24 July 2009
By Tripti Nath
More Indians now show interest in water birth, an unconventional and relatively painless method. A few hospitals have begun offering this option…
Childbirth need not be associated with indescribable pain, insists Divya Deswal, a childbirth educator who works in a south Delhi hospital. She says this with confidence because she has recently helped deliver many babies through a rather unconventional but relatively painless method – water birth.
Delhi–based Anjali Swarup, 32, would agree. She opted for water birth in mid–March last year for her second child, Shivantika, after attending Divya’s class on childbirth preparation at a private hospital. The labour pains during her first delivery had lasted a whole day. “It was very tough; I had then taken epidural anaesthesia. So when I heard about water birth from a friend in America, who had all her three babies in water, I decided to go for it,” she says.
Anjali says water is soothing and relaxing for childbirth. “My labour started at 9 a.m. At noon, they took me to the pool. As soon as I sat in it, the warm water relaxed my body. The doctor was called and the baby was born at five past noon,” she says. Her mother and husband were with her throughout. “At 5 p.m. I took a shower. I had no stitches. After an overnight stay in the hospital, I was back home and able to resume my normal routine within a short while,” says the happy mother.
So would she suggest water birth to her friends? , “I do. But my friends fear the possibility that the child may drown or get an ear infection,” she replies. That 14–month–old Shivantika is a happy and healthy baby is evidence enough that Anjali’s friends’ fears are unfounded.
Water birth is popular in the West, where it emerged as a promising alternative to traditional delivery methods. But in India the concept is relatively new and it is not easy to find the right person or institution to help with such a birthing procedure.
Gurgaon–based American Gary Dolpha Freeman and his Indian wife, Phalguni, faced this problem. “In India it’s a big challenge. We spoke to a birth centre in Goa but it didn’t work out. Fortunately, we were able to get in touch with Divya,” says Freeman.
Phalguni, 33, gave birth to Anushka just a few weeks ago. Recounting her experience, she says, “My husband was in the pool all six hours and the doula – a woman who gives physical and emotional support during labour – was by my side.” Freeman adds, “I climbed into the pool with my wife during labour and held her up. Her feet were on my chest. She had a pushing surface. Between contractions, I let her down. I had studied the Bradley Husband Coach Childbirth method and I felt comfortable with an educated doula. It’s a great experience to have one in India.”
What prompted the couple to opt for a water birth? Says Freeman, “When I was 10 or 12 years old, water birth was in the news. I found it interesting and decided to look at it for our firstborn. My wife was also interested in it.”
But Phalguni clarifies that their objective was not so much to have a water birth as to adopt a procedure that would ease labour. “I was open to a normal delivery if the need arose,” she reveals. Phalguni was admitted to the hospital in the evening and delivered at four the next morning. She was back home two days later. The hospital bill came to Rs 53,000, but the couple is more than satisfied. Phalguni, who suffers from lower back and joint pain, explains that it would have been difficult for her to lie on her back during labour. “The buoyancy of water helped me manage the pain better. For the baby, it was a smooth transition. When she came out, she looked so clean and radiant,” she recalls.
Charlotte Walter, 36, a British woman, was the first to give birth by this method at the hospital. Two months later, Veronica Bertolini, an Italian woman, delivered a baby girl in water. Veronica’s two other children, Meggie and Kabir, were there to welcome their youngest sibling in the pool. Earlier, Meggie had received her brother Kabir in a birthing pool in Assagao, Goa. Veronica’s husband, Dr Jorge Caravotte, a microbiologist and filmmaker, had said at the time, “I would like to encourage would–be mothers to give birth in water because there is no medical intervention. The woman gives birth in zero gravity.”
Dr Urvashi Sehgal, the obstetrician and gynaecologist who runs Phoenix Hospital, explains that they introduced water birth after a pregnant woman approached them. “We had been looking at this option for a while. We had no doubt that natural birth was a gentle option. Our childbirth educator, Divya, had already observed water birth in the US. So we were more than willing to try it out,” she says.
Natural and Comfortable
Divya, a civil engineer–turned–childbirth educator, has helped several anxious pregnant women with her gentle massage and comforting words. She has even sat through the night holding their hands, suggesting different positions for relieving pain. “I have been at birth for 40 hours at a stretch. Expectant women are paralysed with fear about giving birth. They need to be reassured that nature has given women everything they need to give birth. The beauty of giving birth in water is that it empowers women to take charge. For this, preparation is very important; the doctor’s role is minimal. Birth is totally natural. There is no induction, no pain medication of any kind, no IV lines, no episiotomies,” she explains.
The egg–shaped pool used at Phoenix Hospital has a capacity of 600 litres. Ninety per cent of the pool is filled with packaged drinking water. The water is 26 inches deep, so the question of the newborn drowning does not arise.
“I see women step into the inflatable pool and almost instantly feel weightless. The warm water raises the temperature of the body and helps in increased blood circulation. It also eases muscular tension and a relaxed body allows the uterus to contract efficiently. A restful mind stimulates the release of endorphins, natural painkillers in the body,” Divya explains.
Elaborating on the concept, she adds that the baby is already in water in the womb and moves from water to water atmosphere, “so there is no question of choking, as the child is not breathing in water. The umbilical cord is not cut immediately and the baby receives oxygen from the mother’s body.”
However, not all women who opt for a water birth can successfully go through with it. As Divya explains, “Sometimes normal births end up as C–sections. Sometimes women have chosen to labour in water but have stepped out of the pool and delivered. But it nonetheless always helps speed up labour. There are some who used water but it did not help them.”
Divya has seen and handled all sorts of situations in the labour room, but she endorses water as the ideal medium for bringing a child into the world. And going by the happy experiences of women like Anjali and Phalguni, that certainly seems to be the case.
After all, isn’t water the elixir of life?