Anurag came into our lives two months ago. His birth was probably the most intense experience I have ever had. I have attempted to write his birth story many times in the last two months but words have eluded me. Today I have promised myself to complete writing it, no matter how incomplete and inadequate it seems in describing the experience.
Saturday 6th March: I remember it being a beautiful spring day. We took Kabir to his swimming lessons in the morning and then spent a couple of hours in the playground. There I spoke to a friend of mine, who asked if I had packed my labor bag yet. I laughed her off saying – oh no, I’m still a month away!
I spent the afternoon cooking. We had a potluck that evening with our friends at Chani’s house. The potluck was fun and we stayed there longer than we normally would have. It was after 10pm when we were leaving and while saying goodbye Chani said to me – we can expect to hear the news any day now! Again I laughed the comment off – oh no, I’m still a month away!
Back home, as I lay in bed I started to think about things that needed to be done before the baby came. The thought started to overwhelm me so I got up and started making a list of to-dos and a list of things to pack in my labor bag when the time came. I finally went back to bed at midnight. An hour later my water broke with a big gush.
Sunday 7th March: With this pregnancy, I thought I had researched every scenario that would apply to me and felt confident that I would know what to do in every scenario. But ofcourse that was not to be. The very start of my labor was a reminder that when it comes to childbirth, there is very little that one can plan and control. I was only 35 weeks and 3 days and Anurag was showing signs of wanting to come out. Kabir was born after 41 weeks and 3 days of gestation so this truly was a surprise!
I called Adele (my midwife) and she got on the line right after the first ring. Though she was surprised to hear about the development, she immediately calmed my fears by saying that even though he was coming early, she expected the baby to be perfectly fine and healthy based on what we knew (I had had an ultrasound only a week earlier). She asked me a few questions and then decided that I should go back to bed and try to get some rest until my contractions started. She said that in most cases contractions begin naturally within 24 to 48 hrs of water breaking. In the meantime I needed to minimize the risk of infection (she suggested drinking lots of water and taking some herbal medicines and Vitamin C) and keep monitoring the baby’s movements.
I went back to bed, but sleep was the last thing on my mind. Even though speaking to Adelle was reassuring, I felt scared and anxious. I kept trying to feel Anurag in my tummy and kept prodding to make him kick me inside so I would know that he was fine. I talked to him in my head. I remember saying to him that he and I were starting on this journey together, at the end of which he would be safe in my arms. Until then I asked him to be strong, just as I promised to be, and to give me a sign if he didn’t feel safe. I had planned to have a VBAC (Kabir was a c-section baby) at the Andaluz waterbirth center and the plan was to transfer to a hospital in case we saw signs of anything going wrong.
For now, this was to be the last night that Kabir would sleep cozily next to me – something we both had enjoyed since he was born. I meant to prepare him for sleeping with Saurabh in the next room but now I wouldn’t have the chance to do that.
I got a little bit of sleep that night interrupted with mild contractions every now and then. Morning came and I called Adele again. I told her I was afraid and needed to know that the baby was doing well. She asked me to come in to the birth center immediately. We got there around 9AM and Adele got her Doppler to listen to Anurag’s heart. The heartbeat was prefect! She did some other tests, gave us more instructions and sent us back home with a Doppler. She asked us to keep listening to the heart periodically and just wait for the contractions to get stronger. She was going to have her apprentice (Tzapora) come in to check on me at home the next morning.
When we got home, Iren (Kabir’s nanny) was already there waiting for us. We had asked her to come in since we knew we would need some extra hands that day. She got Kabir ready and took him to spend the day at her house.
We spent the day getting prepared - laundry, grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning and trying to get some rest in between. We wanted to get as much done as possible before the baby came. I called our parents and some close friends - thankfully I only got to hear positive and reassuring words. My contractions were still very mild and infrequent. We thought it could be another day or so before things would pick up.
Around 5pm that evening, I lost my mucous plug. After that my contractions became a bit more frequent, enough for me to start recording them. They were about 30 to 45 mins apart. This was one of my favorite phases of labor - when contractions were still not very painful, excitement was starting to build up and I could still enjoy talking to family and friends. Rama and Vinay dropped in around 6pm and very thoughtfully brought us food. Kabir came back home with Iren and her husband around 7pm. There was a festive atmosphere in the house and everyone was excited. We had dinner and Iren helped Kabir get ready to go to bed. We didn’t think we were going to have the baby that night so we asked Iren to go back home and keep her phone next to her.
My body had other plans. As soon as everyone had left and Kabir had gone to sleep, the action began. Contractions got regular and it was starting to get difficult to talk through them. At 9pm, I called Adele and told her that I thought I might need to come in sometime during the night since my contractions were about 8 mins apart. She said I should plan to come in when they got about 5 mins apart. Until then she asked me to try to catch some sleep between the contractions. “Sleep!” I thought to myself ,“who can possibly sleep between contractions?!” In any case, we called up Iren and asked her to come back home to spend the night with Kabir since things were starting to pick up.
By 9:30pm, I was rolling on the floor with pain. For some reason Saurabh thought it was a good time to clean around the house and I remember screaming at him and asking him to get the car ready and packed. I called Adele and told her we were heading to the birthing center and would be there in 30mins. Iren arrived just then. She started to massage my back through the contractions. As I was stepping out to leave, she gave me a hug and it felt like I was in my mother’s arms. It was raining outside and I had to lean against the car door to get through a contraction before trying to get in. Iren came running out and wrapped me in a blanket. She kissed me as I sat in the car.
The 25mins car ride was excruciating. A cop was driving right in front of us on the freeway and Saurabh had to hold the urge to speed. I timed my contractions in the car– they were exactly 5 mins apart. Adele and Tzapora were waiting for us at the door when we reached. The birthing center, which has been converted from an old house in downtown Portland, was quiet and we were the only family there that night. Our suite was beautiful and welcoming. It was dark other than the candles that were lit around the birthing tub. The tub was ready, filled with hot water.
I got into the tub right away. It felt nice but did little to relieve the pain. The tub seemed to be designed for much taller women so I had to struggle for some time to find a comfortable position. And once I did, I stayed in it till the very end. My birthing team consisted of Adele, her apprentice Tzapora and a second apprentice Joslyn. Every few minutes, Tzapora would help me have a sip of water. She also monitored the baby’s heart beat using a Doppler every 15mins. I was experiencing strong lower back pain with every contraction so Joslyn started to massage my back through them. She did this for the entire time I was in the tub. Adele was seated right in front of the tub and whenever I opened my eyes, seeing her calm and serene face felt reassuring.
I recall very little of what happened around me after I got into the tub. My eyes were shut and hardly any words were exchanged between anyone in the room for the next few hours as I focused on getting through one contraction after another. The surges were getting stronger and I had to sway in the water to help relieve the pain. I had told myself that I wouldn’t ask to be checked for dilation since I didn’t want to be disappointed by my progress at any time. However, after some time I started to get tired and frustrated and I asked Adele if she thought things were progressing well. She said that everything was perfect and was progressing beautifully. When I looked at her doubtfully she asked if I wanted her to check me for dilation. The thought was tempting and I said yes. She checked me and said encouragingly that while she couldn’t give me an exact number she could feel a lot of the baby’s head. (Much later when I went through her labor notes, I found that I was 5cm dilated at that point. I’m glad she didn’t tell me that as it would have certainly disheartened me.)
By now I had started feeling weak. At one time I tried to get out of the tub but my legs didn’t have the strength to hold me and I went back to my original position. By now my contractions had become relentless. I cried through them, I prayed through them and I breathed through them. I cried for my mother and for Kabir. I missed them both very much. I tried to recall some of the lines that I had read in books and in others’ birth stories that I had found to be motivating and empowering. My midwife also gave me tremendous confidence and encouragement. She knew just the right words to keep me going whenever I needed them.
After a few hours I thought I was unknowingly trying to push with every contraction. I asked Adele if it was time to push and all she said was that I should keep going with the flow and trust my body as it knew exactly what it was doing. I knew what she meant and just gave in to my body's rhythm and stopped trying to think about what I needed to do. I didn’t have to do anything, things were just happening to me.
My contractions got farther apart and became less intense. I felt tired and found myself in a dream-like state. I felt semi-conscious and started to fall asleep between contractions. I recall dreaming of Kabir playing in the park. I also remember opening my eyes once and seeing the beautifully made bed in front of the tub. It was so inviting and I couldn’t wait to get into it. I told Adelle that I felt exhausted. She told me that I was strong and soon I would have that baby in my arms.
After about 45mins or so, I felt a really strong push and a strong burning sensation. The head was crowning! Another push later I felt the entire head come out and heard someone saying – the head is out! One of them was standing with a flashlight pointed into the tub to see the baby’s head in the water. Another push, and I felt Anurag tug his shoulders inside me. It was a strange sensation. But as soon as he did that, the shoulders turned and his whole body slipped out of me. Adelle was right behind me and caught him inside the water and immediately placed him on my chest. Anurag was born! Someone checked the time, it was 1:58AM – only 4 hours after I had got into the tub – on March 8th, exactly one month before my due date!
Saurabh, who had been holding my hand this entire time, came next to me to get a good look at our new baby. Anurag was so tiny, like a little doll. He was also very quiet and alert and Adelle tickled him a little to make him cry. His entire face turned red as he started to cry. I sat in the tub a little while longer crying hysterically with emotions. Saurabh got to cut the umbilical cord and soon after my placenta was born which they caught in a container.
I was helped out of the tub and into the bed that I so longed to get into. Saurabh and I cuddled with Anurag for some time and then Adelle got a scale to weigh him. He weighed 4 lbs 13.5 oz. - the smallest baby to be born at the Andaluz Portland center till now.
From then on hours turned into days, days into weeks and weeks into months. And through all this time, we have enjoyed the beautiful new addition to our family. It has been a humbling experience and I cannot be more grateful for it.