Not what they were expecting
As the pandemic puts paid to best-laid pregnancy plans, expectant mothers find ways to navigate through uncertainty and unintended consequences
CHENNAI: Two months ago, when Aditi Srivatsan’s period was late by a couple of days, she immediately rushed to the pharmacy and came back home with a pregnancy kit. Five minutes later, an incontrovertible line appearing on the test stick had her waltzing around her room. “I was five weeks pregnant...the happiest woman on the planet! My husband, who was in Bengaluru for a conference, immediately flew down to celebrate the news. My parents in Hyderabad booked flight tickets to visit me in April and help during the pregnancy,” shares the 27-year-old digital content creator.
While even the best-laid plans tend to go awry with pregnancy, Aditi certainly did not anticipate a pandemic to derail hers. “It threw me off-guard. My obstetrician suggested I come for the ultrasound during week-10 of the pregnancy instead of week-eight. Until then, she advised me to eat healthy, and food rich in folic acid. We were asked to not go to the hospital except in case of emergencies. Due to strict restrictions, my husband couldn’t accompany me into the ultrasound room...I was quite upset. Most consultations were and are still being done over the phone. My parents couldn’t come to Chennai because of travel restrictions. So right now, my husband and I are trying to handle the situation without getting overwhelmed,” she explains.
An abundance of happiness, bursts of excitement, a pinch (or more) of worries, hands on the belly and a comfortable pregnancy — women who were looking forward to this phase are now busy reading primary literature about how the coronavirus can affect their pregnancy, how to be safe during this time and finding tangible ways to manage the situation. Practo, a health-tech start-up, projected a 250 per cent rise in online gynaecological consultations during the lockdown. Irregular periods and safe pregnancy during COVID-19 were the top concerns among Indian women. “Largely, most obstetrics and gynaecology-related questions have been because of apprehensions.
But they are being immediately addressed and answered by the healthcare professionals who are available 24X7. This ensures timely medical attention and helps them receive proper medical care without having to visit hospitals, thereby minimising their risk of contracting the virus. Interestingly, it’s not just the women who are reaching out to the doctors. We are also receiving queries from men, possibly for their spouse or female family members,” says Dr Alexander Kuruvilla, Chief Healthcare Strategy Officer, Practo.
Pressing concerns and questions posed by expectant mothers range from complications or effects of COVID-19 on pregnant women, changes in prenatal care and if the virus can be passed on to the baby during birth or while breastfeeding. “From not catching the virus to not passing it on to the newborn, from who can be with us during labour to delivery procedures, several concerns have become a cause for anxiety and sleepless nights. But with new studies emerging every day, we can only keep ourselves updated and follow precautions,” adds Aditi.
Sheela Devendran, an IT professional, who is in the second trimester of her pregnancy, says that she’s been living on the edge. “My husband works in a hospital setting and I constantly worry that he might get exposed to the virus. I have been working from home for over a month now...so, I have a routine in place. But this worry keeps occupying my headspace. As soon as he comes home, he puts his clothes in the washer and takes a shower. But the scare is real. Since we are in a situation where job security is at risk, I can’t ask him to stay home,” she shares.
To overcome the pandemic scare and ensure a healthy pregnancy, women are also trying to liven up the mood at home by being their own wellness guru. Revamping the wardrobe using Marie Kondo’s techniques, sketching designs for her Autumn/Winter 20 line, flipping through pages of Elizabeth Gilbert’s novels, binge-watching series on OTT platforms, and indulging in ice-cream cravings — the lockdown has not dampened the spirit of city-based designer Ritika Jain. The founder of the Renasci Fashion House in Nungambakkam is on week-34 of pregnancy and due for delivery in six weeks.
“My husband and in-laws have been extremely concerned.
A physiotherapist visits my in-laws’ for regular therapy sessions; bearing my pregnancy and safety in mind, they have switched to doing the exercises on their own, making sure that no one visits the house unless they have to. All perishables brought into the house are first cleaned well and all precautions are being taken as advised,” shares Ritika, who’s spending a lot of time in chalking out ideas for the baby’s nursery, planning complete safety for the newborn and setting down guidelines. While she has been advised complete bed rest by her doctor, she heads to the terrace with her family in the evenings to bask in the golden hour. Despite being blessed with a strong support system, and activities that keep her occupied, she is not without worries. “I have been fearful of going into preterm labour. The doctors have been more available than before to ensure there is no panic. However, when some episodes take place — baby doesn’t move, there’s false labour pain or abdominal pain — it needs to be addressed immediately and calls for a hospital visit.
This is not the best time to give birth and I am hoping to hold on till my due date or perhaps a little longer,” says Ritika, who’s also attending online prenatal yoga sessions and a birthing workshop.
The sessions have proved to be extremely useful. “It is comforting to chat with other moms-to-be, who are going through similar emotions and concerns,” she reveals. As a word of advice to fellow pregnant women, she suggests that they stay safe at home and ensure everyone else at home follows the same hygiene rules as they do. This too shall pass, she adds with optimism.
For Preethi Naveenkumar, an IT professional residing in Sowcarpet and six-months pregnant, the restrictions of the lockdown has her more stressed than usual. Being indoors, she does not get the space to perform even light exercises — even if it’s just a brisk walk. Not being able to give in to food cravings is only making things worse, it seems. “Staying indoors has made me feel claustrophobic. Not being able to meet anyone is causing me stress. I can’t even chat with my neighbours. And I am not able to satiate my pregnancy cravings with home-cooked food. But it’s too risky to consume store-bought food. At this time, I should consume a lot of fruits but the lack of availability is also an issue,” she narrates. What more, with visits to the clinic being reserved for emergencies, she is concerned about not getting frequent updates of the baby’s position.
While the lockdown is posing multiple challenges for pregnant women across the globe, for some — like Aanadi Das, a migrant labourer from Assam who is in her second trimester — there’s plenty more worries and concerns. Initially, Aanadi and her family (husband and 13-year-old son) had stayed in a hut in a slum behind the Sathiyamurthi Higher Secondary School in Teynampet. When a crowded neighbourhood left little room for social distancing, they had to be moved to the shelter set up by the Greater Chennai Corporation. Only, this was not their last stop. They found themselves in a function hall with 50 other families. “We were given enough dry rations for a month, bedsheets and a blanket. We didn’t think we would have any problems surviving the ordeal. Then, the lockdown got extended and we were moved to a different function hall with a few of our neighbours. We are beginning to get worried as we didn’t receive a second round of rations,” she explains.
Between the hot weather and her husband losing his job, the worries for the health of her unborn child have only been increasing. Regular medical check-ups have taken a hit too but access to Mumbai-based NGO ARMMAN’s virtual OPD (outpatient department) number has brought some relief. “I haven’t gone to hospitals for fear of getting infected. My son, somehow, found this OPD number and I consulted a doctor over the phone. After inquiring about my health, eating habits, sleeping patterns and bowel movements, she confirmed that my baby is fine and growing normally,” adds Aanadi, who sings Rabindra Sangeet to her unborn baby during her free time.
In times of uncertainty, new friendships has ushered some much-need optimism for Aanadi. She is joined by two other pregnant women in stitching clothes for the babies to come. A week ago, they even stitched face masks for their families. They exchange notes on their pregnancies and keep each other from obsessing over their concerns. For Vanathi, who works as a domestic help, it’s a different kind of fellowship that has her going. “I had to go to my village in Thoothukudi for my delivery that is due in five weeks.
But now I am stuck here. My husband is a vegetable vendor and his earnings are what is helping us survive now. I wish my mother were by my side but I am not scared of this corona...I wash my hands every day and keep my house clean! I have been praying to mariamma every day, she will take care,” she declares. Far from their comfort zone, pregnant women are breathing courage and trying to conquer the situation one trimester at a time in ways that best suit them. With watchful families, helpful doctors and resourceful government all doing their part well, this tunnel seems to have light all along the way.
(With inputs from Naaz Ghani, Vaishali Vijaykumar and Veena Mani)
Who do we call?
ARMMAN, a Mumbai-based NGO, has launched a toll-free number — 1-800-212-1425 for pregnant women and new mothers. iMumz — a mobile application has been helping pregnant women with live Ask Me Anything sessions, addressing queries with the aid of over 100 experts including obstetricians, nutritionists and mental health professionals.