By Ambica Gulati August 1999 Birth is as ancient as life itself and as natural a process as breathing. Then, isn’t it time women stopped depending on technology and trusted their bodies more? Bane of hospital birth • Unfamiliar and disciplined surroundings. • Confined to bed in the first stage of labor. • Command pushing. • Mother is not in control. • Mother is not allowed to eat or drink. • Types of pain relief: epidural, gas and air. • Use of enemas or suppositories. • Fetus monitored electronically. • Deliberate breath-holding. • Mother not touching baby when it is born. • Medically aided placenta delivery. • Takes longer to create a mother-child bond. Boons of home birth • Familiar, comfortable surroundings.• Free to adopt any position. • Pushing on her own. • Fully in control. • Free to eat or drink. • Breathing exercises, diversion. • No need for painkillers. • Fetus monitored by stethoscope. • No deliberate breath holding. • Touching baby as it emerges. • Natural expulsion of placenta. • Immediate bonding. Motherhood. The only act that manifests in human form the cosmic wonder of creation. Imagine a life growing within you, nurtured with your lifeblood. And then the wonder of all, this vague motion within your womb turns into two tiny hands, reaching out for you. It’s like a moment of epiphany—a sacred communion when you look within and discover the Godlike power of creation. The story begins with a birth. And, like all beginnings, a positive childbirth is not only spiritually more fulfilling, but can also strengthen the mother-child bond. ‘A baby is God’s opinion that the world should go on. And the birth pangs are just that-old order giving way to the new. This is how nature creates a new mother,’ says first-time mother Deepali Kukreja who is planning to offer natural childbirth classes in New Delhi. Her guru was her prime guiding force during pregnancy, and the touch of the divine was apparent in Deepali’s relationship with her yet-to-be-born child. ‘I used to visualize my baby as my personal angel, and this angel finally entered my life.’ Motherhood brings an inner awareness. But it also comes with its own share of responsibilities and worries. From the moment of conception, your neatly patterned world teeters on the brink of chaos. Priorities change, you are forced to look at life from a different perspective and all that you had taken for granted seems like a thing of the past. At this moment, you need to organize sufficient resources – financial security, family support, safe environment, adequate food, rest and exercise, a skilled and wise practitioner, and, above all, confidence in your ability to give birth. ‘Today, women are worried about the risks of childbirth. They have preset notions that it would be a painful process,’ says Delhi-based Poonam Nagpal, a spiritual healer and firm advocate of natural childbirth. ‘So they opt for the regular hospital procedure with its wide array of drugs, forgetting the spiritual dimensions of childbearing.’ BIRTHING, NATURALLY A natural process such as birth is best when it is natural. But what should natural childbirth be like? Natural childbirth as a movement has already started in the West in reaction to the medicalization of birth. Natural childbirth practitioners—even hospitals—now advise a woman to give birth in a squatting position unlike the old order where a woman was expected to lie down during childbirth. Unfortunately, hospitals in countries like India continue to make a woman lie down. And not just that, a hospital birth here means being herded into a birthing room, drugged and strapped to tables, and delivering the baby with legs in stirrups. Unnatural? Definitely. Even bizarre, as this practice originated from the diktat of the French monarch Louis XIV, who wanted to see one of his mistresses deliver. The grave error of this position was pointed out by Dr Michael Odent of France in the mid-1900s. When the legs are held in stirrups, a woman has to push her baby upward, against the force of gravity. This leads to stronger contractions, greater pain and extended labor. To make childbirth more natural, Dr Odent devised his own method based on traditional midwifery. According to him, women in labor return to a primitive biological state, functioning at a new level of animal awareness, losing inhibitions and following their basic instincts. IN THE BEGINNING Natural childbirth is a process of immense power and extraordinary significance. ‘I remember my baby’s birth as having put life back into me,’ recalls Rashmi Palkhiwala, wife of Mumbai-based yoga instructor, Jehangir Palkhiwala. Her labor lasted merely three hours. She was standing under a warm shower and the baby popped out. Vineeta Mansatta, publisher of Earthcare Books, says: ‘My first delivery was a caesarian. But I insisted on a natural birth for my second baby. ‘ Although she did face difficulties getting a good midwife, ‘the support that I got from her was worth the effort. She pressed my back and the baby came out. I also got back on my feet faster than the first time’. For most, however, the process is not so easy. Especially when you are expecting your first child and are faced with often contradictory suggestions. ‘While the elders in my family asked me to do things in a certain way, my obstetrician would say something quite different,’ says Sarita Dhawan, a housewife. She, however, refused to complicate the situation. ‘I decided to let nature take its DOCTORS, DAIS & MIDWIVES The options are limited. To help you in childbirth, you can choose from obstetricians, government-certified nurse-midwives and traditional dais or birth attendants. While nurse-midwives rely on diagnostic technology and defer to the obstetrician’s authority, dais follow traditional methods. In the tug-of-war between tradition and technology, the latter seems to be winning this time. Ask any urban expectant mother. Chances are, she would opt for an obstetrician. Or at least her family would-as happened with Deepali. ‘I was so well-prepared for my baby’s arrival that I could have cheerfully let a dai handle the birth,’ she says. But finally, she went for a hospital birth. Many women would rather do away with dais altogether. ‘Doctors are much more reliable. I wouldn’t feel comfortable with a dai,’ says Shalini Duggal, manager in a Delhi-based multinational company. The opposite holds true for rural areas. Here, the rustic mothers-to-be gladly hand over their responsibility to the time-tested attendants of birth. ‘In our village,’ says Phoolwati, a construction worker in Delhi, ‘dais and family women handle childbirth.’ The questions are many. How do you figure out who to trust? Are dais and midwives really equipped to handle emergencies? At the threshold of the 21st century, is it sensible to go back to tradition? Especially when you have the latest in childbirth technologies at your beck and call? The tussle here is between man and machine. And man and man-between doctors, nurse-midwives and dais. ‘Hospitals are better equipped to handle emergencies,’ says Deepali. ‘Doctors monitor you and your baby throughout the pregnancy. You can watch your baby’s growth through ultrasound machines.’ SOUNDING OUTUltrasound checkups are routine nowadays. But what are their effects on the fetus? Dr Harmeet Malhotra, senior consultant of obstetrics and gynecology at Indraprastha Apollo Hospital in New Delhi would say none. ‘Ultrasound has been in use since 1960. There is no evidence of it hurting the baby,’ she explains. Poonam, however, disagrees: ‘Research shows that ultrasound produces a sound similar to that of a helicopter’s blades. Now, if you, as an adult, cannot stand that unnerving drone, should you subject a baby to this torture?’ True. Especially if the same monitoring can be done in a much gentler way. Devaki, a vegetable-seller-turned-midwife, says: ‘We monitor the baby’s progress by moving our hands on the mother’s stomach.’ But does childbirth require hospitalization at all? ‘If all you are worried about is the unsterilized atmosphere, just consider the amount of bacteria and viruses in the air. If we were that susceptible to infections, we would be permanently sick,’ says Nutan Pandit, author of Pregnancy, an A-Z handbook on various aspects of childbirth. She also holds natural childbirth classes in New Delhi. PRENATAL BONDING The mother-child bonding starts a few months after conception. Which is why a would-be-mother is advised to listen to soothing music, relax and be in a positive frame of mind. ‘If the mother experiences feelings of self-worth, then she associates these with her newborn,’ says Kavita Mukhi, a Mumbai-based health food retailer. But these emotional aspects of childbirth, she feels, are often ignored by obstetricians. ‘When I had a baby, I was trapped by a huge nurse who didn’t allow me to move,’ she adds. For Jyoti Singh, a housewife, it was worse: ‘I was in immense pain after my caesarian section. I was so depressed that I could hardly relate to my baby.’ Even the doctors are not spared. Dr Anjali Malpani, who runs Malpani Fertility Clinic in Mumbai, recounts: ‘Despite being a gynecologist, I felt out of control during my first delivery in a hospital.’ For her second delivery, she insisted on natural birth. ‘As soon as the baby is born, it should be handed over to the mother. Automatically, it begins to suckle. That is a beaut
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