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Asian Birth Story: Reclaiming Culture & Traditions through Homebirth

Povneet lives in Richmond, VA, and her baby Suraha was born in Oakland with midwife and Asian Birth Collective member, Anjali Sardeshmukh

"Despite my grandparents and then my parents being uprooted from their land and culture, I’ve managed to bring my daughter into this world in a beautiful way that’s authentic to my ancestral way of life. I’m grateful for ways that I can tap into beautiful and joyful practices from my ancestors."

On Sikh Identity

My identity feels complicated and hard these days. It’s hard to identify as Indian with it being in the news that the Indian government is sending assassins to kill Sikh leaders. It’s hard not to just feel heartbroken that Sikh people don’t have any sovereignty over any land.

All our land was split into two. All of my grandparents are from Lahore and they all became refugees and had to move to India. That trauma is still circling in our family. On top of that, there was the genocidal violence of the 1984 Anti-Sikh Riots. There’s also this invisible layer of forcing Sikhs to flee their homeland for economic reasons — the biggest industry is agriculture and the farmer’s protests showed how that’s being attacked.

On Labor Induction

Sura really took her time. She was born at 41 weeks and 6 days, the last day that we could have a home birth legally in California. I had gone into the hospital the day before for a foley catheter placement and it made my water break, which made me quite pissed off in the moment because I was GBS positive and I wanted to avoid antibiotics in labor.

My labor didn’t start until midnight when I finally laid down to try to go to sleep. I remember telling myself to meditate, pray, listen to Hypnobirthing tracks, do some breast pumping or try other things to get labor started so I could avoid antibiotics. I feel like I landed in birthland when labor contractions started that night around midnight. Before that it felt like I was just mentally running away from it. 

On Early Labor

For the first three hours, I labored by myself. I had taken a hypnobirthing course, so I played some hypnosis tracks for myself, which worked for two hours or so.

I don’t think my labor progressed in the “traditional” way they teach in school. My contractions were two minutes apart right off the bat. I think it might have had something to do with my water breaking and my daughter’s placement. I felt all of the contractions in my lower back.

On The Midwife

Around 6:30 a.m., Anjali [the midwife] came. I remember feeling just a big sigh of relief that she was there. My perception of time felt so warped. It felt like it took her hours to just get up the stairs into our house. When she told me I was only at five centimeters (after a cervical check), it was such a blow to me. I remember I was just screaming through my contractions. I said “I don’t know if I can do this,” which doesn’t surprise me because my childhood catchphrase was “I don’t know.” 

Anjali looked at me like a very stern older sister and was like “Povneet, what about you say that you can do this because the reality is that you’re here doing it. You have to pull it together.” And I did. The voice in my head wasn’t a kind one. It said “don’t be so dramatic.” For the next hour or so, I was able to stop screaming and compose myself.

One thing I didn’t know at the time was that the baby’s heart rate had been fluctuating during the pushing phase of labor. Anjali just kept telling me to change positions to manage it, and I thought she was being so annoying. Anjali stayed calm the entire time and I didn’t sense any nervousness from her about this.

On Pushing “Early”

I had no more energy left after labouring for 28 hours. This is where I really hit my low. I started questioning myself. Things like: had I even wanted to get pregnant? Was I just letting life happen to me? Should I just go to the hospital and get the drugs?

I think my daughter heard. I think she was like, “OK, it’s time for me to take over.” While I was in the bathroom, I very naturally started pushing with the contractions. I didn’t even notice it. Suraha’s dad came to check on me and walked me over to the bedroom. Anjali told me that it would be helpful for labor to move around and I had to scream out that I was pushing at that very moment. Baby was coming. 

Anjali didn’t panic, she’s the coolest person, but she got me to the bed immediately and checked me. I was still only at eight centimeters away, so she told me to make the most Punjabi noise, “brrrrrah,” and to hold off on pushing my baby out. but I couldn’t listen. Sura just bore down and we just kept pushing, and 18 minutes later, she was all out.

I remember when Sura’s head first came out, Anjali had me touch her and I thought that was unnecessary because I really didn’t need any additional motivation to get Sura all the way out. I couldn’t handle the labor pains anymore and unbeknownst to me at the time, Sura possibly couldn’t have handled more labor time either. So both of us knew we didn’t have any other option than to push with everything that we had. 

She wasn’t crying so Anjali rubbed her back and hands. Her umbilical cord was so short that I had to birth the placenta before she could reach my breast. Once she started feeding, she was more into milk, less into breathing but she was all good. 

I just remember being so awestruck at how beautiful she was. She was a tall, lean (7 lb) baby with the widest cheeks ever. No one in our family really has chubby cheeks so they were such a shock. She also had a full head of hair.  I thought I would have a really smart baby, a really spunky, rebellious baby, I did not expect a beautiful baby. 

On Complex Feelings

After she was born, I was guilty about the thoughts I had in the lowest points of my labor. As soon as I met her, I was like “she’s such an angel, am I worthy of her?” But I’m working on accepting that I don’t need to be a perfect mom. I’m doing my best to be a good enough mom to Suraha.

My daughter has an old soul. She has been the easiest baby to parent, from breastfeeding to even toddler tantrums now. I'm just so thankful for her.

I think birth and raising children opens the door to your own childhood, and you’ll find treasures or wounds. It has opened the door to a lot of awakening for me. When I reflect on the birth now, nothing surprises me. It’s such a reflection of my childhood. The birth was exactly the way it had to be.

I didn’t set out to have a home birth but I’m so glad I did. It feels like a way for me to reclaim my culture and traditions. Despite my grandparents and then my parents being uprooted from their land and culture, I’ve managed to bring my daughter into this world in a beautiful way that’s authentic to my ancestral way of life. I’m grateful for ways that I can tap into beautiful and joyful practices from my ancestors.  I feel like birth has been colonized. When I told my mom and aunts I had a homebirth, they responded with “that’s so irresponsible of you!” Unfortunately, I think that’s ingrained white supremacy because generations and generations before us have thrived through home births.


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