research institute for compassionate economics

Tapti’s birth story

Written by Diane Coffey on March 2nd, 2012

In the past few weeks, I’ve been taking lots of field notes from my visits to the three villages in my study, and from visits with various official and government health workers. Yet, I’ve had a hard time figuring out what to write for the blog. A couple of the stories that I’ve wanted to tell the most are emotionally difficult for me, so I’ve been waiting for some time to pass in order to be able to write more analytically about them. But today, I have happy story to tell.

This morning, I left the house at 9:30 am with my “interpreter” (who I will call PB) to go to the district women’s hospital in Sitapur. The head doctor had agreed to speak with us about the work of the hospital.

We left our bicycles in the bicycle parking area (the attendants were kind enough not to charge us the fee), and crouched down to enter the little door made for pedestrians in the large metal gate. As we turned towards the head doctor’s office, an old woman stopped us. I recognized her from one of the villages, but didn’t immediately place her. The woman said to us, “My granddaughter has arrived!” As the story unraveled, we found out that the woman’s daughter in law, Tapti (name changed), who we hadn’t expected to deliver for several weeks, had given birth to a daughter in the wee hours of the morning.

Before I go any further, I’ll talk about what happened last Tuesday, February 28, when I last visited Tapti in her home. I had expected there to be a new baby in her house on that day. That’s because Tapti’s husband’s sister, Amrita, is also pregnant. Amrita had come from her in-laws (women in rural U.P. overwhelming live with their husband’s families) back to her childhood home for two reasons. The first is that she wants to be close to the district hospital when it came time to deliver. The second is that she is taking adult education classes, and the exam that will allow her to pass 10th grade will be given in Sitapur on March 16th.

Amrita is quite nervous that she will be indisposed the day of the exam. If she can’t go, all of her preparation–studying, signing up for the exam, buying special paper, and paying the fees–will be wasted because the exam is only given once a year. She was so concerned that she went to the district hospital to ask the doctor to tell her when the baby would be born (she is the only pregnant woman I’ve yet met who has a “due date”). The date she was given was February 23rd.

But when I arrived on the 28th, Amrita and her mother were sitting on the floor. Amrita was bent over her still enormous belly, looking through her mother’s hair for lice, or dandruff, or something. Tapti and her children sat with them too, her six year old girl sat to her left, and her three year old boy in front of her. PB and I joined them on the floor, and we chatted about the coming babies—when would they come, who would do the housework with two recently delivered women in the house, and what sorts of things they buy for the babies when they came. Amrita was quite annoyed that her baby had not yet arrived.

So, you can imagine PB and my surprise when her mother in law told us that it was Tapti who had delivered. Her mother in law told us which bed she was in, and we said we would meet with the head doctor and then come and pay them a visit.

After meeting with the head doctor, and speaking to the nurses, we went to find Tapti in her bed. She was in a long room with about 40 beds in it. There were two or three other recently delivered women in the room. Tapti looked up and smiled, surprised to see us. I explained about our meeting with the doctor, and running into her mother in law. She pulled back a tan blanket, which she had brought from the village, to reveal the face of her baby. The little girl had lots of black hair, and fat cheeks–the slip of paper with her birth details said that she weighed 3 kilograms, or about 6.5 pounds, a high birth weight compared to other babies in my study. She looked just like her older sister.

Tapti told us the birth story. Apparently, she had been having labor pains all day yesterday, but did not tell anyone in her family because she thought it was too early for the baby to arrive. She worried that they might laugh at her for believing that labor had started when it hadn’t. I think she was also ashamed that her baby might come before Amrita’s.

By 2am, she was in such pain that she was crying, and, she said, her five year old daughter was wiping the tears from her eyes. The little girl went to wake Tapti’s mother in law, saying, “My mommy is crying.” Tapti’s mother in law, a caring, and fairly educated woman, decided it was time to go to the hospital, and called a man from their village who owned a motorized rickshaw. They also called the village ASHA, a female health worker who is supposed to accompany women to the hospital when they deliver. The ASHA said that her son was sick (as far as I could tell from their description of his disease, he had chicken pox, but it might have been measles) and she would not be able to come. Even though the ASHA can be helpful in advocating for her patient, in this case it was probably better that she did not come.

Here, I am going to skip some of the details of Tapti’s delivery, since I am not yet sure how to think about them, but suffice it to say that some of the things she described I would rather have happened differently. Nonetheless, the baby was born healthy at 5:15 am, toweled off with a bit of cloth the family had brought from the village and handed to Tapti. By the time we got met her at 11:30 am, Tapti had not slept, and she hadn’t breastfed the baby either. By the time we left at 2:00 pm, Tapti was waiting for her mother in law to bring some hot water from a nearby restaurant to soak her breasts, as they thought it would help her milk come down. I didn’t see any doctors or nurses making rounds while we sat with Tapti, but she said that someone had come to check on her that morning.

I am very much looking forward to seeing this little girl on Tuesday when we go back to her village. Maybe her cousin will be there too!