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Monday, May 25, 2020

Does coronavirus transmit from mother to child? A question every expectant mother is asking now

The ‘Don’t panic’ message is not going to register in my head. I’ve made my peace with that at least. The anxiety and fear are palpable.

Written by Shruti Dhapola | Updated: March 29, 2020 9:53:37 am
Illustration: Suvajit Dey

Almost every pregnancy has its moments of panic and anxiety. It is inevitable. My first was when I gave in to the temptation early on and ate a packet of chips. Was this it? Had I done some irreparable harm to my unborn child because I had guzzled on chips? Dr Google and the various forums with advice from other mothers assured me it was all fine. So passed the first wave of panic.

But these new pangs of anxiety won’t go away so easily. It is as though I have entered a different timeline. The last leg of the pregnancy marathon brings a plot twist that no one anticipated. After all, it is hard to prepare for a global pandemic at any given time, even in our hyper-connected world, where some of us have the privilege of still staying in touch with our friends, doctors, and family, of being able to work despite a 21-day lockdown.

The third trimester is supposed to be different or so I thought. Most have made their social media pregnancy announcements. Mine will be through this article I suppose. Baby showers are a no-go. All cancelled across the world as I see on the various pregnancy-related apps I have downloaded on my phone. No more social mingling, hello social distancing.

The anxiety is not new. I’ve been diligently following up on the coronavirus outbreak since February. It is one of the perils of working in the news industry. You cannot escape the flood of information, even if it is not your ‘beat’. I’ve kept up with the Lancet studies on pregnant women in China, who tested positive in their third trimester and how things appeared to pan out well for them. But none of this brings any kind of reassurance to the mind. The truth is most experts still do not know how the disease will impact pregnant women.

Does the virus transmit from mother to the child? What happens if a newborn gets it? These are the questions that I cannot escape. The evidence is scarce and no one really knows what happens if the disease spreads to more people. And being acutely aware of this brings no relief.

Then there’s the lockdown and its clear psychological impact. Am I breaking the law if I go for my checkups? Does my scan qualify as a ‘routine checkup’? I’m already doing some complicated food maths in my head. What happens if our regular milk supply doesn’t come? What are my other sources of calcium at home? What about foods with iron? What about the eggs? What other proteins should I look at?

There’s also the worry that should the outbreak worsen, India’s already battered healthcare system will not be able to take the flood of patients. Will I get a bed to deliver? Will my obstetrician fall victim to this virus and be out of action when I need her the most? How do I get a backup doctor in this lockdown? Will my parents and parents-in-law be able to see their grandchild should it come early? How long will one have to practise isolation once the baby is born? I’m sure I’m not the only pregnant woman in the country struggling with these questions.

The ‘Don’t panic’ message is not going to register in my head. I’ve made my peace with that at least. The anxiety and fear are palpable. And yes, it is okay to feel sad. Sad that this is not how you planned things, no matter what someone else tells you. It is not an overreaction, at least not at this moment where it appears as though you are a character in a science fiction novel where things are going horribly wrong.

Even as these thoughts fill my head, I’m aware of my extreme privilege in these turbulent times. Food is not a concern, I am assured that some level of healthcare will be available, I still have access to my medication which is needed, and I know that at some point I will still be able to afford and buy the essentials for my unborn child. But for many other pregnant women in India, who are not as privileged as I am, the pandemic, if it worsens in the country, could leave them even more vulnerable and battered.

Shruti Dhapola is an Assistant Editor with The Indian Express online

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