A Pandemic Year for Women: For an expectant mother, a fraught but life-affirming experience
This essay is from our International Women’s Day 2021 series, about women who rose to the challenges of being mothers, artists, professionals, students, and above all — individuals trying to make their way through an unprecedented time — over this pandemic year.
EDITOR’S NOTE: A UN report from September 2020 on the economic toll of COVID-19 on women, notes that “the impacts of crises are never gender-neutral”. The report delves into the many ways women have been disproportionately affected, financially, by the ongoing pandemic: For instance, industries that predominantly employ women have been worst-affected; women’s paid labour and women-run businesses are hardest hit, and the gender poverty gap is projected to widen.
The impacts of the crisis, however, go far beyond the economic. News stories and surveys have looked at how women are bearing the brunt of childcare and household chores while they work full-time remotely. Isolation and confinement have meant that cases of violence against women are on the rise.
While the coronavirus pandemic and resultant lockdowns have been especially hard on women, there are also many stories of resilience, courage and hope that have emerged in these times.
On International Women's Day 2021, we’re launching a series called ‘A Pandemic Year for Women’. These essays have been written by women with varying experiences of the past year, who rose to the challenges of being mothers, artists, healthcare workers, community outreach professionals and entrepreneurs, students, and above all — individuals trying to make their way through an unprecedented time.
These first-hand accounts do not look away from the costs of the crisis, but they look beyond too: to the future, to what is possible, to what still remains to be (and must be) done.
Read the essays here on Firstpost, in ‘A Pandemic Year for Women’.
February 2020. I got the best birthday present possible: I found out I was pregnant, again.
My first child had been born after two miscarriages and he was what my doctor referred to as a “precious pregnancy”. I was put on bed rest for my first three months and in my seventh month I did a 10-day stint at the hospital flat on my back to prevent early labour, followed by another month of bedrest. Every move I made — how I slept, where I went, what I ate — was governed by the primal instinct to protect the child within me. It had not been easy.
Now here I was pregnant again, but this time round it was deemed a less risky pregnancy and I was determined to enjoy it. My pregnancy would fit into my life plans whether it was work, travel, social excursions or exercise.
A week later COVID-19 entered my life.
The doctor was clear that as a pregnant woman I was more vulnerable than most. With no clarity of what impact COVID-19 would have on an unborn foetus, it was imperative to protect it at all costs. The instinct to protect set in, again. The responsibility feels even more urgent when it’s not just you but a life within you.
So every safety measure was set into place. No one could leave the house. Everything we required was delivered to our doorstep. Every doorbell required a mandatory interval before being answered. Every package that arrived at home was sanitised. My medical visits, against the background of deserted streets and deathly silence in Mumbai, were conducted under what felt like paranoid sanitary standards. When I had to do a particular test and the medical professional led me into a closed room to ask me questions, I held my breath. In the hospital to do an ultrasound, I saw the security guard ringing a bell leading two people into the hospital, his warning sound to others that they were COVID patients, and as absurd as this scenario felt, I exited as quickly as I could.
Fear abounded and it’s then that I decided it was time to stop being drawn in. We were home as a family — my husband, myself, our two-year-old and our as yet unborn child — eating and playing with simple joy. I did small craft projects with my son using odds and ends at home. We spotted birds in the trees around the building and sang rain songs. Connections were reborn with old friends and family across video calls. Old books were dusted and read. Music awakened. Across the building, dishes were exchanged and neighbours bonded like an earlier “Bombay” I had grown up in. I joined a WhatsApp group of mothers appropriately called “Moms in a Pandemic”, joined together in the common goal of delivering our babies through these rough times.
We did have some close calls. When the manager in my building tested positive we evacuated to my in-laws’ just in case it had spread. Then my in-laws’ domestic help got COVID and we spent an agonising few days wrapped up in masks, isolating from each other while we awaited everyone’s test results.
Every move was made keeping in mind the little life inside me. At every cost I had to protect it, but I wanted to do this without falling into a trap of pointless paranoia. Yet this imperative was not just mine, but that of every pregnant woman across the country. Safely ensconced at home, I had the means in place to safely socially distance and sanitise to ensure minimal exposure. But there were many mothers who didn’t have that luxury.
A mandatory nationwide lockdown had been declared within four hours. Pregnant daily-wage workers were forced to walk the long journey home, with no public transport arranged, sometimes giving birth on the road. Women seeking to give birth were turned away from hospitals because of lack of space or COVID reports, even losing their life. A soon-to-be-mother was arrested under anti-terror laws and was languishing in an overcrowded jail with no respite for bail.
Eventually, my son was born in an operation theater, surrounded by masked medical professionals. His father wasn’t allowed in, so I gave birth alone. The doctor video called my husband to tell him the gender of the child. There were no visitors, the bustling ward now quiet. No one came to visit home except family for the first few months. But I was grateful — I had made it.
I want to hold on to the positives that this experience brought forth: a return to free play, a sense of community, connecting and meeting with the people that really matter to you, not wasting time in things that are irrelevant, respect for the environment, respect for the freedom to do things without fear.
But COVID-19 also made the invisible visible with sharp focus. Our cities, divided across economic lines, stranding millions from their homes, many of them mothers in desperate situations. Our health care system, overflowing and overrun, with no means to access safe births. The social stigma against those with the disease, particularly aimed at religious minorities and the economically poor.
When bringing a child into this world, a larger question always persists: what am I providing to my child, what legacy are we leaving? If COVID-19 should teach us one thing, it’s that protection of the few with privilege or health is not protection at all. If not for us, then for our children at least.
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