MADURAI: Their whole world came crashing down around them when they tested positive for COVID-19. And these pregnant women could do nothing but keep their fingers crossed for the safety of the lives in their womb. They have successfully defeated the virus but now they are waging a war against an unexpected villain -- social stigma.
Ask the 24-year-old woman from T Ambasamudiram in Doddappanaiackanur, the first pregnant COVID-19 patient to give birth at Government Rajaji Hospital (GRH) on April 26, and she says she still has not come to terms with the fact that she had the infection. "I was asymptomatic and had not stepped out of the house since the last week of March. Stating that the foetus might develop complications due to COVID-19, the doctors arranged caesaerean section for me," she said.
The new mother told The New Indian Express that she did not even get a chance to have a look at her newborn girl while at the hospital. "After birth, she was taken to another room where the baby was nursed by my mother for three days until she tested negative for COVID-19," she said.
The woman, who is also a mother to a two-year-old boy, said that though she was relieved when her baby girl was tested negative for the virus, it was very painful for her to let her go without even having a look at her.
The woman's first phase ordeal is over, but social stigma was still awaiting her. She said that the ambulance in which she came was stopped 1 kilometre away from her village entrance, and the police had to intervene to let her enter.
That was not a lone incident. A 29-year-old new mother from New Vilangudi also had to go through the same ordeal after she, along with her newborn, was discharged from GRH.
It was on April 29 that the woman delivered her third child, a baby girl, at Samayanallur Primary Health Centre. At that time, her COVID-19 test results were not out. She said that once she was tested positive for the virus infection, she, along with her one-day-old girl, who would later test negative, was shifted to GRH.
The woman said that she had to share the hospital room with three more COVID-19 new mothers. "I was the only one in the room who was allowed to nurse and breastfeed my baby, for mine was normal delivery. Although I was happy to hold and care my daughter, a constant fear of her contracting the infection from any of us (the four mothers) in the room lingered in the initial days. As we four bonded over the course of time, the fear faded away," she said.
She also had to seek police help as her landlord called her up a day prior to her discharge and insisted on her vacating the house. "Later, after police intervention, the landlord agreed and let us stay for two weeks, until I complete the 14-day home quarantine. After that we decided to shift to a relative's house, in the same neighbourhood, for rent. It was the moment when I realised that stigma was more evil than the virus," she said.
Staying with the mothers from T Ambasamudiram and New Vilangudi at the hospital was a 25-year-old woman from Rengasamypuram in Melur taluk. "My prayers were answered when my daughter, born on May 2, tested negative for COVID-19. Friendly conversations with the others in the room and occasional video calls to see my newborn (who was sent home soon after testing negative) gave me solace of sorts," she said, adding that after some days, the newborns of COVID-19 patients were handed over to their mothers to be breastfed, even if the babies tested negative, due to what the doctors said was a change in protocol.
Meanwhile, sources said that a 30-year-old COVID-19 positive woman from Ellis Nagar who was discharged from GRH last week is due for childbirth by the end of June. "I am optimistic and certain that my child too will be born infection-free," she added.