“We will induce pain early in the morning tomorrow. You will have to get admitted today itself,” Dr. Radhika was quite sure that my delivery would happen the very next day. Though I knew it could be the very last regular check-up, it took me some time to let what she said sink in. A couple of hours later, I was admitted to the hospital. I was to be induced at 4:00 am the next morning.
I lay on the bed, tossing and turning all night. By the next sunset, I'd have a baby in my arms. The baby kept kicking all night, as if it was excited to see the world. I caressed my bump that always amazed me the past few months. It stretched a little more as the baby kicked, as if to reach my hand that was on my bump. I patted right where I felt the baby and closed my eyes.
After what felt like a couple of minutes, my mom woke me up. It was 3:30 am. The silence of early morning seeped into my skin and my blood froze. All my happiness took the back seat and fear kicked in – fear of the deadly pain that I was about to go through in no time. I couldn't gauge the degree of pain as it was my first time, but I knew that I have a very low tolerance.
I was induced at the exact time as we were told. In the labour room, all pregnant ladies lay next to each other with a white curtain in between. We had our privacy as the curtain worked like a wall from all four sides, leaving a little space for a bystander.
The lady to the left of me had it bad. She cried out loudly from her periodic contractions. My mom and I looked at each other helplessly, and every time I saw her through the parted curtains, I could see her putting on a brave face, trying to hold back tears. I prayed that she would get over the pain soon. The baby's movements were being monitored continuously and the heart rate was being plotted as a graph by a machine that was connected to my bump.
When the nurse came to check on me, I asked her how long it would take for the lady next to me to deliver. She said that the lady had a long time ahead and also asked me to rate my pain or discomfort level. “Zero,” I said. She smiled and told me to call her in case of any emergency.
Dr. Radhika walked in at 8:30 am and asked me how I was holding up, while going through the graph that the machine was churning out. By that time, my neighbour was screaming at the top of her voice and muttering that she couldn't bear whatever she was undergoing. I could hear the nurses trying to calm her down all the while.
The doctor came back around 10 am, dressed in green scrubs. The only pain I was undergoing was the one from hearing the constant blood-curdling screams of the lady next bed. It had been about six hours after her contractions started. They were stronger and without any gap in between.
My husband came in around that time and almost fainted listening to the heart wrenching screams from the next bed. I held his hand to soothe him. He squeezed his eyes close and pressed my hands every time she cried. His eyes welled up, so did mine. We hardly talked anything and looked at each other, anticipating the impending pain that would kick in soon.
I had a chocolate bar and fruit juice by around 11:00 am. The screams from the next bed were unimaginable, the kind that would make anyone want to rush to the person to save her life. It made me wonder if all her life would ooze out through her screams before she gave life to that baby. She cried like she was being stabbed a hundred times at once. My mother and husband alternated in being with me. All the while, I kept asking my nurse if she'd deliver soon.
Then, Dr. Radhika came to me and dropped the bomb. As the pain didn't kick in and as foetal heart rate showed a regular dip, I was going to have an emergency C-section. I looked blankly at the doctor and my husband as I heard that. The doctor was concerned that I had a meal, though a light one, because one was not supposed to have anything six hours prior to and after the surgery.
The next one hour felt like an hour out of an intense battleground game. An anaesthesiologist briefed me about the anesthesia and gave me a heads up about the slight risk that was ahead as the surgery was after a food intake. That was the last thing I wanted to hear after having been told that I won't have a normal delivery. Last night, I was trying to gauge the pain of normal delivery and now, I was to undergo a major surgery.
A nurse changed me into a blue gown and rubbed the nail polish off my toe nails. My hair was hastily tied on both sides and in five minutes, I was in the wheelchair, on the way to the operation theater. I held the armrest of the wheelchair tightly, not wanting to get up anytime soon. I peeked through the curtains of the next bed and saw a baby by the side of the exhausted lady. I was happy that the woman got to rest after having been in labour for such a long time. Her worry had subsided and mine was about to begin.
In fifteen minutes, I was shifted to the theater and topical sedation was induced at my back. I curled a bit, as I placed my hands on the shoulders of a doctor who stood facing me, as I was administered the sedative from behind.
There were about six people surrounding me. My hands were stretched out and various machines monitoring my heart rate and blood pressure were connected to me among other things. The theater was a busy place, with the beeping of machines, clinking of tools and discussion of technicalities among the doctors in the room. “One, two, three...” I heard someone count as the lower half of my body turned numb.
The anaesthesiologist who stood at my head leaned forward and told me, 'You will turn numb soon, tell me in case you feel any kind of discomfort'. I nodded slightly, the oxygen mask almost suffocating me. A screen was placed just below my chest to save me from the sight of all the gore and the surgery began in no time. In fifteen minutes, my whole body was shaking as the doctor forcefully pulled something out of me. I heard the sweetest cry soon after, and was told, “It is a girl.”
The anaesthesiologist leaned forward to face me yet again and told me, “A girl child.” I smiled through the oxygen mask. The baby was shown to me only after she was wiped squeaky clean. She was still crying and was taken out of the room. Meanwhile, I was told that I will be shifted to another bed and taken to GICU. I felt like a vegetable all the while when I was shifted to another bed and taken to GICU. I had an empty bump and a new addition-a urine bag.
My baby girl was in an infant cot next to me. I fell asleep shortly after and woke up to intense pain. I could now feel the stitches and couldn't move an inch. I looked at the baby who was sleeping peacefully. One day, she'd undergo everything that I did today, I thought.
The only relief I could find at the moment was that it was not her who was going through the pain from the fresh wound, but me. A nurse walked over to me and said, “It is feeding time,” and placed the baby on my breast. I had no power to raise my hand or hold the baby. “I am cut in half,” the pain reminded me through the night, depriving me of sleep.
The next morning, I was woken up at 4:00 am again. “Let's get freshened up,” said the nurse. “Excuse me? Didn't you just cut me open a few hours back?” I wanted to ask. She made it sound so normal that I imagined myself running to the bathroom rather than walk. She turned the lever of the semi folding bed and helped me sit up. I tried to place my legs to the side of the bed. It was then that I realized that the muscles that are involved in moving the lower body are not just in my thighs.
I moved my legs inch by inch, saying 'ouch' after every move. The nurse was of small frame and wasn't as promising a support as she hoped to be. However, she cheered me on and I got up after what felt like a walk on dying embers. The wash room was at the other end of the room, and I had to walk several meters. The nurse held my hand and we walked, one step at a time, ouch-ouching all the way.
She held my urine bag and we reached the wash room. She helped me clean myself and I changed into another gown. I couldn't stand upright, and settled to a new posture that had my torso slightly bent inward. The nurse seated me next to another patient as she wanted to have my tangled hair combed and tied. I saw trails of blood clots on the floor, from my bed to the wash area.
I placed my urine bag on the floor and scanned the room. There were four other women in the room, including the one who sat next to me. Whenever the newborns cried, one of the nurses walked up to them and took them into their arms and patted them until they fell asleep again. Thoughts of the days ahead of me worried me. I wondered how I was going to handle the pain from surgery and how long I will have to hold up before it finally goes away. I wondered if getting up often to feed the baby would be possible for me.
I took a deep breath and looked at the woman next to me who also looked like she was living in her head. “Was this your first delivery?” I asked. “No,” she said, her eyes still fixed on some random pen on the nurses' desk.
She seemed to be in pain, so was everybody in there. “Does it hurt really bad?” I asked, trying to alleviate my pain as much as I wanted to take away hers. She looked at me and smiled slightly. “Is this your first?” she asked. I smiled wider, happy that she got talking. “Yes,” I said, “a girl.”
She nodded. “Don't worry about the pain. It was a major surgery that you had.” She went on to tell me that I'll be given enough pain killers to help me deal with the pain. She had compassion and love in her eyes and a slight smile on her lips. There she was, helping me deal with the abrupt shift from a pregnant belly to a sutured belly, with a sutured one herself.
“How many kids do you have?” I saw her smile wax and wane at my question. She looked down at the floor and murmured, “None.” Until that very moment, I had believed that we were going through the same pain. By the time the nurse took me back to my bed and tied my hair, my mind was wandering through the bottomless pit of agony she was in. I wondered if I'd ever be able to be half of a being that she was, to prioritize someone who was better off before myself.
She came back to her bed, that was to my right. She smiled at me as she struggled to lie down on her bed. She didn't have an infant cot next to her, that was unlike everybody else in the GICU. We all had a happy ending to our pain, but none of us were smiling. This woman was at the other end of the spectrum and was smiling. In a span of twenty-four hours, I heard a woman cry in the most excruciating pain of giving birth to her eternal bundle of joy and another woman smile through the greatest grief imaginable- unimaginable.
“I am sorry,” I whispered, tears streaming down my face. “Don't be,” she said and paused for a bit and then continued. “The first miscarriage that I had was when I was twelve weeks pregnant. We had sessions with a therapist to help us get over it. Two years later, we got pregnant again. We were afraid to be happy after the first miscarriage that I had. Last night, I did not feel the baby move for a few hours. We didn't want to wait and drove to the hospital. The doctor checked and said that there was no heartbeat. I was thirty three weeks pregnant. I was almost there. ” She sighed. My heart froze as she said that.
“I had to deliver my baby normally. I was in labour for twenty-two hours. At the twenty second hour, when normal delivery meant risking my life, a C-section was decided.”
She told me that she'd do anything in the world to know how her baby would cry or smile. She had to endure all the pain and had nothing to look forward to. She had a home ready to welcome the baby, but she was going back with empty hands. She was going back to therapy, not motherhood. She said she'd trade anything to wake up at odd hours to soothe her crying baby or put up with his hissy fit; that she would be grateful that her baby was alive and well.
She smiled at me as I sat there in utter shock. I hoped that her smile didn't mean that she was losing a piece of her sane self. I scolded myself for worrying about having to get up to feed the baby with a fresh wound. I felt immensely grateful for being alive and for my baby who was sleeping peacefully. I wished I could somehow make things easier for the lady.
“It is feeding time,” said the nurse as she walked to my bed and drew the curtains. She placed the baby on my chest. This time, I lifted my hand and held my baby girl. I kept looking at her angelic face as she suckled my breast. I was happy that I could hold her, that she was crying when she was taken out of my womb. After a while, the nurse came back to take the baby back to the infant cot. “Let her lie next to me,” I told the nurse, who drew open the curtains and left.
I looked up at the bed next to me. She wasn't there. The bed was empty. I whimpered as I reached for the switch to call for the nurse. “What happened?” a nurse rushed towards me.
“Where is that woman who was in this bed?”
“Which bed, ma'am?” The nurse looked back at me after glancing at the bed at my right side.
“This one, right here,” I said, my voice shaking.
“That bed has been empty since you came, ma'am. Are you alright?”
“No. It can't be,” I muttered, her smile still fresh in my mind.
Perhaps she was my mind's way of alleviating my pain. Maybe she was someone who lost her life during those twenty-two hours of intense labour and wanted to tell me that my baby is special, that many have it worse. That is the only way I could make sense of that soul-stirring smile – her happiness of having been together with her babies.