When I was pregnant with my firstborn 8 years ago, I was living in Ireland. We did not have family there and many people suggested that I should come back to India for the delivery, at least for the support system if not for anything else. But I was scared because of all the C-section deliveries that I kept hearing about all around me. Doctors didn’t seem to have patience.
When I was around 10 weeks pregnant I went to India and I started talking to people around me, asking them questions about pregnancy and delivery, I could get no proper information. Doctors didn’t bother explaining anything much and family and friends were not either ready to talk much or didn’t know anything much to give me any kind of information. I came back heartbroken. There was no concept of informed birthing at all, or at least I could not find any in the short span that I was here.
Back in Ireland, during my first hospital visit, I was asked to register for antenatal and breastfeeding classes. These were supposed to be attended by the couple and will help the woman learn more about the labour process. Kind of puts the fear out of labour for a start. The more we are informed, the more we are equipped to handle any situation. I was also clearly told by the consultant that pregnancy was not a disease and that other than maybe horse riding and something crazy like that, I could have a normal life and do everything normally. I was also given a tour of the labour ward.
I was also told when people say “eat for two”, I am not eating for two adults. All I needed was anything between 350-500 calories extra based on which trimester I was and I could get that with just a couple of glasses of milk and a handful of nuts or a fruit. I was asked to go ahead with my badminton, walking and swimming as usual.
I also learnt about water birth, home birth and all other different options available to me. With both my babies, I was overdue and I was given the option of being induced and having a vaginal delivery rather than go for a C-section.
What is available in India:-
Now let us come to what has changed in India over the years.
There are more and more women who have come forth to tell their birth stories. There are India based support groups on the internet. There are birthing centres run by qualified professionals where they let you have your baby in a much more peaceful environment. There are doulas available to assist you in a home birth if you are interested. There are doctors and hospitals that support Vaginal Birth After Cesarean (VBAC) and there are also support groups for these too.There are private antenatal classes for pregnant women. There are breastfeeding counsellors who will help you in the initial stages. All these support groups give you information about all the options that are available, with details about doctors, hospitals, doulas, birthing centres, antenatal classes, lactation consultants and anything else that you will need.
There are networks like the Bangalore birth network who work hard to make pregnancy and delivery a normal process for women from all walks of life.
The labour process is just not about bringing the baby out from the mother, there is so much more involved. There is overdue babies, episiotomy, delayed cord clamping, skin to skin of baby and mother right after birth which encourages breastfeeding, and a whole lot more that a woman has to know about and given choices.
There are many times when a scan is done and the woman is told that the baby is big and C-section is the only option. Women have to know and remember that there is no accurate way to tell the exact baby weight before the baby is born. It is just an estimate and get a second opinion.
The very fact that a woman is not given choices and are taken advantage of is like an invasion of privacy to me. Many women are induced because the doctor is busy on the expected due date or asked to go for a c-section when they could have gone in for a normal delivery if they are ready to wait it out for the body to get ready and go about the normal process.
When a woman delivers a baby vaginally, without being induced, the woman’s body is ready and flexible to take care of everything usually. The baby when it comes out vaginally has its head moulded into shape because of the pressure and also the baby’s immunity increases because of the good bacteria it gets from the vaginal passage.
Women should be given the choice of walking around till the baby is ready to come out. Also, she should be given a choice of what position she wants to be in for labour. A woman should also be given the choice of pain management. The doctor/hospital should be able to give the information about different pain relief methods that are available so that the woman can choose what she wants. Finding a hospital/doctor which allows a person with the pregnant woman during labour, like spouse, mother, friend, sister or a doula for moral support would be an added advantage.
Gentle normal birthing and informed consent is a human right for both baby and the mother and it should be respected by all means. The only way this can be implemented is by the woman and family being informed about what is right and what choices a woman has.
A few tips for informed birthing:-
- There are plenty of homebirthing videos available online. Watch them to get an idea of what to expect.
- Talk to different people and get their birth experiences. Some have babies in 45 minutes flat and for some the labour is more than 24 hours.
- Find a friendly gynecologist who will explain everything to you, give you a tour of the labour ward, and wait it out for a normal delivery as much as possible.
- There will be plenty of people who come up with advice on what to do and what not to do. Be wary and do your research before you believe in anything that is said.
- If in doubt, get a second opinion right away.
- Make a list of what you want and talk to your doctor and family about it. Be clear with what you want and what you would consider as second best if things don’t go according to plan.
- Check for alternate treatments. I took homeopathy medicines from my seventh month for easy delivery when I had my daughter and it helped in many ways.
Pregnancy and delivery are beautiful experiences and every woman has the right to enjoy it in the best possible way and not be guilty about or regret any of the choices that were forced upon her.
A few links for informed birthing:-
https://www.facebook.com/groups/InformedBirthingIndia/ – Informed birthing India
https://www.facebook.com/groups/bangalorebirthnetworksupport/ – Bangalore Birth Network
https://www.facebook.com/groups/256801324527892/ – VBAC and Natural birth support group in India