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Babies are born every day but birthing is no everyday affair for a mum. In the rush to follow routine, this fact may be often overlooked.
Thankfully, the emergence of birthing centres in India could be a reason for mums to hope that their search for equality, respect and a sacred space to have a unique birth experience may be over at last...
Words Subarna Ghosh
Visual Akshay Kulkarni
What’s a birthing centre?
When mums go to the hospital to deliver a baby, they know what to expect from a medical facility. Starched uniforms, aprons, disposable gloves, a monitoring machine, the intravenous drip bottle hanger and smell of the disinfectant spirit welcomes her to labour. But the recent launch of natural birth centres aimed at reducing medical interventions and checking the C-section rates in India, has seen a slight change in this scenario. Imagine a mum-to-be and her partner walking into a homely bedroom with a sprawling double bed, bright curtains, a soothing vaporiser wafting a pleasant fragrance and soft music playing in the background. For company, they have a friendly midwife along with a doula or a Hypnobirthing expert ready to lend support so that birthing remains a gentle, natural and unique experience.
M&B expert and childbirth educator Sonali Shivlani defines a birthing centre more specifically when she says, “A birthing centre is a place where the woman births with the help of midwives. The ob/gyn is a backup option and is ideally called into the room only if the need arises. The labour team consists of trained midwives and doulas and the family as the support system.”
Kochi’s Birth Village
In the small town of Kochi, childbirth educator Priyanka Idicula’s efforts have resulted in the setting up of the second free-standing birth centre of India, the first being the Birthing Centre in Assagao, Goa, run by German midwife Corrina and her husband. Named as ‘Birth Village’, the Kochi centre is well-known for the Lamaze-classes which have been conducted here since long. But being a part of the team that made Kerala’s first water birth possible gave Priyanka the final impetus to start a full-fledged birthing centre with the help of like-minded friends. Priyanka, who is training to become a midwife, says, “Birth Village truly follows the midwifery model of care, provides women with an option to choose how she wants to birth her baby and ensures that this choice is respected. It is possible that a day or two after the water bag breaks, the woman chooses to wait for her baby to arrive naturally as she is fully aware and capable of taking decisions. In the midwifery model of care, the responsibility is shared equally by the midwife and the mum so no one can take a decision on the mother’s behalf. However, the midwife is qualified to make recommendations and guide her. Birth cannot be a planned event so we must let the woman’s body find its own rhythm.”
Priyanka believes that a birthing centre is built on the foundation of the relationship between the mum-to-be and her midwife which in turn is based on the principles of ‘equality, respect and sacred space’. But practical requirements also need to be looked into. For example, it is important that a hospital or medical centre is in the vicinity, easily reachable in about three minutes. In the Indian backdrop, it may be wise to register with a regular gynaecologist in advance, recommends Priyanka, so that in the case of an emergency, the doctor will not refuse care.
The birthing centres in Goa as well as Kochi are ideally located in beautiful, private bungalows that are surrounded by greenery. But such a space and setting often proves to be an unaffordable luxury when it comes to the big cities. Yet, the launch of Mumbai’s first birthing centre reinforces the belief that progressive change never fails to pave its way through the clutter of everyday routine. Daimaa’s Natural Birth & Wellness Centre is located in a 1,500-square-foot residential apartment in a busy suburban market area of Mumbai, a far cry from the serene setting that is ideal for housing a birthing centre. But what makes this a landmark are the founders, one of whom is a gynaecologist and obstetrician herself. Dr Veda and her husband Pravin Simons have handled resistance and ridicule, even from friends in the medical fraternity, in order to bring natural birth within the reach of the common Mumbaikar. The premises also house a medical facility, Dr Sherekar’s Hospital, that was established by Dr Veda’s mother, also a gynaecologist. Dr Veda and Pravin aimed to cut-down on travel time during emergencies when they decided to launch the birthing centre as a separate wing of the hospital. He explains, “We took utmost care so that the Operation Theatre would not be visible from the birthing rooms and tried to create a relaxing environment by doing up the interiors in a natural green colour scheme, using cheerful prints on the blinds, displaying wall art and equipping the rooms with a television, music, wardrobe and an extra pull-out bed.” Their efforts are visible, though the constraint of space is also an undeniable reality at this birthing centre that aims to resurrect the lost tradition of the Indian dai by providing necessary midwifery training to young women. Lamenting the poor quality of education and training given to nurses who specialise as midwives, this founder duo says that the natural birth movement cannot succeed until India starts producing competent midwives who will have the expertise to support a woman in labour with responsibility.
Dr Veda recalls that even before ‘Birth India’ – the network supporting natural birth in India – was formed, she found a new direction during a meeting with a Scottish midwife. “The righteousness of natural birth held great appeal and inspiration for me. I started asking questions to my own fraternity. The C-section rate of Dr Sherekar’s Hospital has always been very low. Only three to five out of 30 mums delivered through a C-section every month, so the idea of a birth centre was not really a very different reality for me,” she avers.