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As a student nurse, I had to work in a government hospital, and some of my experiences have made their mark on me. This is a labour room scene.
SEX, the ‘taboo’ word, was always part of the heat of discussions with fellow girls, omnipresent in all late night chats during my hostel days, from school to college. But “How was I born?” was a question that never came to our minds. It was a neglected thought, until the third year of my graduation in nursing.
Nursing studies was a package of boring, sweaty afternoon lectures and jam-packed, at times quite interesting morning clinical sessions.
“Labour is the process of bringing out the foetus and the products of conception.”
All of us had our mouths wide open during one such afternoon lecture on labour. A coloured picture of widespread legs, blood shed and high pitched screeches (like in regional movies) ran through our minds. Many of us whispered deep in our mind, “mom you are great.” This was quite contradictory to what we usually said “I can’t believe it, my parents did that and I was born. Yuck!
All of us were quite excited as well as tense when it was the time for our midwifery postings. It was at a renowned government hospital in Karnataka. This place was the only hope of light for the economically poor; here you have the right to get medical care during labour by paying just Rs. 100 or 150.
But the truth is painful to discuss.
All of us students, a batch of fifty, (forty one girls and nine boys), stood like convicts, our eyes wide, white uniforms drenched in perspiration, and faces turned pale like that of ghosts. There was pin-drop silence in the hall when the tutor announced the names of the students called on to assist in the labour room the next day. I could feel my bladder getting filled with fear. I held my pelvic muscles tight, and controlled my urge to micturate.
I felt like I am going to have a cardiac arrest when I heard my name and that of my friend Glory called out. We looked at each other. The tension and fear in our eyes brought a smile of helplessness. I took a deep sigh.
The next day, Glory and I met outside the labour room. We waited with hands crossed and prayed hard like we used to do when there was an India-Pakistan match. Anybody who glanced at us might have thought we were praying for our own labour.
The labour room was a plain hall with eight tables, four on each side. Seperated by cheap curtains hung on a rope (the dirtiest I have ever seen in my entire life). Except for this setup, it reminded me of a dirty laundry room with blood soaked clothes everywhere.
The moment we entered the line of vision of the nursing supervisor, we were called by her: “You two come forward. Start carbolizing the tables, footrest and walls.” We looked around; tables were drenched in blood and amniotic fluid. It smelled like a butcher shop. Faeces and urine on some added more spice to the scene. I begged to my vomiting center in the medulla part of my brain to not react, and controlled my urge to puke.
We looked at each other with dismay in our eyes. Recovering from this state, we requested for two sets of gloves. The senior staff looked at us like we had demanded a huge dowry to get married to her daughter. Then came a janitor, like an angel sent from heaven; we literally saw a hallow around her head when she handed over two gloves to us. It was as if she had showered some mercy on us.
All those who have undergone nursing studies must have experienced this either as a student, intern or a staff nurse. We asked for carbolizing solution; usually propanol or sodium hypochloride. It was Glory who asked, I stood behind her. The reply came as thunder: “Use soap and water. Take the scrubber too.”
The tigress in Glory and me woke up, but we couldn’t really express it, as we were students. Umpteen times I have dreamt of standing up, looking straight into the supervisor’s eyes and saying, “We are nurses; not servants”. I guess my dream leaked out of my brain like frothing beer, or my two minutes of useless thoughts had done their magic. The supervisor screamed: “Out you both. Get lost!” as if the government hospital was her husband’s property. But deep inside, I was relieved to get out of this pigsty.
With our heads held high, we walked past the eight tables, just like Rajnikanth does a slow motion scene in his action movies. All eyes were fixed on us. Mothers in labour, doctors, PG students, ANMs and all. As we were nearing the second table, we heard the mother cry out in pain. A nighty, dark brown in colour, folded above the hips. Legs bent to the stomach, separated wide apart. A touch to the abdomen gave a rigid vibration that we usually feel at a pub when the jockey slips on the disc. A black line is visible in the vagina, pushing against the labial folds. A new life was trying to establish self.
I could hear my midwifery lectures playing in my ears. “Second stage of labour, explulsion of the foetus… provide mother comfort, support… apply liberal episotomy if needed.”
The cry became intense. Glory rushed to the supervisor and said, “Sister head is seen”.
“They have not paid,” the reply came.
“But she has the clearance,” Glory shot back. The supervisor got up from the seat and stared blankly at us and walked off.
Glory rushed to a PG student who was with another mother and told her. She said with a smile, “I am attending to this case now. Would you manage if I tell you what to do?” She agreed with a firm nod, confidence in her mind was visible on her face. Love, compassion, and passion too..
“Geya wear gloves,” she screamed.
I felt a shudder go through my spine. I am usually bold at doing procedures, but this time I could feel butterflies in my stomach. I pulled on the gloves in fraction of a second and supported the perineum of the mother, and held the baby’s head. Vagina expanded, the baby’s head was thrusting and it looked like it would tear the vagina.
“Apply an episotomy,” the PG student said. Glory took the surgical blade and with trembling hands cut through the sides. Flesh was seen, blood trickling down. Mother cried, not for this pain, but the labour pain. I felt a pain down in my stomach too.
The mother pushed hard at regular intervals, trying to get the baby out of her womb. The only thing in her mind at that time would be to get this little spark of life out of her. The little thing for whom she took great care for one year, ate extra, drank extra, prayed hard and longed for so much. Now all she wants is to get it out of her body.
The baby’s head was out, and quick, in a twisting motion like that in a whirlpool, we delivered the shoulders and then the legs. Clamped and cut the cord. The newborn was not as pretty as we expected. Covered with blood and fluids, the baby was slippery like a fish.
Glory showed the baby to the mother. She looked at the child and said with a smile “Girl”. We do this so that later they won’t come back and bargain for a male child.
Glory took the baby to the resuscitation room and cleaned the baby. Now it looked like the one in a Johnson&Johnson advertisement. I held the baby close to my bosom, and immediately it turned it’s face to me, exhibiting its sucking reflex. I felt a surge of feeling that most new mothers must feel – I longed to have a baby of my own, to cuddle and feed my little soul. (Oops, then I remembered that marriages can be hell with some perks like this). But married or unmarried, every woman should undergo labour just to experience the thunder of having a baby.
That made me wonder how men feel when they have a baby of their own…
A version was published here earlier.
Image source: Wikicommons
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