Partum during a pandemic

Becoming a parent for the first time, in unexpected circumstances, despite COVID-19
Partum during a pandemic

Pregnancy, including the period after it, comes with its own set of added anxiety, anticipation and stress—unique to each person having this experience. For my own part, even though I did deal with a fair bit of anxiety and emotional stress while preparing for motherhood, my ‘fourth trimester’ involved facing an additional worry, becoming a mother in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This is the story of how I navigated different parts of my journey—from the beginning of the year when I was well into the middle of my pregnancy, up until when my baby was born.

The beginning

I spent a large part of my pregnancy understanding the changes my body was going through; I deliberately ensured that I received that education regularly.

It was important for me to be up-to-date about the wonder that is conceiving, how the body opens up and adapts itself to the many changes for months to come. I read articles, downloaded apps to get weekly reminders, watched videos, learnt about maternity wear and fashion, and listened closely to my ever-changing cravings and moods. I had planned to do all baby-related shopping in my third trimester, which officially started in mid-March. That’s until, at that exact moment, COVID-19 hit us all.

As someone who was due right in the middle of a pandemic that doesn't seem to be slowing down anytime soon, I spent my last trimester worrying deeply about my wellbeing and that of my baby’s. These feelings only doubled as my pregnancy progressed, and a sense of despair and pessimism began settling in with each passing day.

Looking for solidarity, online

As part of managing my fears and anxiousness around my pregnancy, I decided to curate a Twitter conversation seeking responses to the question: "What is the one thing you wish someone had told you before you became a mom for the first time?".

The answers were telling, reassuring and real. Now that I’ve become a mother, I’d add two more things to this list. One, I wish someone had told me that as soon as your child is born, you will immediately start to worry about their health and wellbeing—a kind of mental stress that you’ve never experienced before. And two, I wish someone had predicted this and told me—the year 2020 is going to be particularly difficult and traumatic for all of us.

Lack of access during lockdown

I had been reading and following the development and spread of the virus from the start of 2020. I would constantly wonder about the sadness and panic that had surrounded us since this year began. It was hard to remain unaffected by the negativity and grimness of the situation. Yet, at no point did I imagine, the virus would make its way into our own physical location.

For my third trimester, I had made a list of baby and mommy items to purchase, to be better ‘prepared’ for the baby's arrival. Imagine my state of mind upon realizing the bitter truth, that the universe would deny me the opportunity to buy even one of those items.

The effects of the COVID-19 lockdown hit us above and beyond just being unable to purchase baby items. With no car in possession, all our hospital visits were dependent on cab rides that stood cancelled, 24th March onwards. This meant not having any way to reach the hospital—a mere four kms from our place—for something as basic as a blood test and an ultrasound. These follow-ups are key, something you’re expected to do regularly, throughout the period of a pregnancy. The hospital’s ambulance service was reserved for emergencies. Getting a growth scan, while necessary, wasn’t perceived as an emergency situation.

Social media came to our rescue again—my partner and I made frantic inquiries, asking friends and strangers on the internet for help. At a time like this, we were forced to think aloud about how precious friendships with neighbours can be, if it develops into something meaningful.

Giving birth, in the absence of loved ones

When I was being taken into the surgery room for an emergency C-section, because of fears surrounding the spread of COVID-19, they didn’t allow my partner to be present in the room . This isn’t usually the case—we had been told earlier that the father will be allowed in the OT room as long as they wear appropriate hospital gear.

I delivered my child while silently keeping a look-out for my partner. As I heard my son’s first cry, I was filled with a sense of both relief and regret. The first, because the baby was born healthy and safe, the second, because of the timing of his birth.

We felt stuck in a rut—my parents had planned to be with us at the start of the ninth month, but couldn’t because of flights being cancelled; there was no cook, no domestic help to support the functioning of a household. At a time when cleanliness of the house is of prime importance, the house help’s vital labor was sorely missed.

While I was lucky enough to have my in-laws’ support, thanks to some string-pulling from my uncle, it still hurt to not have my parents around; as soon as I became a mom, I started missing my own mother terribly.

I am close to my father, and it pricks to realize that he never saw me during my pregnancy stage. My parents were finally able to see their grandson two months after he was born. In the interim, my mother would look—with hope and pain—at all the pictures and videos I would send her of the baby.

The day after my delivery, I remember my mother apologizing to me for not being present. I reciprocated by apologizing for having given birth prematurely. Even though we knew that these factors were not in our control, the feeling of helplessness was mutual. Becoming a parent in the absence of my own has been the most challenging and emotionally draining part of this process.

Coming to terms

Different aspects of my pregnancy have managed to give rise to a range of feelings—loss, joy, anxiety, hope, panic, fear, pride, and relief. The pandemic, coupled with the lockdown announcement, meant that these emotions were amplified in ways I didn’t expect.

I wouldn’t have been able to navigate through this period without the different support systems created, rediscovered and reaffirmed. This experience taught me to ask for help when in need, and surprised me by finding support in completely new spaces.

I am still new to parenting, and if there’s one thing I know for certain, it is that I need all the support I can get to not sink in the process. It is very easy to lose hope, give up and feel a sense of despair given the current circumstances, as I handle one of the most difficult jobs during one of the most difficult times.

Deepa Ranganathan identifies as a writer, reader, storyteller, feminist, and mother to a feline, and a human. She is based out of Bangalore and is passionate about reading, writing and telling untold stories of young feminist activists from around the world. She has recently discovered the magical world of children's literature, and has been spending more of her time immersed in it.

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