Our boy in India

If the Municipal Corporation of Delhi had really unblocked the drains in preparation for the monsoon (as it claimed), then our son might have been born two weeks later. As it was, when the rains arrived at the end of June, the city's roads became deep lakes of floodwater, swirling around stalled cars, cows and motorbikes, and full of happy splashing boys. In one of these lakes, on the busy Mathura Road, our third-hand Ambassador car chugged to a halt, leaving us stranded in the rain with a fretful two-year-old.

We were on our way to an antenatal appointment at the Apollo hospital, 7kms away, at which the doctor was to tell me how much longer it was safe to let my pregnancy continue. By the time we arrived, my blood pressure was so high she refused to let me go home. I was to stay and be induced the next day.

The mechanics of induction and acceleration of labour don't differ greatly from the processes in the UK. But it is the seemingly incidental details that make all the difference. Practices that were abandoned in most British hospitals at least 10 years ago, such as routine shaves and enemas, are still standard. Traditionally, Indian husbands stay out of the delivery room, although there was no objection to my husband Luke staying with me throughout. And unlike in the UK, where you might find beanbags, birthing pools and darkened rooms with CD players, at the prestigious Apollo hospital in New Delhi women are compelled to deliver in the operating theatre on a high narrow bed with lithotomy stirrups.

After two days of "latent phase" labour pains, I began to dilate. When I asked whether it was possible for the labour to proceed naturally, my consultant replied curtly that she had come in specially on her day off and she thought we could get on with it. At 9.30am on a Sunday morning she broke my waters and the labour proceeded with agonising swiftness.

Towards the end of the first stage, the gas and air cylinder ran out. The hospital staff had trouble locating a replacement, since their well-heeled clients almost universally opt for full epidurals. There was an excruciating delay while they found me another (and, worringly, the last) cylinder. After three hours, I was wheeled into the delivery theatre on a trolley. Baby Ruskin arrived 17 minutes later, to be whisked almost immediately to the hospital nursery.

The postnatal advice from the Apollo seemed enlightened. I was encouraged to feed Ruskin at least 10 times a day and sleep with him in the same bed. In the Chelsea and Westminster hospital, where our daughter Tilly was born in 1997, the nurse vetoed this as a dangerous practice. Baby massage is also common across India.

In the hours after the birth, our "private" room was periodically invaded by floor-sweepers, floor-washers, bedmakers, loo-roll changers (jobs being strictly demarcated), surface-wipers, and mosquito-sprayers. The security guards wandered in and smilingly demanded that we should give them "sweets for a boy", ie money to celebrate our miraculous good fortune in not giving birth to another unwanted girl-child.

Faced with frequent interruptions to Ruskin's early feeds, we discharged ourselves the following morning and went home. The servants downstairs greeted us with delighted murmurings of "laraka, laraka" (a boy, a boy) and clearly word was already spreading. Within hours, two stubbly apparitions in saris turned up on our doorstep. The local eunuchs had heard about Ruskin's arrival. It is an auspicious Indian tradition for eunuchs to appear at births, where they bless the child in exchange for a large fee. In the case of new-borns, the eunuchs also inspect the child. If its gender is unclear, they take it away.

We didn't give them any money. A day later, our phone line was cut through. We had the line repaired only for the same thing to happen again the following day. Asking around it seemed we got off lightly: another British expat who had just given birth had to barricade herself in while seven burly eunuchs tried to break down her door. A second haggled with the eunuchs and managed to beat them down to 500 rupees (£8) for a quick blessing and exclusive rights.

When the fuss had subsided, I took Ruskin out on the roof terrace for a small dose of blazing sun to ward off jaundice. As I fed him I could watch the striped palm squirrels run along the top of the wall between the potted frangipani trees and bougainvillaea, look out at the Mughal tomb next door and hear the early evening muezzin. Inside, our newly acquired ayah had decorated Ruskin's cot with garlands of yellow and purple flowers and the first emails were arriving from England.

Thanks to guardian.co.uk who have provided this article. View the original here.


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