my tummy, but it was all so quick – oh and in the midst of emotion I didn’t really care anymore, Baby was out! OH MY GOD!! Life is a miracle! “It’s a boy!” Marie told me – I stroke his sticky head exclaiming “Mon Poupouille!” in tears. It really was that astonishing rush of love they all talk about! I couldn’t see his face and I had no glasses on so Marie helped me turn him so I would see – and then she told me “No, it’s a girl! I hadn’t seen clearly somehow!” – confused with the cord, actually. And I was happier that she was a girl somehow! “Ma Poupouillette!” I rectified. She was not crying, she was quiet and peaceful and then she just voiced a sound.
Too quickly they took her for the medical checks, just a couple of metres away from me in a little cot, but it was dark and I couldn’t see very well – I just heard Kalyani cry and then everything went blank; I passed out into sleep. Marie later told me the nurses were so tactless that she had taken Kalyani in her own arms during the checks to treat her more gently.
Then I remembered being the most tired I had ever been in my entire life. They lifted me and put me on a stretcher and my body was so floppy that when they lifted my limbs they fell down flat, soulless onto it. I somehow remember finding it interestingly funny. When I came back to my spirits I was back in my room, hardly recognising it as I was so, so very flat and exhausted – but happy. It took me a few minutes to realise. And then I was back on my bed with my little Kalyani cleaned and dressed and wrapped in a blanket on my body (it was cold for the season, it even had rained!) I stroke her head as I cried some more, ready for a sleepless night. I had no idea what time it was, but Marie told me she was born at 2:21am, just four and a half hours after I had been induced… She weighed 2.5 kilos.
And then I was a new woman, a mother, dead proud of myself that I had made it and so well – I was on the other side now. The side of mothers!
A last small ‘Incredible-India’ type detail !
I want to add one final detail to this post, because it’s so much fun that I have to share it.
After delivery I couldn’t possibly sit because my episiotomy scar was painful. Then Marie remembered that after her own daughter was born, about forty-four years before Kalyani’s birth, the hospital where she had given birth had provided a kind of rubber ring for her to sit on while she recovered from the episiotomy…
She started thinking about what we could use so I could sit more comfortably, and quickly she found a really fun answer…
Yep. For the following six days I sat on a rickshaw’s inner tire! 😀