Do not read if you get queasy about childbirth.
I received a picture of a masked migrant woman, holding a new born baby, the umbilical cord still attached and blood dripping between her legs. That image had a quiet dignity to it which made the message all the more stark and terrible in its silent depiction of one of the horrors of this lock down.
Birthing is such an exhausting act at the best of times and in the case of women who have given birth during this mass exodus, I can’t even begin to imagine what they have endured. I remember feeling as though each pore in my body was burnt out when I gave birth to the firstborn. I was a very young mother then and not as strong then as I was with the second one. The body felt ravaged and the insides raw. The body is vulnerable following birth as it begins to get over the shock of an empty womb after 9 months of life growing within.
It doesn’t quite end with expelling a child from your insides but continues through the days with the internal organs readjusting to a pre-pregnancy state, a process that takes a few weeks. Every time the uterus contracts to shrink into its normal size, there would be a violent cramping. If the baby refused to wake up and feed on time, the breasts would harden into rock solid pain which could in turn lead to an infection taking a few days to settle. If the baby was a large one, chances are you would have to be cut to make way for her little bawling self to emerge into a blinding world. If you were unlucky, you were torn in jagged edges to let life fulfill itself. The birth wounds eventually heal and leave scars hidden from sight and the pain would be eventually forgotten. If not for the forgetting, women would probably refuse to have multiple children.
Millions of women have gone through this, some in the confines of their homes, hospitals or then out in the open. There are women who have brought children alone into the world, severing the umbilical cord and delivering the placenta themselves and there have been women who have had babies in hospitals or at home with midwives or doulas or then doctors and nurses. It is a period that requires rest to recuperate from the internal brutalizing and the comfort of a familiar space makes it a little easy to bear. I suppose that is why traditionally women went to their parent’s homes to have their children. Of course, these days sometimes convenience of access to the regular doctor dictates staying put.
I found myself thinking of all the mothers who delivered their babies in a pandemic, far away from anything familiar and in conditions that were worse than those of their tough lives before the exodus. The pain of that is something that raises silent screams in vague places inside me for the terrible pain of another woman. If it’s her first child, the terrors of childbirth are a hundred fold. The anticipation of pain as shared by older women who have had children or then what is depicted in movies makes the fear of the pain to come acute. And by the time, it is time, the body is exhausted carrying all that additional weight and fatigue. A long drawn out labour compounds the agony, the body drenched in sweat as the radiating pains of contraction hit you multiple times. Add to that the embarrassment of having your insides on display.
Birthing strips you of shame. It’s gory, the blood and fluids as a naked child emerges out of a naked mother. Strangers poke around and tease reluctant babies who take their time entering the world. Once you have gone through that experience, it is hard to feel embarrassment about the body.
And now imagine walking for endless miles with an additional 10 or 15 kilos under a punishing Indian summer sky. Imagine the heat rising in waves from the road and an unending stream of people walking with you. Imagine having to push a baby out of your body by the roadside. Tell me if you wouldn’t scream for more than just the pain of labour?
I wonder what the new mother would think or feel about her child, the one born in a pandemic which upended her life. What would she name the little person who would need feeding and nurture regardless of her state of mind and body? Would she see hope or bitterness? Would she howl in pain or resign in silence? Would she be resentful or glad? And then I ask, who would care what she feels when the immediate concern is about making it alive to her home far away.
The days will heal the wounds of childbirth and the weeks will wrap themselves around survival of the bodies of mother and child. Hopefully. Maybe the months will add layers of new memories burying old ones and she’ll find pleasure once again. Maybe a child’s unbridled laughter will make her forget the price of his/her being. I’d like to rest in hopeful thoughts because the alternative is unbearable.