Kerala writer Reba Paul is convinced that if a woman is allowed to experience birth without fear, she becomes hugely liberated and empowered.
Some childbirths, like the one captured in the new Malayalam movie, Kalimannu, grab all the attention, while a few others are consciously kept private.
Even as modern medical practices shape the course of human life, some women deliberately do not seek for childbirth the help of hospitals, midwives or professional birth attendants. They go for an unassisted childbirth (UC).
Supporters of UC, a movement that grew in the West as an extension of the natural childbirth campaign, are not intimidated by the fact that more than 5 lakh women worldwide die annually from complications during childbirth.
The grim statistics did not put off Reba Paul, a writer hailing from Thiruvananthapuram, as she opted for an unassisted home birth five years ago. The decision was intentional.
"While people are astonished to hear this, all I can do is to remind them that it has not been a full 60 years since women have stopped having babies the most natural way. In this period, there have been no physiological or biological changes in a woman's body or in conception, pregnancy and in the childbirth process. Although there may have been a midwife involved in assisting with the births in your parentsâ€™ generation, there would have been many occasions when a professional birth attendant was not around", she says.
Advocates of UC see birth as a normal function of the female body and not as a medical emergency.
"Another factor that greatly influenced my choice was the circumstance of my mother's death, three weeks before my baby was born. She was healthy, but contracted Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus or MRSA (an antibiotic resistant infection) from a hospital while she was taking care of my ailing father. This woke me up to the fact that hospitals are not necessarily the safest places to be in, and are best avoided unless you actually have a medical need to be in one,"she says.
She makes it clear that she shares her story not to promote UC.
"Nor do I share it as a challenge to the medical profession. The most important reason for telling my story is that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that if a woman is allowed to experience birth without fear, she becomes hugely liberated and empowered. Many women who had water birth share my view," she says.
Her labour contractions started on February 6.
"I had a sensation of tightness in the belly and a night of fitful sleep. By the evening of February 7, the tightness increased. By late night, I was pacing the terrace of my house, a bit high perhaps from the oxytocin released in my body," she says.
Around 4 a.m., she felt she could not take any more of the intense labour contractions.
"I did what my body dictated. There was only one doubt. How would I know when to 'push'? All the movies I had seen, show a doctor or a nurse shouting 'Push', or 'It's almost here' or 'Push one more time!' The intensity peaked. I dropped to my knees, and my waters broke,''she remembers.
There was a rush of energy through her body. She felt a tightening of her uterus muscles.
''So, I did not have to push. My body was pushing on its own. This happened four to six times. The next few contractions were milder, gently pushing the baby out. She came out and made a little cry, almost like a bleat of a little lamb, and then quietly moved her arms about. She nuzzled up to me. A few seconds later, I had another contraction, and the placenta was birthed. I had decided not to cut the placenta (which is another story). Only when the placenta was birthed was there any blood,'' she recalls.
It was a moment of ethereal beauty. She was in a heady daze, holding a beautiful baby.