Something You Might Take for Granted: An Elevator
Having a baby for the first time is usually a scary time for any mother and even if it has been done multiple times, it doesn’t get any easier. Compound that experience with living abroad for the very first time and having no assistance from any family and friends and the story I’m going to share ensues.
As I was in Ghana, West Africa and pregnant with my first child it became clear to me that my experience was not going to be what my friends described as they had their first babies here in America. They enjoyed epidurals and very large birthing suites complete with TVs and cable television to enjoy post-birth.
I became increasingly nervous when I went in for a checkup and the nurses asked me when they gave a shot what shot it was. I honestly had no clue and thought, “shouldn’t you know what shot and when it was given?”. This is perhaps the most volatile medical position to be in, given the fact that it was not just me they were caring for but also my unborn child. The checkups with the doctor were however typically uneventful, and the nurses for the most part were very kind and caring during my process.
The problem came when I was in labor with my daughter and it was time to actually have the baby. I had my husband by my side and was told that I was unable to be given any medication for the pain of the contractions. They had mentioned that they were not going to administer anything to me and that if they did it would have to be at a certain time during the labor so as not to adversely effect the baby’s health. I was in excruciating pain and had no relief in sight as the time had passed for my opportunity to be administered any medication. So, as I am in the hospital room assigned to me upon my arrival, the pains became increasingly stronger and closer together which meant the baby was about to come. I stayed in the hospital room and not the delivery room during the hours I was in labor. Not knowing what it felt like for the baby to “crown” I thought I had to use the restroom and wanted to do so before I had the baby. I had heard horrible stories about women defecating on the delivery table during labor and I did NOT want to be counted among them.
At this point, I am in full throttle labor and my husband’s hand is like spaghetti because I have squeezed it so hard during my contractions. I ask him to please get me to the bathroom so I can get things settled down there before the baby comes. He grabbed my hand and my IV and helped me to the restroom in my hospital room. As I was attempting to “go” I let out a scream and my water broke. That’s when the nurses came running and asked me what was wrong. I was obviously about to have this baby and they KNEW that. After I told them what was happening they said that the baby was coming and they had to check me. Mind you, this is all taking place in my hospital room and not the delivery room.
They, along with my husband, helped me to the bed to check me and then said that the baby was coming and that they will get all their tools and I will just have the baby there in the hospital bed. Then ensued a flurry of nurses and tools and lights that all rushed into my room within the next few minutes complete with a visit from one of the doctors on staff. I don’t know who suggested it but they said that I needed to have the baby in the delivery room, which was on the first floor of the hospital. I was in the bed on the second floor of a hospital that had no elevators. I could not sit in a wheelchair to get to the delivery room that was on the first floor. The nurses gathered everything they needed, IV and all and helped me walk down the hallway, in full labor to get to the delivery room. I walked the hallway, which felt like running a 5K, to the stairwell. They, along with my husband, walked me down the flight of stairs and across the hallway to the delivery room. They helped me get onto the bed and within just a few minutes I was able to deliver my first sweet little baby girl. They got her out, cleaned her up, got her dressed and wrapped up in the blanket that we bought for her and gave her to my husband who was absolutely enamored with her. They helped me to get cleaned up and gave me a few stitches. I remember that my main doctor came in and said congratulations and took a look at the baby and chatted for a minute or two.
After they got me and the baby situated, they then assisted me in getting off of the delivery table, walking across the hallway to the stairwell, walking up that fight of stairs, and walking back to my hospital room, baby in tow.
Above and Beyond?
I remember the year 2008 as one of the best yet most tumultuous and life defining times. On March tenth it was confirmed that I was pregnant. An expecting mother for the first time. I later learnt a first-time mommy is a prima gravida. I was going to be thirty-six in October, so though it was a planned pregnancy, I felt lucky. Bending down I touched my elderly physician’s feet. This was India after all, doctors and teachers were feted as Gods.
She broke into a smile from her usually stern self and told me to bring her sweets after the delivery.
We had only been trying since September 2007, and had received dire warnings from laymen, mostly the old wives tale bearers, neighborhood aunties, that due to my age and the fact I was slightly overweight, I probably wouldn’t conceive. We didn’t seek a medical opinion. Just trusted in a healthy lifestyle in those few months prior to conception, taking long couples walk, attempts at yoga, eating tons of fresh fruits, vegetables and for some reason oats with everything! And it had worked wonders!
The story begins on a September visit to my gynecologist’s chamber, for a minor vaginal infection requiring an anti-yeast ointment. I was too shy, so my husband accompanied me. My late mother had never taken me for these sorts of visits, and frankly I never needed them, as all through my teens and college years I was healthy, athletic and regular as clockwork menses-wise. And no debilitating pains either. I remember taking part in an obstacle race in school merrily clearing hurdles while in full flow. So, though a city girl I didn’t have a regular women’s doctor who I visited.
This grandmotherly lady made out my embarrassment, examined me delicately and prescribed my treatment, casually assuring me it was a common infection that would clear in days. I must have appealed to her maternal instincts, because of my naivete, because she asked me my age. Hearing I’m almost thirty-five she frowned and asked, “Newly married?”
I explained I had been married nearly nine years.
“So, you don’t want children”, she concluded in a quizzical manner, as if to draw me out.
I responded that I did want a baby, and she looked sadly at me.
I guessed what she was thinking and burst out that my husband and I both wanted children but were putting it off for our careers.
Now Doctor looked grim and determined and asked if she could have a talk with my spouse. Without an inkling as to her intention, I hopped off the examination table and popping my head out of doctor’s chamber, asked my husband to come in. Which he did innocently enough, thinking it was a matter of bill payment.
Oh boy! The soft-spoken lady proceeded to give my husband a dressing down, beginning with, “Do you love your wife?” My poor husband looked at me with wide startled eyes, wondering what on earth I had told the doctor. I shook my head at him slightly with raised eyebrows to convey mutual surprise.
The iron lady continued, “She tells me that both of you are thirty-five.” (We had discussed a few other innocuous details in our ten minutes chat without any intent on my part to cast calumny on my husband.) “You are a man. You can have children till you are sixty or seventy, but are you aware you’re putting your wife’s life at risk with each passing year, if she delays conception?”
I piped up indignantly, fired up by hubby’s tense discomfiture, “It’s a joint decision doctor. Please, It’s not his fault.”
Patriarchal India at times, has its benefits as well as grave drawbacks. Doc had assumed decision rested on the man of the house alone, possibly because of my medical ignorance.
She proceeded to ignore me and eyeballed my thirty-five years young head of the house with her sixty plus years of authority. My husband succumbed, nay, collapsed in front of my eyes, promising hastily to go forth and procreate, ASAP.
To be fair, my grandmotherly doctor added, “It’s up to you son. If you don’t want a baby that is, but if you want one, she is at her peak fertility, in danger of crossing over to the side of health risks, and genetic abnormalities. So why keep waiting and put her life at risk? If you love your wife…”
“He does”, I hastily interjected. Hubby and Doc turned their faces towards poor old forgotten me. His eyes conveyed gratitude, hers, amusement.
That was the beginning of the saga, which I like to call both Battle of the bulge, (Exercise and nutrition to combat fat), and batting for baby.
And in less than six months, I came back to her, got tested positive for pregnancy and gratefully touched her feet in “Pronam”, our Indian style ceremonial respect for elders, and asking for blessings. Because she had gone way beyond her professional duties, perhaps exceeded her reach, some would say, in offering the advice a mother would.
My father, upon hearing the whole incident concluded, God worked his miracle through your doctor. What would have been tactless interference from in laws was accepted because it was paid professional medical advice. I mention this to offer an insight into the wider role play of doctors in India still, as protective guardians and miracle workers of divine agency.
For me she was primarily a mother goddess of sorts, who drew out her magic sceptre and commanded my spouse to do right by me. Because in the end joint decisions notwithstanding, it’s primarily the male spouse who delays motherhood by his familial and professional priorities. Very rare is it, that an Indian bride will ask to delay childbearing by 9 years for professional reasons, as neither in laws nor society will accept such unmaternal instincts, without condemning and shaming her. But if you say it was your husband’s wishes, they will nod understandingly, if sadly, and mind their own houses.
In the end, on a happier note, an year and a half later, I got to carry my seven or eight month old son to her chamber, along with a big box of sweets, to happily announce my second pregnancy! “Multi gravida-to be”, I declared with a grin. The reason I hadn’t visited earlier, was because the delivery had been in another part of India where my in-laws stayed.
A caring doctor’s prescient guidance is an amazing thing.