Last July, we had a beach play-date with V and her friends for her 3rd birthday. At some point during the play, the kids and I were busy hunting for crabs while the other parents stayed behind. At that moment, my heart was so full that I declared to the universe that I was finally ready for another baby. A few days later, V suddenly announced that she wanted a sibling, and a few days after that, we found out I was pregnant. Just like that. I thought this pregnancy was special. Of course, that was pre-lockdown.
It was a difficult pregnancy, with some complications (that seem minor now) , and I kept telling my girls that the birthing better be easy!
I was due to deliver around mid April. The planner I am, I had everything planned out to the T. The hospital bag list, a list of things for V to be engaged, a list of photographs to be taken with the husband at the hospital and even to how I’d make sure I wasn’t holding the baby when V came to visit us with her grandparents. I’d welcome her into my arms, and we would gush over the baby together. I had prepped V enough and we were truly ready.
By March, the corona scare became real, and I realised none of the items I ordered for my hospital bag would reach me.
My prenatal appointments moved to over the phone. I was nervous about missing them, and rejoiced when my doctor finally called me for a physical exam in my 39th week. But seeing her and the receptionist in in full PPE, the masks, the social distancing lines and wipe-downs after every patient, I came out even more shaken than before. There was a nation-wide lock-down announced, and we kept hoping, my husband would be able to arrive when it lifted.
The fact was, that the hospitals and medical practitioners were still making sense of the daily cases and changing government guidelines, and transforming their rules to align with the scene.
Every morning, we would wake up to news that would throw our plans out the window. I’d spend the whole day anxious and accepting the situation, only to wake up to something else.
By April first week, it was clear that the lockdown would extend, and my husband would not be able to make it for the birth. I figured I could handle it as it would be the same hospital as last time.
By April 5th, the hospital had Covid positive cases, and I had to be rerouted to another maternity hospital for safety. I spent the next couple of days, checking their procedure and registering at the hospital. We were also told, no labour partners or visitors would be allowed.
Okay, this seemed doable, except that I had spent the last 9 months preparing my preschooler for a different birth plan.
By April 8th, I started to lose my mucous plug, and hospitals announced that a covid negative test result was needed for admission. I spent the day getting the test done ( which is not painful – just a tad uncomfortable and nausea inducing).
Once the results came, we were told that they were valid only for 2 days. Now this was really the tipping point for me. I was frustrated ( so much, that I did not realise I was in early labour)
That night, I had difficulty sleeping, and figured it was because of my volatile emotional state. The next morning, I touched my bump and told V2, “Listen, I have no idea how safe this world is going to be, I don’t know if we will be allowed to be together after your birth, but I promise you, you will arrive into love. I’ll do everything in my power to keep us safe.”
By evening, I started noticing the discomfort and checked with my gynaecologist ( luckily the containment in her area had been lifted by then). I remember packing my files and kissing V goodbye. I remember telling her I had no idea how long I’d be gone but I’d be thinking of her.
As I masked up, and wore my gloves, it hit me. “Oh my god! Would I have to wear a mask through labour?” We reached the hospital by 7.30 p.m. and it took a good 15 minutes to finish the temperature checks at the gate.
By then, the surges were more frequent. The hospital was short of staff, and as a resident doctor did an internal exam crudely, I cried out. When she said “You can’t have a normal delivery if you find this painful”, I had to tell myself that she was doing double shifts and was under tremendous pressure too.
When the nurses and receptionist insisted on wheeling me to the delivery room only after showing the Covid test report, I had to remind myself that they were just following protocol.
Anyhow, I was admitted by 8p.m. and told I could relax in my room for a few hours. I had just changed into their gown and re-adjusted my mask, when the surges got more intense. We rushed to the delivery room immediately. Luckily, my ob-gyn just arrived.
I stared at the one doctor and one nurse in the room. I kept at my breathing exercises wile they bustled around me. As they contemplated a membrane sweep to speed the process, I remember whispering, ” I think the baby is here!” Luckily, I was allowed to remove my mask during the pushing. Long story short, V2 arrived a few pushes later.
The good part? V2 arrived so fast, that there was no time for an episiotomy. Most of my early labour was at home, so there was minimal discomfort. My doctor assured me she would discharge me within 36 hours.
The not-so-good part? Postpartum at the hospital was not a breeze. There was an acute shortage of nursing staff, so medicines and care was minimal, the nurses on duty had no idea that a woman can exclusively breastfeed (V2 was fed formula multiple times without consent, but picking battles and all that), and the hospital store was so low on supplies too which meant even maternity pads were unavailable. (Yet, this is also a privilege.)
But what really bothered me was that our interactions took place behind masks, and with everyone feeling jittery, I had no idea what they felt. There was an instance where I had a blackout and next minute there was blood all around me. The helper said, “Now move. I have to clean this.” Without looking at her face, I could not tell if she was concerned or irritated.
Anyhow, we were home with the baby with minimal checks and stops. Miraculously , we had enough time and space to heal and soak baby vibes as a family. The whole experience has been a lesson in gratitude (for family that has been my rock, my body that has so much strength and grace; video calling that has helped us stay connected; and the kind strangers along the way). We have been able to have a blissful symbiotic period thanks to lockdown. We are still navigating the lockdown one day at a time, but with a lot more resilience and kindness.
I hope, in a post-corona world, non-hospital sites of care, birthing centres, labour partners, postpartum insurance coverage and maternal health receive a lot more attention and reform.
I have been comparing the two birthings I had and wondering, “why me?”. But I trust that, when we look back, we would realise that we were exactly where we had to be. That this experience was exactly what we needed. That the universe would keep reminding us of our own grit and grace.