The doctor appointments were now once every week, compared to once every month and then every fortnight. I still remember our gyneac, Dr. Sejal telling us that in the last trimester, you will have to come every week for checkups and that time to meet at that frequency had already come so soon. The past eight months had flown, literally.
Beautiful eight months. With all the attention we would get from everyone, not just family and friends, but also hotel staff, traffic commuters, rickshaw drivers, and even security personnel at malls, who would gladly let Swetal pass by with no checks at all.
But there was one check, we were still worried about. The first check-up, in the last trimester, and the dreaded ‘Labor talk’ that followed. As a person, talking anything about medical procedures was something that would make me cringe, and all that talk, about cutting, and bleeding and dhish and dhash was making me really nervous.
We went nervously to the clinic that day and doctor took us through the entire gut wrenching details and process of delivery. From c-secs, to normal. What is dilation? What is epidural? When and why a doctor takes a decision to go for a C-sec over a normal? Besides other million FAQ’s.
All this with a real human hip bone in her hand and a small soft toy doll, which amazingly she managed to pull out of the gap in the bone, as she explained us painstakingly every minute detail.
She wanted to prepare us for the big day, and in a way wanted to rule out any problems that typical parents delivering kids for the first time have with their doctors. Including clearing doubts about doctors, who fleece patients on the pretext of emergency in order to make a quick buck by choosing the knife over the natural procedure.
The last trimester had us rushing through the hospital with two false alarms and a few more tense visits to maternity homes nearby. All this had started getting me prepared already. In fact we had a few NSTs (Non-Stress Tests) to monitor the foetus’ health at the actual labour room, which was good in a way, because in hindsight, the place had started getting familiar. The staff got friendly and the atmosphere needed acclimatisation, which these exercises did for us in a good way.
The tension started to build up as the weeks went. We tried different routes to the hospital by car, to see which way would be easier to take, in case of an emergency. But each one seemed worse than the other. The questions started filling up our head.
Was the doctor good as we had heard?
Would the hospital be clean?
Will we be well taken care of?
Will the baby be healthy?
And other million, if not a billion questions.
The due date was 7th October 2011, plus or minus a week. But Swetal's friends who were pregnant as well and some who were due around the same period, known as the ‘Preggo babes’, all from her lamas cum motherhood preparation class had already started delivering. And every night we would discuss their stories. C-secs, normal, night, day, bleeding, epidurals, emergencies, smooth ones.
Each one was a different story.
Somewhere in our minds we were preparing for the worst, and I would like to say hoping for the best, but really, the thoughts that came, were so overpoweringly negative that we just could not think with a straight mind.
Now came the time to guess the date, and we had all sorts of predictions, raising anticipation levels to peaks of the Himalayas. The Diwali week was around the corner, and Dr. Sejal finally announces in the appointment, that she is going to Malaysia for a holiday, and would be back only after a week.
We were taken aback. We were due any moment!
What if we had to deliver in that week while she wasn’t there?
She tells us that her mother in law, who was also a highly qualified doctor would be around, and plus the staff would be present; who she claimed were highly proficient.
We had chosen this hospital only because of Dr. Sejal. She was the only reason to travel so far from home. In fact we had one of India's best hospitals, a hop, skip, and jump away from home. But she was the factor that made us change our mind. But no kind of pleading would obviously help, because her tickets were booked, and she was ready to go the next day.
After that each day passed very slowly, and in a subtle sense of tension. One or twice we did call
Dr. Sarla (Mother in law) and she was patient. But she didn’t know the history of the pregnancy, and that got us worried to a great extent. She kept telling us that she was given a handover and we needn’t worry a bit.
Somewhere we finally accepted that Dr. Sarla was going to handle our delivery and she was a kind old lady. So we really didn’t bother or think about it as much as we could.
The nights were longer now.
Swetal still wouldn’t get any sleep.
One particular night while sleeping, I saw a bright white light on my face, and I thought, I guess my time has come to leave this world, and the lord was calling me. I gently opened my eyes, expecting to see angels taking me to the heavenly abode. Only to realise that Swetal was busy typing away on her phone and phone screen was right on my face.
Many a nights, her Blackberry was her companion, and other expecting mothers on the group, who chatted about all sorts of things, from diaper brands to doctor comments.
In one of the major decision making talks that we had, we finally decided that the name of the child was a big issue, and I was insistent that we need to sort it before he or she was born. So we got out a piece of paper and started writing names which we had been hunting for and short listing after all the internet searches, endless hours at the local bookshop and recommendations from all near and dear.
Girl: Alisha, Ayesha, Samaira
Boy: Zidaan, Rehaan, Ayaan
We made our votes and it went for Girl: Samaira, and Boy: Zidaan.
We were pretty convinced about the girl’s name. Samaira seemed just fine and perfect.
Samaira Merchant sounded nice too.
But Zidaan, somewhere in our mind was not working. But still due to lack of liking any names, we finalised these two, and both of us signed the paper and sealed it.
It was our little own secret, as it was customary not to tell until the baby was a week or two old.
The date predictions hadn’t stopped yet. People who had guess dates that had passed their time a month back also, were still trying their stint at Nostradamus.
Finally Swetal announced her prediction.
'Well, all of you have had your say. I have never ever predicted. So now it’s my turn...”
Every one listened attentively. “1st November”, she said.
The last word was announced.
31st October 2011
A usual day at work in the morning, and I left for lunch as usual at about 3pm.
Today Swetal was feeling a little uneasy. She tells me that she wants to go to the parlour and get her hair washed and blow-dried.
We drive carefully and slowly dodging potholes, a skilful art I had mastered in the last few months, to the saloon below my office. Just outside the shop, Swetal stops walking and holds my hand really tight. She is unable to speak and her face is really tensed.
“Are you ok? Swetal? You ok? Are you feeling anything?”
She just leans against one of the cars parked, and holds still.
The moment passes and she smiles back.
“Nothing. My stomach was paining. It’s nothing”
“Chal, I’ll go and get my hair done.”
“Are you sure?” I ask
“Yeah Yeah. Don’t worry.”
“Call me if you need anything? And I’ll drop you back home, once you are done.”
“No no, don’t bother. I’ll walk back. I’ll feel a little fresh also.”
I nod my head and head to office.
“Iska kuch nahin ho sakta!!!”
(Much later, I learned that our maid had told Swetal, that even when she starts getting the contractions, she shouldn’t tell me, or “Bhaiyya will panic and take you to hospital right there and then, and you should wait till the contractions come in very frequent intervals.”)
Frankly I had no clue what was waiting for me, that day.
Four floors below my office, Swetal happily gets her hair washed, shampooed, blow dried, and a manicure and pedicure done too. After that she heads off to the Derasar (Jain temple) and offers a book, a pencil and some other stuff, today being Gyan Pancham, this was the usual ritual to ask God to grant knowledge and bless with the power of enlightenment.
She then takes off to High Point, the local restaurant for some Pani Puri and Chaat, which she had avoided for over 8 months now due to health reasons. And finally heads home late evening. I’m guessing that this was the result of the ‘gyan’ that was imparted to her a moment ago.
Meanwhile, I suddenly get a feeling that I need to handover my office projects and other misc. work, and I get into the process of that, just in case. Somewhere I had started to get an intuition that tomorrow would be the first day of the paternity leave I was due to take, and Swetal’s cramps needed immediate attention of a doctor. I was going to put my foot down and take her to the doc anyhow today after work. And stubborn as she is, today I was not going to take it lying down.
I head home, and as usual Tiara greeted me.
Everyone is in the hall, and I settle down on one of the sofas.
“Today I’m going to sleep with my shoes on”, I announce.
Dad lifts his eyebrow by probably a millimetre, and starts to look back into the newspaper he is still reading since morning. Mom smiles at me not understanding really, and Swetal ignores.
“Swetal, today if you are not going to come to the doctor with me,
I’m not going to take off my shoes”, I say firmly.
“Arrey nothing is happening. Just a little stomach pain.”
“Exactly my point, we are going to the doctor, just to show that.”
“After my serial”, she says.
I shake my head in frustration and walk off, while she reaches for the remote.
Dinner. Serial. End credits roll. A quick round of freshening up. And mind you, shoes still on.
I pick up the hospital bag, that was packed 2 months ago and start leaving, bidding goodbye in a rather comical manner, using melodrama by placing the back of my palm on my fore head and saying, “Hum jaa rahein hain.”
But instead of getting a laugh back from my mom and dad, they look at us, and say,
“All the best”
Our maid’s eyes get moist, and Tiara doesn’t stop us (unusually). Weirdly she sticks to Swetal as she walks down the living room, as if she was lending a shoulder.
In fact they all bid us with wishes and luck.
Dads parting words go like "Beta call us and let us know, what doctor says, we will come immediately”.
Lift door opens. We enter.
A strong whack from Swetal on my shoulder.
“You are such an idiot na. Now we will come back and say, Nothing happened. All ok.
Wait till next week. Unnecessary you want to jump around and make a fool of me”
Swetal then turned to her stomach and talks to baby.
“You Rakshas (devil), you better come out today, or you will make a popat
(in this context ‘fool’, literally it means parrot) of your parents.”
Another contraction and the mood changes again.
Now, weirdly, there was no traffic whatsoever on the road. We didn’t get even a red signal this time;
I stepped on the accelerator like the hero of the movie, only to be quickly reminded that I have a 9 month pregnant wife in the car.
No thunder. No lightning. No speeding on the road. No flying car. No sharp turns around bends. No burning tyres. No traffic cop catching me for skipping a signal, followed by a chase leading straight to the hospital. Nothing.
On the way Swetal and I joke, that now as soon as we see the doctor, they will tell us,
“Go back, it’s nothing”. We would complete our hattrick of false alarms.
While there are still more regrets on the melodrama front.
I didn’t have to rush inside the hospital and scream,
“Is there a doctor here? Help! Please! ... “
I was ready to do a Dilip Kumar “Aye Bhaiii!” “Ayee Bhaii”, but it didn’t seem necessary.
Nothing! It was smooth as silk.
We reach the lobby. The resident doctor checks her, while I’m wondering if we have time to stopover for an ice cream on the way back home. The doctor touches her stomach, and nods his head negatively, and then he says "She is in labour"
His face and his words didn’t send the same message, so I presumed from his facial expressions, that it was negative, until I heard him say it again. “SHE IS IN LABOUR!!!”
Ohhhh myyyyy godd!!!
The world stopped for a moment.
Camera zooms into his face thrice. Then Swetals face thrice. Then my face thrice.
Thaddan. Thaddan Thaddan!
What do you mean? I was not prepared for this. Not even with the hospital bag on my shoulder. Not even while I was bidding my dramatic goodbyes. Not while driving.
“Can we come some other day? Do we go back now?”
Who was there to listen?
Suddenly activity begins.
Swetal is rushed into the room. Nurses rush in and out. Equipment comes in. Medicines come in. A senior nurse enters with a syringe and one of those things they attach in the vein of the hand. I forget what it’s called now. To add to it, Swetal starts getting acute contractions now. Every 2 minutes.
And it was me, all by myself.
A few quick calls.
“Dad, Doctor says tomorrow morning she will deliver.
You guys come by 7 in the morning, don’t worry.”
I try and keep my tone as calm as possible, because I don’t want to trouble them. Frankly I had no clue how long this was going to take. From the stories I had heard. Labour pain ranged from 10 hours to 24 hours, so a quick calculation made me do the math.
Next call was to my in laws.
By then Swetal’s contractions had gotten worse. So the calmness was not the same as the first call, and this time, they were more tensed than I was. Still I told them come in morning.
A few quick calls to my sisters also, telling them also.
10 minutes on, the contractions kept coming on 30 second intervals.
Unheard of but yes, it was just a 30 seconds pause, and then a contraction that would last for a minute or so, it felt much longer for me, imagine what it felt for her.
In between that express break she would get, she would ask for water, by the time I reached for the water, she didn’t want it.
It felt like someone was breaking her bones, one at a time. The pain was severe, and I could sense it.
At one moment I would hold her hand, only to have it pushed away the next minute.
Luckily for me, I didn’t get slapped, like they say there are a lot of chances of. Thank God, for the babycentre emails, that had sent me a mail once earlier this week, titled ‘What to say when she is in labour’, and that’s exactly what I did.
“You’re doing just fine!”
“You’re doing a good job.”
“Superb Swetal. Superb!”
“I want some orange juice!” she says
And I’m like....uhhh...okkk...obviously I can’t go anywhere to get it. The hospital cafeteria was shut. It was a Maharaj who was there actually, not a “cafeteria cafeteria”. Maharaj is a term used for Rajasthani cook. A one man army, who would purchase vegetables, clean, cook and serve all in one.
So cafeteria closed, meant, Maharaj was.... sleeping. Ahem!
Certain as I was that they have already left, despite me telling them not to, I called my in-laws, and I could hear the car horn in the background. I told them to get some juice. About 1 pm at night, using influence, they manage to smuggle some juice from Shiv Sagar at Juhu, which had closed long back.
An inquiry at the counter.
Lift button pressed.
Room door opens.
Storm inside the room.
Out of the room.
That was in short how we had our first visitors - my in-laws.
I’m inside now and Swetal starts asking for the epidural. The pain is getting unbearable. The nurse tells her that she has to try doing it without the painkiller epidural. But Swetal won’t listen to any of that. So the nurse buys time, first by disappearing, and then telling her, that the doctor is called and is on his way.
The water bag hasn’t burst yet. But she is dilating.
Yet she can’t tell how many centimetres till we reach the target of 10.
My parents enter.
Swetal’s VFX: Arrrggghhh!!!!
I walk out and tell them, she’s doing ok. They have called Dr. Sarla and we should be expecting her any moment. I see Sister Varsha walking into the room, with a huge scissor. Door is locked from inside and after a minute.
A huge scream, loud enough to wake to the anaesthesia induced patient 3 floors below.
Apparently the water bag was burst, using that scissor.
Rush into the Delivery Suite, Swetal was then put on the labour room bed. I was asked to fill up a few forms and sign them. And while I was doing that engrossed reading the form fields and half mind on Swetal’s yelling.
Suddenly the door opens, and... Dr. Sejal enters.
“Aren’t you supposed to be in Malaysia?”, we exclaim.
For half a minute even Swetal forgot her labour pain.
“I’ve come straight from the airport, for you, dear.. I just landed and got a call from Dr. Sarla”, she says beaming, Yes she had. She was yet in her travel jacket and a bag that had an airline baggage tag.
She was like an angel in disguise. I just couldn’t stop smiling.
A few checks and she confirmed that we should expect the baby in a few hours.
More screams. More pain. More bone breaking.
Getting intense every time they happened.
All this while, our entire family was waiting in the lobby patiently.
Some prancing up and down, some sitting on the bench and some on the stairs. Waiting patiently.
Finally the moment of melodrama I was waiting for came.
PUSH Swetal, like you are passing a hard stool!
And it didn’t sound as funny then, as it is sounding now, unless you are laughing in fear and anticipation.
Another 20 minutes of Push, and nothing happening.
Finally Dr. Sejal gives up and asks her to be shifted to the OT, and the anaesthetist was called. We were preparing for a C-sec. She was fully dilated, and she was pushing well also, but the baby was probably tired and wasn’t coming down. This couldn’t wait for longer. The baby has to be out in minutes, or we might call for trouble.
A few more minutes and no anaesthetist. In a sense of urgency that I could sense, Dr. Sejal tells sister Varsha to help her push the baby down. Now the pushing she did was scary. I was at the door of the OT. Allowed to look, but now allowed to enter, holding the videocam.
“Swetal, it’s just you and me now”, Dr. Sejal says. “We have to do it by ourselves”
This was the climax scene.
Sister Varsha pushes. Dr. Sejals pulls. 4 more people including support staff, paediatrician and God alone knows who inside motivate Swetal.
And finally she stops pushing.
“Swetal!! Listen to me. One final push. One hard push.”
Aaarrrrrggggggghhhhhhhhh! Swetal gives it her all.
The baby is out!
“4:15” says Dr. Sejal, with a sigh of relief.
After 4 hours of intense labour.
Blood and sweat and tears.
Pain and Guts.
The moment had arrived.
My hands start trembling. I had witnessed life taking birth.
A moment I will never see again in my life.
Swetal closes her eyes in slow motion. I almost pass out.
Dr. Sejal takes the baby, and puts it in the tray and the baby is whisked away to be bathed.
Swetal, wakes up after about 5 minutes.
“What is it?” she asks.
The question had come to me the moment I saw the baby,
but because of the distance and umbilical cord, I really couldn’t tell.
“It’s a girl”, Dr.Sejal says.
Those words still echo in my ears even today.
Flashback: From the day Swetal and I were even seriously seeing each other, we wanted a girl. We had even thought of a name. Rihanna. After the pop singer Rihanna, who we both liked.
When we started going for our scans, we wished it was a girl.
One of the 3D scans which we had done, which is said to show very clear pictures, we felt we had noticed the additional male organ, and we both looked at each other in surprise. Was it a boy? We were almost sure it was.
The rest of the pregnancy had gone, walking aisles of baby shops in malls and looking at baby clothes, toys, beddings, feedings etc. And trust me, Boys clothes are soooooo boringly brown, blue, checks, while girls clothes are pretty, colourful, in variety, and in all sense...beautiful.
But we would put up a brave front, and pick a lot of yellows, blues, and also one or two pink items.
Anyway coming back…
“It’s a girl.” Dr. Sejal says.
I break down. I can’t stand.
This was the best news I had ever heard in my whole life.
One of the first items in my vision board exercise from the book “The Secret” was “A baby girl”.
First time I realised what it means to have tears of happiness.
Meanwhile, outside the OT, this was what our family experienced...
Swetal was heard screaming inside.
Then a loud one.
The final push.
Since the baby's first cry was a weak one, they didn’t hear that at all.
What they heard is the hustle bustle of the support staff inside.
A nurse runs out to fetch some stuff and walks back in answering no one.
Then a few minutes later.
I come out weeping.... and hug my sister Farhana, who was sitting in the stairs.
I don’t say anything. Just keep weeping.
“Aleeeeeeeemm!!! What happened???? Aleeem!”
“Aleem!!! All ok??? What happened.”
“Beta?? What happened?”, asks my Dad impatiently.
Finally, my mother in law held my hand and firmly asks.
“Aleem? All ok?”
I just gathered enough strength to raise my thumb positively, and say...
“It’s a girl!”
Next moment, they all forget me.
And I’m all alone!!!
I enter the OT again. And I see her closely for the first time.
She was beautiful. The most beautiful thing I had ever seen in the world.
She had lovely hair. Tender hands. Tender legs. And wide open eyes.
And she was smiling, not crying.
I had over my finger to her. And she holds it, instinctively.
That moment is something I won’t forget even when I get Alzheimer’s in the later years of my life. If I ever lose my memory, don’t bang my head on a stone or something, just show me the picture of her holding my hand for the first time, and it will all come back to me.
One by one, everyone comes and sees baby, while she is under a bulb. We click pictures. Dr. Mehul, the paediatrician, starts talking to us, while checking and showing concern over the weak cry. I ask him if there is something to worry, and he says no. But we will observe her for a few days.
Its 6 am now. We all settle into the room. Swetal comes in on a wheelchair - All smiles.
We all greet her with a big congratulations! She looks surprisingly fresh.
We all decide to sleep for a while.
I lie in the couch-bed, too tired to speak anything, but too excited to sleep also. After sometime our dear little baby enters the room, with a catheter in her feet. I choked to see her that way. But she was sleeping. Peacefully.
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Swetal and Aleem
Now proud parents
Welcome their baby girl
With lots of presents
Mom and baby are doing just fine
We welcome your visit anytime
Time: 4:15 am
Weight: 7 pounds
An hour later. We have visitors. Lots of them.
Friends, Family, Neighbours.
The room is full of flowers, teddy bears, cup cakes.
Theplas, khakras, chaass, etc etc etc.
More visitors. More congratulations. It’s a beautiful day.
The sun seems brighter.
The clouds seem clearer.
The birds sound sweeter.
Today was our day.
There were a lot of things that made us as a multicultural family and friends motley, feel good.
The date was a one you will never forget, 1.11.11
It was the week of Diwali, and today was “Labh Pancham”
‘Labh' means benefit. People today usually wish for material 'labh' such as: a good job, riches and so forth. Yet the scriptures and Sadhus inform us that the greatest 'labh' is human birth itself. With this one should endeavour for God-realization. Goddess Laxmi was born in our home.
For North Indians, it was a day of Chatt Puja, which is one of their biggest days.
Chhath Puja is an Indian thanksgiving festival dedicated to the Sun God. During the celebrations of Chhath Puja, people gather on the banks of the River Ganges to bathe in its sacred water, pray and make ritual offerings to the Sun God.
For Christians it was a day to honour all their saints.
All Saints Day, the day on which Catholics celebrate all the saints, known and unknown, is a surprisingly old feast. It arose out of the Christian tradition of celebrating the martyrdom of saints on the anniversary of their martyrdom. So today was celebrated in order to ensure that all martyrs, known and unknown, were properly honoured.
For Maharashtrain’s it was the day of the Holy God Ganpathi- A Tuesday.
Even the time of birth, which was 4:15 am, is supposed to be a time of “Bhraman”, more known as a time of knowledge and enlightenment. They say that if you study at this time of the day, you tend to remember what you read, as it is the time of God’s to pray.
Now surprisingly, a form I had to fill for her birth certificate was numbered. 786.
"786" is the total value of the letters of "Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim". In Arabic if you take the numeric values of all the letters of the Bismalah, according to the Abjad order, the total will be 786. Some people, mostly in India and Pakistan, use 786 as a substitute for Bismillah. They write this number to avoid writing the name of Allah or the Qur'anic ayah on ordinary papers. But this was no ordinary paper, it was the paper that would register the presence my dear little baby on earth.
In one way or the else, this little angel had united us all. She had united what would have seemed impossible for any human to do. To unite this multicultural, cosmopolitan, modern yet firmly grounded, family and friends circle, with one small heart beat.
That was in a mobile incubator unit, right now, monitored.
One beep at a time.
The whole day went seeing our nearest and dearest. It felt very nice to have so many people who care. And they come with lovely little gifts. Reminded me of the stories I read when I was small, of baby Jesus being born in the manger, and people from near and far coming with various presents.
The next day, I went to the mall and picked up some stuff for baby which we had parked in our minds. Especially a beautiful Eskimo dress in pink, nice and furry and soft. We wanted to take our baby girl in this outfit home...if we ever had a girl.
That night Swetal and I spoke to each other while we slept off. I told her to sleep as much as she wanted tonight. Because that was going to be the last night we would be sleeping in peace. And I guess what they say is true about walls having ears, because on the other side, our little baby probably heard us, and must have smirked.
That truly was the last night we slept for months to come, till this day today.
The next morning in a moment of silence I look at the three of us and I think
"We are a family". It’s the first time I ever felt it, and I was a Father.
Six alphabets, just like Mother.
The Assistant Parent.
Provider not entitled nurturer.
But I felt great.
I was on top of the world.
I still am...
They say a child gives birth to a mother. No doubt, the mother carries the baby in her womb. Takes care of her even before it is born. Cares for the baby in every moment of pregnancy to delivery and forever after, till her dying day. Mother’s day is a day of celebration and love and lots of gifts. Mother is the first word a child says and I could write another blog on the role of a mother, a good mother that Swetal is even today, and I know for years to come, she will play that role to perfection.
But the world conveniently forgets the man who stands behind the curtains through the entire process, holding his guts together and plays - the nobody. The man who wakes up in the middle of the night just to check if everyone’s sleeping well. The man who quietly makes sacrifices in his own way, without letting anyone know, and still loves every bit of his backstage role, watching his world unfurl from behind the wings, and claps when no one is watching.
I know you won’t go and give your Dad a hug even if I tell you to.
But remember, your first word must be Ma, but Parent begins with Pa!
Cheers Dads! (Including mine)