(Photos by Renuka Puri)
Hours after the C-section, as the new mother slowly came around, her bua’s voice rang through her drug-induced stupor — “Lockdown aa gaya, Lockdown aa gaya”. And a bundle thrust into her arms: her baby, her first born.
“My bua, who stayed in hospital with me, just came up with the a nickname for the baby for fun — Lockdown,” laughs Mamata Dudi, 25, speaking on the phone from her in-laws’ home in Rajasthan’s Nagaur district, where she is recovering after the delivery on May 6.
In this season of a pandemic and all the associated uncertainties, at least one thing had gone to plan – Mamata was now the mother of a baby boy.
With Covid and the accompanying nationwide lockdown forcing a rewrite of almost every calendar, what couldn’t have waited was the arrival of newborns. In Nagaur district alone, where Mamata’s child was born, 10,322 births were registered between March 1 and May 20.
Across the world, several expectant parents have been spending anxious moments about welcoming their babies into the world, in what are extraordinary times.
For over a month and a half, from the start of April to now, The Sunday Express chronicled this journey, through photographs and phone calls, of Mamata Dudi and her husband Kailash Bajya — the excitement, the apprehensions, an unplanned 400-km journey to Rajasthan, till the time they held little “Lockdown” in their arms. Their story so far:
In August last year, two years after Mamata and Kailash married, a match arranged by their families, she conceived.
“It wasn’t planned,” laughs Kailash, 30, a civilian employee of the Indian Air Force. “But I had a plan in place for the next nine months — a normal delivery for Mamata at a government hospital, with my mother in Delhi to help us out”.
There were few surprises in the first two trimesters, but since March 24, when the Prime Minister announced the first phase of the Covid-19 lockdown, their plans began unravelling.
Almost every moment came with its share of anxieties: the restrictions on travel, having to visit hospitals and diagnostic centres, the lack of help at home.
“In August last year, over tea one evening, she told me she was pregnant,” smiles Kailash. I had been working for seven years, I earned Rs 40,000 every month, and soon I was going to get government accommodation too. The timing was perfect,” he says.
“We were very happy,” adds Mamata, a graduate with a BEd degree from Rajasthan.
Till her second trimester, most of the issues that came up were routine. “She had very bad morning sickness. Every morning, when she made my lunch dabba, the smell of chhaunk (tempering) made her nauseous. But she insisted on cooking. Her haemoglobin was a little low, so while returning home from work, I got her grapes, oranges and bananas to eat,” he says.
The couple also went to great lengths to choose the right hospital “for a normal delivery”. “It was our first child, and I wanted to do everything right. To select a hospital for the delivery, I spoke to everyone I knew — friends, relatives, colleagues. Most private hospitals insist on C-sections to earn more money. I didn’t want that. We finalised a government maternity hospital in R K Puram. Even a senior at my office delivered her baby there,” he says.
Mamata did her bit too. “We used to live in a small one-room house in Palam and I didn’t have a help at home. I did all household chores to stay active. I also downloaded the Mylo app (to help “millennial moms raise happy & healthy families”), and also logged on to YouTube and other websites to clear my doubts and questions,” she says.
While Kailash would accompany her for check-ups on Saturdays, for those on weekdays, she would take the bus from R K Puram to Palam.
By March, as Mamata entered her third trimester, the couple moved into a government quarter in West Delhi’s Mayapuri.
“That is when the first positive Covid-19 case in Delhi was reported, and then the numbers began to rise…,” recalls Kailash.
Then, on March 22, the Prime Minister announced the Janata Curfew, followed by the first phase of the lockdown on March 24. “Honestly, even then, I wasn’t scared, but that was the first time we realised all our plans may not work,” he says.
His mother, who was slated to come to Delhi in April to help with the delivery, had to cancel her visit.
Mamata grew anxious too. She had thought she would hire a help, but had to put the idea on hold. “Of course, I was scared. We couldn’t move out of the house. Mai har din puja karne lagi. Agar zyada dar lagta, toh dhyan lagati (I started praying every day. If I felt too anxious, I would meditate),” she says.
The couple’s unease gave way to fear when they had to step out of the house for Mamata’s check-ups. “On April 10, we went out for the first time since the lockdown. There were no cabs or autos. We went to the R K Puram hospital on his bike. Both of us wore masks. I also wrapped my dupatta tightly around my face. It wasn’t comfortable,” says Mamata.
“I drove very slowly to avoid jerks. We were stopped at barricades, but fortunately, the policemen saw her and let us go,” adds Kailash.
After one such trip, around mid-April, they had some bad news: Mamata was diagnosed with “fatty liver”, and the doctor said there could be complications in the delivery. Now, it was Kailash’s turn to feel scared.
“If there were complications, the doctor said she would have to be shifted to Safdarjung Hospital, which also had a Covid-19 ward. I didn’t want that to go there,” says Kailash.
Worse, the lockdown had now been extended till May 3, and all plans to bring his mother or any other relative to Delhi had come to naught.
On their way home, the couple came up with a plan — that they would control Mamata’s condition through diet and exercise, and then get a family member over after May 3.
“Ye zyada tel, masala khati thi (She liked oily, spicy food) . I changed all that. I prepared a diet chart for her — roti-chai for breakfast, almonds, banana after that, khichdi for lunch, and doodh-roti for dinner. I also removed the malai from the milk,” says Kailash, as Mamata quips, “Ghee bhi nahi khaane diya (He didn’t even let me have ghee). That’s mandatory during pregnancy.”
He also decided his wife needed more exercise. Since during the day there were restrictions on movement in their neighbourhood, the couple began waking up at 5 am and going for a quick walk in the park. Back home, where the couple usually divided their chores, he pulled back. “I let her do everything — jhadu-pocha, bartan, washing clothes. I would sit close by to ensure she was safe,” he says.
But the change of routine at home soon began to wear Mamata out. She realised that hers would never be a “normal pregnancy” — there was no freedom to eat, to move around or be with family.
“I had to be home the entire day. I didn’t even go out to buy groceries for fear of contracting the virus. I would stand by the window to make calls to family and friends, comb my hair or just have tea. That was my only pastime,” she says.
“I would also join Mamata for tea at the window at 5 pm. Soon, it became a ritual. Woh hamara relax area ban gaya (It became our space to relax),” says Kailash.
In the last week of April, Mamata went for another ultrasound scan at a nearby diagnostic centre, maintaining a safe distance from patients as she queued up. When she went to her doctor with the results, there was more bad news: “The fatty liver condition had improved. But now, the doctor said, the umbilical cord had looped around the baby’s neck. A C-section was inevitable. I knew I would need help to take care of her after the delivery. We needed women with experience around,” says Kailash.
They began to explore their options. Mamata didn’t want to go to her parents’ home in Nagaur because her mother had been unwell. She was also unsure about going to Kailash’s home as she feared people might “mock her”. “The first delivery is usually at your parental home… that is the norm in our village. But we had no option. I had to take her to my parents’ home in Nagaur,” says Kailash.
The first hurdle was to get a pass to cross the Delhi-Haryana border, which had been shut on May 1. “I reached out to the SDM office, the local police station, and filled out the application form online… I also messaged the Chief Minister on Twitter. It took me an entire day but I finally managed a pass,” says Kailash.
At home, Mamata began preparing for the journey — packing traditional clothes she would have to wear at her in-laws’ and food for the journey.
Kailash then had to arrange for a taxi. “Most of them were not willing to go or demanded huge sums. An ambulance would have been the safest, but they asked for Rs 20,000. Finally, we managed to get a taxi,” says Kailash.
On May 2, at 3.15 am, they set off.
In Nagaur, Kailash’s brother fixed an appointment for the same evening at a maternity clinic on the outskirts of the district. “My pass was valid only for a day, so I had to return to Delhi the same evening. But before that, I took Mamata to the clinic, where they examined her and said she would need a C-section. But now I was comfortable with the idea. We were home, there was family around her,” he says.
Despite her initial apprehensions, Mamata too was now relieved. “Itne log the, Delhi mein hum akele the (There were so many people. In Delhi, we were alone). My bua also came down. I felt safe. Of course, Kailash had to leave,” she says.
Now, with the baby in her arms, Mamata is undergoing ‘jaapa’, a 40-day mandatory period of ‘rest’ for new mothers that comes with several restrictions. “I am not allowed to talk much or use the phone. But I am happier than in Delhi. I have so much help here. Every evening, I do a video call with Kailash… that’s all I am allowed,” she says.
The fear of the virus too, she says, has receded. “In the city, there is a higher chance of contracting the virus. I am in a village now, the threat is much lesser,” she says.
Still, she has a rule for anybody who carries the baby: “They will have to sanitise their hands. That’s the only precaution I am taking,” she says.
Back in the Capital, Kailash is still waiting to meet his first-born. “Mamata has named him Reyansh, the first ray of sunlight. She found it on the Internet,” he says. But this time he isn’t planning anything. “Most of my plans didn’t work out. Now, I will go to Nagaur only when the lockdown is lifted completely,” he adds.
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