by Manjula Nair
Megha clenched her fingers as two nurses and two ward boys grabbed the four sides of her sheet and hoisted her over the trolley bed. She tried to relax her spine and inhale slowly as the weight of her belly made breathing very difficult. She willed her baby to move.
She looked around at the dark green walls with the black marble cladding, lit by a single tube light. She tried to focus on the bright smiling picture of the Madonna and baby Jesus and pray, “Rama, Rama…”
She was not ready for this; Viren was still in Hong Kong. Her mother had looked like she would collapse any minute, her father seemed frozen. Her due date was still two weeks away. Why did her BP spike up so suddenly? She had had low BP for the past eight months.
“The baby’s heartbeat is dropping; we can’t take any chances, we have to operate now!” They had changed her, shaved her and hooked her on to the IV fluids before she had even registered the doctor’s words. Now a crowd of 17 women was surrounding her in the small Operating Theatre. She barely recognised her doctor in her surgical green dress, her head covered with a green cloth.
Someone made her sit up on the bed as a needle plunged into her back. A green curtain was hung above her waist, blocking her view of her lower body, the doctors and the nurses. Something seemed to be happening, she could hear the clinking sounds of steel and women speaking in panicked whispers. She tried to pray again like her mother had instructed, when three nurses converged over her and started pushing her belly.
Suddenly the madness stopped and she could hear a distant cry. A hush fell over the room.
Megha must have dozed off for a few minutes when she was woken up by two young nurses clad in green. They were holding a green bundle in her hand. Megha could make out a tiny face with eyes clenched shut. They slowly unwrapped the bundle to reveal a tiny body, stick-like legs ending in large feet. The baby started squirming and turned red.
“Boy or girl?” asked one of the nurses.
“Huh?” said Megha.
“Is the baby a boy or a girl?” the nurse repeated.
Megha tried to concentrate on the baby’s swollen genitals. Her head felt heavy and drowsy.
“Girl,” she said.
“I have a daughter?” thought Megha as the nurse placed the baby beside her left arm. She tried to rise up but she couldn’t feel her legs.
“It will take a few hours, ma’am, for the anesthesia to wear off,” said one of the nurses.
“Are they sure this is my child?” she thought while trying to pat the baby. Her belly was still swollen. She could still feel the baby moving inside her. She tried to talk but a heavy weariness pulled her down.
“We are taking her to the nursery, ma’am. We will be taking you to the postoperative room. You can see her when we move you to your room,” said the nurse as she took the baby away.
It was many hours later when Megha was wheeled into her private room. She could twitch her toes a little bit but still couldn’t feel the rest of her legs. A searing pain was burning in a line under her belly.
Her mother wept as her parents hugged her. “Oh, we were so worried…I called everyone,” Her mother recounted all the people she had called and all the people who had called her. Megha could barely focus as she looked around the bright white room with blue curtains. It was already evening. Two nurses soon entered carrying her baby and a few bags. Megha stared at the baby placed on the cradle beside her.
“Who is this baby?” she asked aloud. Everyone stared at her.
“What are you saying, Megha? She is your baby.” Her mother was beside her now. “See, look at her!” She tried to lift Megha up. One of the nurses raised the bed so that Megha could be in a sitting position as her mother placed the baby in her hands.
“No, Ma! Please! I can still feel her moving inside. Why didn’t they take her out?” said Megha, pushing away the baby. The baby started bawling and her mother tried to cuddle and soothe her.
“Ma’am, those are contractions. Your uterus is shrinking back. You will feel it for a few days,” said a nurse.
“You have to hold her, Megha. She is yours. Look at her. She has Viren’s nose, your lips. Viren is so excited to see her, he called so many times when you were in the Operation Theatre. Poor boy, he couldn’t get any direct flight. He’ll reach only by midnight. See, she is moving her lips. She must be hungry, Megha; you should feed her.”
The nurses and her mother tried to position her baby around her breast.
“Megha, support her neck in your elbow, hold her closer, bend down a little!” Megha’s mother was shouting instructions at her as the baby squirmed in her arms and moved her face all over, making sucking noises as if waiting for milk to pour down from the heavens.
“You have to guide her! She can’t see… she hasn’t opened her eyes yet. You can’t just sit there! Haven’t you seen anyone feeding a child?” Her mother was exasperated now.
Megha felt like a cow as the nurses and her mother prodded and squeezed her breasts, trying to get a few drops inside the baby’s mouth. Small jets of liquid squirted out of her intermittently. The nurses took away the baby to feed her some formula. Megha exhaled slowly and slumped her spine down. She soon dozed off.
When she woke up, sunlight was pouring in through the window. Viren was standing beside her. “She is so beautiful, oh my God! So tiny. I just keep staring at her, Megha! Ma and Papa are so excited. They will be here by noon,” he said, hugging and kissing her. He looked like a schoolboy with his wide grin and shiny round eyes.
Megha turned to stare at the baby. Her project had gone live in the past week and she had spent most of her time in office, fixing software bugs, handling angry client calls, managing the support team and handing over the project documents. The baby had been restless with all the noise and was constantly moving inside her. It was strange to watch her sleeping in her little cradle while a crowd of friends and relatives came to visit them.
Megha had been looking forward to the two-week rest before the baby would be born. She had imagined a Hallmark card moment: she would be sitting in the hospital bed, a nurse would hand over the baby and Viren would join them for a perfect family picture. Clearly, this baby had different ideas.
Megha still could not move out of her bed. She felt as helpless as the baby in the cradle; they both needed someone to clean them up. Every few hours the nurses and her mother would try the breastfeeding routine again. Her breasts were heavily swollen now and were starting to become hard with stagnant milk. A senior nurse applied hot water bags to bring the milk down. Barely a squirt landed inside the baby’s mouth, who still could not latch on to her.
It was late in the night when Megha was woken up by the baby’s cries. Megha tried to call her mother, who was in the side bed, but she was fast asleep. Megha rocked the cradle, trying to quieten the baby, but she was squirming around, making sucking noises. Megha slowly turned around towards the baby. The stitches under her belly stung and burned with the stretching skin. She slowly bent down, trying not to think about the consequences of rupturing her stitches.
She pulled the baby slowly towards her and cuddled her. The baby immediately turned around and tried to suckle. Megha helped her to latch on to her nipple and for the first time, she felt a tug. The baby was suckling! Warmth coursed through her body. She felt a strange peace settle within her as she kissed her baby’s tiny little hands. Her baby’s long lashes quivered as she slowly tried to open her eyes, her first bout of hunger now satisfied. Tiny little creases flitted across her cheek – she seemed to be smiling. Tears rolled down Megha’s cheeks as she held her daughter close to her heart and kissed her.