Friday, April 25, 2008

Dial 911 for Amma - 4

Yes, it was too late to have someone over. And yes, we would do just fine on our own. After repeated reassurances from the husband, the matter of having family over was finally laid to rest and we set about tackling other practical issues. Like packing a suitcase for the hospital. Like arranging for childcare for the firstborn while we were at the hospital. Like buying baby-stuff. When I went in for the 38th week check up, I was told that the baby's head had 'engaged' and that I was officially full-term. I was ready to deliver any day now. I must mention the wonderful support we had from neighbours and friends (many of whom I met through this blog - you know who you are - take a bow) who were ready to drop in at an hour's notice to help out. Though we had gone over all the arrangements, it could still all go completely pear-shaped. It was the unpredictability of the whole situation including that of the outcome, that was utterly unnerving.

Yes, I'd had a baby before and this was my second innings, but there was no guarantee that things would go as well as it had the first time. Didn't someone say that no two pregnancies are alike? Does it mean this delivery would be harder than the first? Did the midwife give me all the pain relief options? Did you watch that show on BBC Three the other day about someone having a baby? I don't remember it being that painful the first time around. Is there something I'm forgetting? What if it's a c-section? Doesn't recovery take longer and isn't it more painful? Oh god, what have I got myself into?

38 weeks and 1 day - At around 5 pm I decide that it's a good time to start stocking the fridge with pre-prepared meals. So the husband and I stand in the kitchen for about 3 hours cooking and freezing enough dal and sambar and curry to last us a week. That night as I hit the sack I ask the husband if there's enough petrol in his car if we needed to go to the hospital later.

38 weeks and 2 days - I'm up earlier than usual. I ring my mother and tell her that I had a strange feeling about the day. She panics but puts on a brave front (bless her!). She suggests I drink plenty of fluids and go back to bed. Later that morning, I pack the husband and son off, make myself a spot of early lunch, send an email off to a friend about how I thought today might be the day, draw myself a hot bath and then settle down for a nap. At around 1.40 pm, my eyes fly wide open. I check the time in the clock by the bedside. I know right then that the time had come.

I get dressed, come downstairs, ring the husband and ask him to come home. I have my second contraction. They are coming in 25 minutes apart. I call the hospital and inform them of this development. They ask me to ring them when I was having them a bit more frequently. The school was next. Could they please have my son ready at the school office for my husband to pick him up? And why hasn't my husband come home yet? The neighbour who was supposed to care for my son has already left work. So I try her mobile which goes unanswered. She must be on her way home. I leave a message asking her to get in touch with me straightaway. Outside a storm is on its way. I hope it doesn't make driving conditions difficult for us.

It's 2.30 pm, the contractions are coming in way too quickly and I know that we have to rush. As luck would have it, every single traffic light turns to red and we approach it. I grip my husband's so hard, I nearly break his fist (he claims later). But out of respect for my situation, he doesn't complain of the pain. We reach the hospital at 3 pm and I'm barely able to walk. The husband dashes out to fetch a wheelchair. Unable to sit in the car, I start making my way out to the birth centre. I collapse on the ground and am heaved onto the wheelchair by strangers. The contractions are coming in 2 minutes apart.

I reach the birth centre and flop onto a bean bag. The midwives are brilliant in there. I know straightaway that things are going to be alright. It's 4.10 pm and I am beyond exhaustion. But from somewhere deep within I summon this fiendish strength. And with one mighty heave, I push out a tiny little bundle. I'd had just 2.5 hours of labour.

The rest of the procedure is pretty usual. And I'm back home the very next day.

Some 6 weeks later, I have no regrets about our decision to not seek help from our families. It has, by no means been easy going. I have sorely missed being pampered and being fussed over. I cannot even begin to compare the unbridled joyous celebrations that accompanied the birth of my first son with the muted merriment that greeted the arrival of our second. But on the plus side, I have been able to relax and enjoy my time with the newborn without a cloud of anxiety hanging over me all the time. Even small things like breast feeding the baby where I want to in house without having to go into a secluded corner because there are others in the room, have helped greatly. Of course, none of this would have been possible had it not been for the brilliantly supportive husband. I know how lucky I am and what a gem he is! By and large, it has been a much more enjoyable experience this time. And that alone is worth all the sacrifices.

(only just begun)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Dial 911 for Amma - 3

Now, where was I? Yes, we were about to tell our families that we would take care of the delivery matters ourselves without seeking help from them. And when we did, I was surprised by the ease with which the news went down with them. It was an anti-climax. Do whatever you think will work, said my father. Alright then, said my father-in-law, you have our blessings. What? I wanted to ask. Are you not going to listen to my list of reasons? My lengthy rant about why I would want things done my way and so on? Oh well, I thought to myself, if you are really fine with it, then it's all sorted.

But as the months progressed and the families realised that we were serious about doing it all on our own, it became a bit more difficult to convince them. My mother-in-law took it particularly hard. Time and again she offered to come and help us. I don't know about you but I find it awkward to turn down offers of help. Like I'm somehow ungrateful and unappreciative of the person's generosity. And to have to do it repeatedly was not easy. There was the added feeling of guilt at not letting her spend time with her son and grandchild. It's just that I didn't think that the fragile and fortunately, good relationship I enjoy with my in-laws would survive the stress brought on by a new born child.

It's a scenario I've seen repeated once too often. Mothers and daughters falling out during the period immediately following childbirth. Really, could I hold my temper and not lose my cool with my mum-in-law? I didn't think I could. And so the last few months of my pregnancy were spent trying to reassure families back in India that we could manage on our own. Our families weren't entirely convinced that we could pull it off. Someone who was going to be visiting us was asked to submit a 'field report' on his return to India. Had we cracked under the pressure? Was the strain starting to show yet? I must admit that some of their misgivings did worry me. But the rock that is my husband was more than convinced that we would fine. But as we grew closer to the due date, I started to panic. Was it too late to call someone over from India?

(to be continued...)

Monday, April 21, 2008

Dial 911 for Amma - 2

My mother has always expressed her reservation about going abroad to help someone during delivery. Even if that someone happens to be her own children. While I respected her view, I couldn't help wondering why she was so averse to the idea. When other mothers seemed perfectly happy tending to their grandchildren and helping their daughters during the early months of the baby, why was my mother not keen on it at all? I suspect that her judgment on this issue was coloured by her dislike of her sisters-in-law (who did it all the time) and also with mild envy that she would never be called upon to do a service like they were. Well, little did she know!

Now, I knew from previous experience that childbirth is a time of great stress. I had my first son in India and it was an overwhelming experience. A combination of sleepless nights, turbulent hormones, physical and emotional exhaustion and the constant, stifling attention of family left me feeling utterly frustrated. I had had a perfectly normal pregnancy leading to a 'textbook' delivery. I had had a 4-hour labour (very rare in a first baby, apparently) and the baby was as normal as could be. And yet, all I ever heard was an exhaustive list of do's and don'ts that was designed to scare the toughest among us. Let alone a first-time mum. Not one smidgen of it was reassuring or calming. It was almost all bollocks in a well-meaning tone.

I knew from the outset that I had no chance of having it my way. Because I was up against the culture behemoth. The constant line I heard was that this was how things had always been done. After all, did they not raise us and countless other children this way? Frankly, what chances did I have against practices that went back hundreds of years (allegedly)? It reminded me of a story about a priest who used to go around a village performing ceremonies. An apprentice used to tag along with him in the hope of learning from the master. One day, when the priest had gone to a house to perform a ceremony, there happened to be a black cat in the house that kept running back and forth. The priest, being a superstitious bloke, ordered the cat to be tied to a pillar before he began performing the rituals. The apprentice made a note of it and years later, when he started practicing, refused to perform rituals unless there was a cat tied to a pillar!

When I had my baby, nearly everyone in the vicinity had an opinion on what was good and what certainly must be avoided. Don't go near this. Don't ever do that. Beware of this. God forbid should you ever do that. Yes, yes, I know they had my best interest at heart. But boy, was it relentless! To be fair, I tried to listen to every bit of advice that was thrown my way. Quite simply because it was hard to dodge them. And even harder to reason with. It was much easier to simply submit to it. But after about a month, I'd had enough. I hated the whole thing. And I swore to myself that if there was going to be another child, I would try and have it my way.

So this time, even before we'd picked up the phone to call India with news of the impending new arrival, the husband and I had made our minds up. We were going to manage things on our own. The fact that my mother's health wouldn't permit her to travel or to be of assistance to us made it an obvious decision. But how would the family react?

(to be continued...)

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Dial 911 for Amma

There was a time, some years ago, when nearly every other month would see some aunt or the other jetting off to the US to assist their daughter during childbirth. The process would start with announcement of the good news followed by frenzied months of preparation. It would kick off with applications for passport and visa. Every new development would be discussed, debated, put to vote and finally taken a decision on. If there was a small item in the Hindu on page 14 about restrictions to the number of visas being given out that particular month, favourite gods would be invoked, sacrifices promised and fasts undertaken in order that such a decision not affect the concerned family member's application.

An auspicious day would be chosen and packing for the trip would commence. Sarees would be chosen, suitcases dusted off, woolens borrowed and dry-cleaned. Contents of the suitcase would be constantly rearranged like a loose-limbed jigsaw puzzle. Half a kilo of thuvaram paruppu would take the place of a sentimental maroon saree when a casual mention during weekly phone calls to the US would reveal that dal prices had risen sharply in the preceding months. There would be the mandatory horror story narrated by another US-returnee who would recall how a ghastly black customs officer refused to let a pack of rasam-podi enter the hallowed grounds of America. And as the big day drew close, the pace would be stepped up. Like a bee hive, the would-be passenger's house would buzz with activity surrounding the trip. Finer aspects of the visit would be nailed in place, numerous rehearsals of the procedure - from check-in to immigration - carried out, farewells would be bid and just as you begin to wonder if they would ever leave, they would. Over the next months, we would hear all about trips to Niagara falls, dollar conversion rates, massive supermarkets, twin SUVs at the garage and 5-bedroom suburban houses. Some years later, when the cousin was having another child, the whole procedure (with the exception of passport application) would be repeated all over again.

Sometimes I wondered why the aunts and uncles were never invited to visit their children at times other than during child birth. Did my cousins not think their parents (particularly the girls') deserved a holiday in the land of milk and honey? And why did the aunts and uncles, despite whispered stories of endlessly lonely days stuck in the house with an infant while the parents went out to work, always seem eager to jump on the next flight westward? Is it because this would be their only chance of visiting the promised land? And a rare opportunity to spend time with their grandchildren?

Such were the thoughts crossing my mind when I called my parents in India last year to tell them that there was to be an addition to our family.

(to be continued...)

Must read

A wonderfully honest post.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Just a walk in the park

Good luck to all those running today's London Marathon. I use this opportunity for my shameless annual plug. My own moment of fame when I ran the 26.2 mile/42 km course 4 years ago. It feels like yesterday, in fact it still hurts. Here are some images.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Soundtrack of the moment

I absolutely love this song. It was used brilliantly some years ago in the excellent (though ridiculously titled) C4 documentary 'The boy whose skin fell off'. And now it's been used in the latest Cadbury's commercial. What's your soundtrack of the moment?

Friday, April 04, 2008

Penmani and other things

A couple of new and interesting questions are up on Penmani that you might have an opinion on.

And I'll be announcing a new participatory exercise soon. It should keep the blog ticking over nicely while I get some semblance of normalcy back into our chaotic existence now. So watch out for that.

Also, please join me in wishing my dear friend Anouradha Bakshi a wonderful birthday today. Happy Birthday, Anou!