Before Tara could greet us, we had a home birth dry run with the inflated pool and the works as I kicked into latent labour in the early hours of December 10, 2015.
Then it stalled. Lina and Alli were cool as I’ve ever seen them, advising me to just take it easy. They even suggested I go out to dinner and just relax. The next day passed by with very manageable contractions, few and far between.
That night Rajiv and I decided to dine at our friends’ house. When I was expecting Trilok, the night we dined with these friends, I went in to labour. Was our second time around going to play out differently? Nope! We were smack in the middle of dinner when it was ‘Go Time’! Soon, my contractions began progressing very quickly.
Rajiv, being trained as my HypnoBirth partner, didn’t want to lose time filling the pool and setting up the room. I needed him to be with me a 100 per cent. We decided against the home birth while in the car and proceeded straight to the hospital instead. After a whole night of labour in a dark room inside a pool of warm water and Rajiv’s music playing on loop, my Tara was born on the morning of the 12th, all of three kilos. She wasn’t whisked away from me.
Her vernix remained until it was totally absorbed by her skin. She had no cradle cap or dry skin. The placenta wasn’t clamped for blood collection. It remained attached until all the blood fl owed into her completely. She had no infantile jaundice. Tara and I just cuddled skin to skin to our hearts content. It was surreal! She was perfect and beautiful.
Trilok walked in and his first words at the sight of his baby sister were, ‘Oh she is so cute mumma,’ and that’s when Rajiv and I knew, we were all going to be okay!
All the planning should’ve braced me for impact but reality always strikes when it’s quiet and dark. I was in pain, physical and mental.
All the adrenalin that had got me through the pregnancy seemed to be wearing off. I felt like I was spiraling downwards. Sometimes, I heard people say unsavory things.
Holding my own was getting difficult. Truth be told, one can never be completely prepared for anything. There is no such thing. Through all this, what kept us going was that Tara was a real trooper. She endured everything we laid on her with the grit of a warrior. Trilok helped me too, lending me his company or even just silently sitting by my side when I felt emotionally raw. I would weep to him and he would just lovingly hug me back. Then, the journey of ‘exclusive breastfeeding’ began.
Feeding a cleftie (cleft-cutie) comes with its own challenges. We fed her via a combination of feeding contraptions like syringes, vaati chamcha, feeding tube and special needs bottles. Given the situation, now that she was out of the protective cover of my body, my milk was the only way I could protect her from within. Sure, my nursing dream was snatched away from me, but it gave me newfound respect for mums who put in the extra effort to pump, particularly when they get back to their professional lives. It takes tremendous dedication and gumption to just keep going.
Getting started was all about using the right pump and sticking to a rigid schedule with the readiness to pump anywhere, quite literally, anywhere! I was lucky though, to be blessed with abundant supply. So here I was with excess milk my daughter clearly couldn’t consume, and since I couldn’t store beyond a point, I started to look at the next logical step, donation.
However, it broke my heart to learn the hard way that operating a human milk bank is cumbersome, with its strict protocols and rules. The convenience of sterile formula clearly had an edge over human milk. Eventually, my search led me to Sion Hospital, which accepted my donations with open arms.
It was around the same time that I also discovered the concept of milk sharing. Milk sharing, exchange or wet nursing is not advised on paper since the milk may not be pasteurised, or one may not be aware of the mother’s medical history, but it’s a universal phenomenon which takes place unofficially all over the globe.
It happens within families, among strangers, between friends and it happened with me. My closest friends were really generous in their offer to share their milk at the time of Tara’s birth. I did not know then that, soon, I too would embark on a ‘sharing journey’ that would bring my breastfeeding and pumping journey full circle.
I firmly believe that the onset of our journey into wellness began at pregnancy. Around Tara’s fourth month mark, Lina told us about Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy (BCST) and a dear friend told us about pranic healing. Both work with the body, energy and mind to ultimately attain healing. They’re legitimate therapies backed by science. However, the medical community does not openly embrace these.
Rajiv and I were sceptical too, until we saw the results for ourselves For BCST Tara was under the expert hands of Zia Nath and then extensively under Dr Meeta Bali and for pranic healing, under the care of a senior healer Jeanne D’Arc Jabbour. We had pre- and post-surgery pranic healing sessions.
Jeanne, who was on a break at the time, was kind enough to accommodate Tara. She has been a very integral part of our journey, not just for my daughter but also the three of us. Post-palate repair surgery is also when I met the absolutely wonderful Effath Yasmin who agreed to a session on extremely short notice. Effath remains special to me. I was instantly drawn to her warm personality.
Right then I knew my daughter was going to be well taken care of. Prior to the session Tara was out cold from the effects of the anesthesia and 45 minutes into BCST, she opened her eyes as though a surge of life had passed through her. We had a complete turn around and she never looked back.
One has to see the pictures to believe it. Besides the cleft, she also had two holes in her heart that had grown from birth to month four. However, we were informed that the holes would most likely gain closure by age two, as they do in most cases, but there isn’t a guarantee. We were ecstatic to learn that the holes gained full closure by the time Tara turned one.
Whatever the sceptics might say, we still believe it was the pranic healing and BCST that helped expedite the healing process.
Forward we go
Time is a great balm. I look back at our experience with a renewed perspective and it humbles me to see how far we have come. But we got here one step at a time with the help of an army of people. We were lucky that we had the wherewithal to give our daughter the best care and attention.
I understand that the journey is a lot harder for some and I am in awe of the strength I’ve personally seen in mothers, braving situations like these, with little or no family support. These parents have phenomenal depths of unconditional love and resilience. I gather my inspiration from them. Last year, I started a cleft mothers support group on Facebook called ‘Cleft Strong Mothers, Mumbai’. Its members are parents and medical professionals.
There is a list of contacts for hospitals, lactation consultants, therapists, etc., that an expectant or existing cleft parent might seek. The forum was constructed to build a sense of community, which is sadly lacking in our society.
A place where one can speak their mind, share grievances, ask questions, gain information, share pictures, milestones, and a whole lot more. It’s my humble attempt at providing support, something I wish I had found locally when we were at the cusp of this experience. The idea is to bring people together, because you don’t have to fight alone. Together we are strong, Cleft Strong!