“Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would give birth to my second born during a COVID-19 pandemic induced lockdown.”
It was in the month of May that Suchitra Shirke delivered her baby at a hospital in Bhavnagar, Gujarat. She describes the experience as one fraught with anxiety, nervousness, and a huge amount of unrest.
“Nothing about the pregnancy seemed normal – being cooped up inside the house to the looming uncertainty of what would happen even after the baby was born kept me up many a night,” she says.
A general COVID-19 induced lull
“There was a general feeling of caution that everyone in my family had undertaken, after all, I did not want to become the first pregnant woman to be infected with COVID-19,” she tells. This led to everyone staying away and that meant that there were no get-togethers or moments of fun within the family.
“Even the after-dinner walks with my husband, that I so cherished, had to be given up,” she tells me. This time around, there seemed to be no enthusiasm and no matter how much she tried, a feeling of unease always crept in. “It was a very scary period, given that I was stuck indoors for the entire nine months of my pregnancy,” she says.
Living in perennial fear
“I feel as though this pandemic has driven me to become obsessive about cleanliness and I am constantly worried that I have caught COVID-19,” says Suchitra. There were times when after consuming a store-bought food, Suchitra would spend days lamenting over it and worried sick about whether it was the right thing to have done.
“This pandemic has driven and continues to drive me mad,” she exclaims.
“All I prayed for is to deliver a healthy baby and for that, I was willing to subject myself to the kind of isolation that I was in,” she says. Watching the news and just listening to people around us speak about COVID-19 added that much more pressure on her. What helped to a great extent is having a doctor who was always available to clear any doubt.
“For me, Dr Nidhi Vasani Iyer was truly god sent. She took me through each step with utmost care. Even while I was lying on the operation table, she continued to reassure me that I would be fine.”
While people mostly discuss what their hospital bag contains while packing before they head to the hospital for delivery, Suchitra speaks about how they had to keep all their papers ready in case they were stopped by cops on their way to the hospital. “It was an uncomfortable time, that’s the only way I can describe it,” she tells me.
Dr Nidhi weighs in on this and says, “The most important thing is to pacify the expectant mothers and their families. The risk vertical transmission of this infection is very low so even if the mother is positive the chances of the child being positive for COVID-19 are negligible.”
The other thing that doctors need to continuously reiterate is their own availability in case of any emergency. Speaking about her own experiences with delivering babies through this pandemic, she says, “It’s been a mixed bag – while most mothers are stressed out and a few even panic, the most challenging part continues to be to convince patients to get tested for COVID-19 prior to delivery.”
“Another thing is to restrict the number of visitors a new mother gets – everyone insists on visiting almost immediately after the birth and that is not something I would advise,” she says.
The struggle continues
It has now been four months since Suchitra delivered her baby and even now every time the baby needs to be taken for a vaccination there is fear. “No matter how much I take care I know that people around me seem to be taking COVID-19 rather lightly. There is no sense of fear in them and that scares me,” she confides.
Sanitising and scrubbing herself and the baby clean after every visit to the doctor has become a routine practice for Suchitra now. “What this has done is increase our monthly expenditure – we use up so many sanitisers, cleaning products not just for the home but also for the vegetables and fruits we consume, and of course the masks and gloves.”
For a family of three and a half people, Suchitra says that the washing machine is run atleast four times each day, that is the level of paranoia that Suchitra is experiencing. “Every sneeze, every cough, even a slight change in the throat is freaking me out, and I know that I need to let go and live without this fear,” says Suchitra.
As we end our conversation, I hear Suchitra’s little one gurgle in the background. “It’s been tough but when I see what I’ve produced, I smile. It’s now upto us, to stay safe and follow all the norms that are being suggested. Even if the vaccine comes, it is not going to reach us anytime soon, so just exercise caution.”
(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)
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