The story of us ( part 1 )

My husband Rajiv, who is a singer- composer, and has composed and sung for several television ad films and movies, and I always wanted two children, if not three. We like the idea of parenting, nurturing and trying to attain an impermeable family unit. So really there wasn’t ever a debate on how many, just the matter of finding a suitable time to start our family. Both our children, have been a blessing to us in more ways than one.

With Trilok, I discovered parenting. Apart from enjoying reading to him and gardening with him, he helped me unravel my joy for cooking, which led me to blogging about baby food. My style of parenting with him is one of introspection. I am learning to tune myself to him. Sometimes, he displays maturity beyond his years. What I’ve come to realise with him is that I must be careful; he is my weakness.

With Tara, I’ve learnt the true meaning of faith and patience, of strength and perseverance. My parenting style with her is largely tailored around her personality. She is strong-willed and rugged. I have to be her guide, but practice restraint. The truth is, she guides me; she is my strength.

Bun in the oven

My first pregnancy and delivery was fairly uneventful. I had Trilok via water birth and I knew that’s how I wanted my second baby delivered, too.

With the usual niggles there was a lot to be thankful for. I got pregnant with Tara soon after Trilok turned two and we were over the moon! The initial weeks proceeded as usual. Then, the time for my scheduled 17th week anomaly scan arrived. We bummed around at the ultrasound oblivious to the news that awaited us.

Rajiv stepped out to drop my son off to play-school. I assured him that I’d be okay. We’d been through the drill before. Moments later I was transferred to a room that seemed like it had a more evolved scanner.

That’s okay though, I wasn’t worried. Just as soon as the probe gave me a 3D view of my bub, I froze. I stared at the screen knowing what I was looking at before the sonographer could even break it to me.

It was so intuitive, almost like I knew that this was going to happen. I braced myself and asked her if we were looking at a cleft lip. With a quiet ‘hmmm’ and a nod, she confirmed my doubts.

It was evident that the cleft was rather wide and that the palate would be involved too. Tara had a “complete unilateral cleft lip and palate,” we were told. The sound of silence was blaring in my head and ears, and I had pins and needles running all the way up to my head, but I composed myself and asked Rajiv to come back soon.

Of course, I was devastated and while I stopped myself short of getting hysterical, I was crying. Finally, I composed myself enough to ask my doctor, “How do we equip ourselves to care for this baby?” She held my hand gently and responded, “I will help you figure this out.” The drive back home was dark.

I let go of that composure and all hell broke loose. I was swinging between Googling the condition to being horrified that I potentially wouldn’t be able to put my baby to my breast.

There were hoards of questions plaguing me all at once. What were we going to do? How was I to feed this baby? Would the speech be affected? How many surgeries were we looking at? Which doctors were we to consult? Hospitals? At the time one thing was clear, Rajiv was my rock.

We went back home and broke the news to our folks. They reassured us that they were going to welcome their grandchild and this time it was to be no different than the first. Both sets braved the news and were with us unconditionally for every decision we took and lovingly lent us comfort, no questions asked.

For such wonderful parents, we are truly blessed and grateful. As far as Trilok was concerned, I wanted to normalise facial differences at home. We’re all the same no matter what. I started talking to him about how he was going to have a beautiful baby brother or sister and that he or she was going to be born with a cleft. I broke it down via pictures, hundreds literally, of cleft-affected gorgeous newborns until it got to a point where he would eagerly ask to be shown pictures of the beautiful cleft babies. Children are pure and unbiased and that’s the beauty of their innocence.

Our plan of action

After my initial struggle with the news, I realised how real the situation was and every emotion I felt, would directly affect my baby. I decided things were going to change and I needed a plan of action. I started off by looking up gentle, unmedicated ways of birthing—anything that would help my baby enter this world with ease.

I wanted to connect with her; I wanted her to know how much we loved her and wanted her no matter what. So, what was our plan? HypnoBirthing! I contacted Jaypali Shetty, a HypnoBirth practitioner, and I’m so glad that I did! Jaypali was wonderful. She spoke to me and put me at ease. Her calm persona had me gravitating towards her for comfort.

The daily meditations kept me positive and enthusiastic about meeting my cutie and figuring out the next step. Of course, that was figuring out my birth plan. I knew my second had to be via water birth, too.

However, was that a possibility now? I had signed up on several cleft support communities and a hoard of mums there had had their cleft cuties via water and even home births. I gained confidence in the process.

Around that time, a friend of mine had given birth to her beautiful baby via a home birth. Her account of the birth was surreal which made me contact the midwife duo that facilitated it for her.

Lina, Ning and later Alli, were very confident that if all growth parameters and the pregnancy pointed towards an uncomplicated delivery, we could very well birth this baby via water and even at home.

I also had to register myself at a hospital under the care of Dr Dhurandar, just as a precautionary measure, and they too would facilitate the same birth plan. All of them were just what I dreamed of for my baby. Lina went as far as contacting her colleagues abroad to get me material to read up on with regards to cleft-affected babies, feeding challenges, team required for care, etc. All of them were always a phone call away when I needed them. I finally had my dream birth team.

After figuring out my birth plan for Tara, next came the most crucial part of my journey—my feeding plan. My smooth breastfeeding ride with Trilok had me decided that I was going to exclusively feed my second, no matter what. If it meant I would have to pump 24/7, so be it. I contacted lactation consultant Dr Manisha Gogri and she helped me understand how to bank colostrum before the baby’s arrival and figure out full-time pumping.

I had decided that I wasn’t going to get riled up with the feeding situation. Of course, I mourned the loss of a full-fl edged nursing relationship, but that wasn’t going to get in the way of what reality was. It was time to be practical.

Days on end, I scoured the internet for special needs feeding options such as the Medela Haberman and Dr Browns specality feeder, and we were fortunate enough to be able to procure them via family and friends. The final part of our birth plan involved finding a cleft team.

One in 800 babies are born cleft-affected in India. It’s supposed to be one of the most common birth anomalies in the world, let alone our country. Yet, when one encounters it, the hospitals seem just as clueless as the parents.

Fortunately for us, we pored over plenty of literature on the subject, and felt we were rather prepared for whatever lay ahead. More importantly, we knew just when we were being misguided. We knew that our baby would require an integrated support team, typically an orthodontist, maxillofacial surgeon, speech pathologist, dentist, paediatritian, and an ENT specialist, to name a few.

We were lucky to find our wonderful cleft support team at BSES Global Hospital at Andheri, Mumbai. Maxillofacial surgeon, Dr Parit Ladani, had the patience to explain the condition to us and spend hours discussing the situation. Orthodontist and NAM (Naso-Alveolar Moulding) specialist, Dr Gajanan Shanbag was kind and encouraging, always. It was he who kept our spirits high and kept us going through tough days. He will always be special to us.

With the birthing team, cleft support team and feeding equipment in place, all we had to do was wait. She wasn’t even here yet and we were in love!