Birthing A Child Is A Mother’s Work
Having deposited me at the hospital after I went into labor with my firstborn, my husband snuck around the corner with my father to grab some Indian food. Everyone had missed dinner given the excitement of my water breaking.
When Papa suggested that they order a bottle of red, my husband looked at him like he was from another planet. It was going to be a long night at the hospital; wine was certainly out of the question. Caught in a severe generation gap, my father thought that his son-in-law gone stark-raving mad. How did a night at the hospital, long or short, concern him? Birthing a child was a mother’s work and seeing her through the process was her mother’s work.
Traditional Versus Modern
Old northern Indian custom dictates that a woman return (from her husband’s home) to her maayka or mother’s home to give birth to her first child. In previous generations the birthing room was a strictly female zone flanked by the women of the household. It was considered taboo for any man (including the father-to-be) to be near enough to witness the ‘sounds’ of a woman’s labor. Both my parents were thrilled to host this time-honored tradition but had not yet come to terms with the reality of the modern age in which husbands typically ‘manage’ the birth process.
Thanks goodness though for the modern age. Considering my own mother had borne three children of her own, she was considerably squeamish about the procedure. Please can I stand on the head side, she begged. Amused by her reticence given her usually confident personality, I remained content with her sitting next to me and stroking my hair through contractions. Although she felt guilty later, it was a blessing to feel her hand tightly clutching mine as she recited the Gayatri Mantra, an ancient vedic prayer, throughout the birth process. It built one of the most important memories of my life, one that highlights the value of a mother’s love for her daughter.
All References Point to Mom
I have a deep affinity for the land of my birth. An Oedipal society, we grow up respecting India as our true mother and like most Indians I know, I am a strong believer in that life produces no coincidences. Ilya, my own daughter, was born the next morning to the musical rhapsody of A.R. Rahman’s famous patriotic song Ma Tujhe Salaam (we salute you our mother i.e. referring to ‘Mother India’). Nothing could have been more appropriate…it was India’s fifty-first anniversary of independence. All references that day pointed to mom!
My grandma, who had spent most of the night guarding the door to the birthing room in her best effort to maintain the tradition of the female birthing zone, stepped in to comment on her great granddaughter’s lusty cry. To her it showed promise of another confident girl-child to continue the line of strong women in our family. She gave her the middle name Devi, after that of her own mother. Devi, translates as ‘goddess.’ My grandma has a soft spot for female offspring; she believes that they symbolize the auspiciousness of goddess energy coming into your home.
My husband clicked a photo that morning that never fails to remind me of the interconnected bonds between daughters and mothers. The picture shows four generations of the women in our family: Pushpa (my grandmother), Veena (my mother), Reenita (myself) and Ilya Devi (my daughter). We are each a product of our mother’s work.