Ushnota Paul (32), a Mumbai-based journalist and her husband welcomed their bundle of joy with lots of love, but along with a newfound feeling of vulnerability as they set out to raise their first baby in a world grappling with a crisis like never before. “I remember when I saw the two pink lines [indicating pregnancy] the first time, I cried out of happiness. The fact that a pandemic was ongoing dawned on me later,” she says. Paul, who discovered she was pregnant last year, remarked that she stayed at home throughout her entire pregnancy and only left the house to visit the doctor.
Having gone into labour almost a week earlier than expected, Paul and her husband weren’t able to get their Covid results in time. As a result, her husband wasn’t allowed to enter the delivery room. “That was a bummer, we weren’t really expecting that, but we had to deal with it because of the pandemic,” she says.
Post delivery, she considers herself lucky to have her family around as a support system. But, her current worries centre around the new wave of cases in Mumbai and taking her child out even for doctor visits.
Paul is among the lakhs of women who have become mothers during the pandemic. Dr Mahima Bakshi, a maternal child wellness coach, whose work revolves around supporting moms during their pregnancy, explained that the major impact has been on antenatal classes. “Online classes create a gap between us and the patient, as we can’t see their posture during exercises,” she says, adding that they’ve also been isolated from the support of being in a group of pregnant mothers who are undergoing the same journey together.
While bringing a child to the world is associated with its own fears, Dr Bakshi observed that mothers now experience an added worry and stress of contracting the virus. Suffering from high levels of stress during pregnancy has been linked to conditions such as preeclampsia, preterm birth or even miscarriage.
Isolated at home with a new baby and fewer visitors, new moms may feel a sense of disappointment because they can’t enjoy their maternity leave outside of the house or spend extra time with friends and family. She said that in the earlier strains of the virus, there was no sufficient proof that the virus could get transmitted to the child if the mother was Covid positive. However, with the newer viruses, there have been a few cases of very young children contracting it.
Fear, anxiety, uncertainty, stress
“For new mom Suneeta Das (34), just the thought of being in a hospital during a pandemic is scary, clubbed with pregnancy and uncertainty looming large. Each scan for the Mumbaikar, whose child was born earlier this year, was stressful, filled with concerns about the development of the baby. “Before every scan, I was very anxious. I would be breathing heavily with a fast heartbeat,” she recounts, “but, anxiety with a mask on is a whole different ball game.” Vacillating between gratitude and despair, Das needed to be comforted by her husband and her doctors to work through the episodes.
While Das said she would’ve preferred to have her mother inside the delivery room, she later dropped the idea to reduce her mother’s exposure to the hospital environment. She recalled that since she was supposed to have a normal delivery and not a planned caesarean, she and her husband would have to repeatedly get tested every few days close to her delivery date for a valid Covid negative test.
“The most unfortunate aspect about this experience has been that we could not enjoy it as a family together,” laments Das, adding that her husband’s family still hasn’t been able to travel to see their new baby.
Dr Bakshi commented that due to Covid, many celebrations like baby showers and godh bharai have taken away some of the joy associated with pregnancy. “With everything online, their support system gets cut off,” she observes.
Being unable to have adequate support, especially of mothers has led to an increase of fear among pregnant women who are now opting for more caesarean section over normal delivery. An advocate for natural childbirth, Dr Bakshi believes that the latter is a healthier option for both the mother and the child as it helps with hormonal response, breastfeeding and immunity.
While new moms are usually advised to get some form of exercise and eat healthily, the possibility of this reduces when the support system around them shrinks. With Covid protocols in place, even going for walks or physical activity becomes a tough task.
Painting a conclusive picture of new motherhood in the pandemic indicates that the rate of postpartum depression and anxiety across the world has gone up. A study by Brigham and Women's Hospital found that more than 1 in 3 new mothers surveyed had significant levels of depression. Prior to the pandemic, rates of perinatal depression were about 15% to 20%.
Navigating new motherhood is no easy feat and living through it during a pandemic has evidently added to its challenges. There is an urgent need for society to move away from creating the unwanted pressure of being “perfect moms” on women and facilitate a more supportive environment as they embark on this brand-new mama-drama.
(Edited by Amrita Ghosh)