The mothers’ group I’m part of on WhatsApp is buzzing with Covid talk since mid-April. ‘My baby has a fever, what should I do?’, ‘My baby is coughing’, ‘My baby has a rash’. It is full of first-time mothers, just like myself, all worried and anxious.
‘Please get your baby tested. This could be a Covid symptom.’ This is what I often end up typing these days. I sound paranoid based on my replies, but I have a good reason.
My 11-month-old son tested positive for the virus on April 19. The last two weeks have been emotionally draining, even though my family and I had a mild version of the disease.
As parents we were also aware that this is the first virus our son had encountered in his life. Before Covid-19, he had never fallen sick, never experienced a fever or even body ache. Add to that the uncertainty around the virus, the fear that something would go wrong was overwhelming.
From the doctor’s side, the advice was rather simple right from the time the fever began: “Crocin every six hours. Monitor him, monitor his blood oxygen, if it falls below 95, take him to a hospital.” I’m really grateful it never came to that.
But even giving Crocin wasn’t a breeze. Babies can be pretty determined creatures when they don’t want something. I knew I would have to force feed the medicine, an entirely new experience for both of us.
At night, I slept with one hand on his body. Typically, around 2 am, his fever would return, just when I thought we had dodged it. It would hit 100 easily, leaving me uneasy. This continued for nearly four days. Plus, he was coughing, his nose blocked. Even now, when he has fought off the infection, I sometimes touch his feet and chest at night, just to check and reassure myself that everything is okay.
Then there was the matter of monitoring his blood oxygen levels. Regular pulse oximeters don’t work on babies. I tried but with no success. My husband eventually managed it. Mercifully, it always showed 97, though I was never sure whether to trust this number.
My mommy guilt was in full flow as well. ‘Why did I let someone who had gone out of the house near him?’, ‘Why didn’t I isolate the person who had gone out?’, ‘Why did I stop breast-feeding?’, ‘Why did I stop pumping my milk? I should have soldiered on.’ I still can’t stop blaming myself.
The term viral load was thrown around a lot, something which none of us non-doctors at home really understood. But it was enough to scare us. Was I adding to his viral load by sleeping next to him, I wondered. After all, I was positive too, and getting sicker.
Then there were other questions: What happens when I’m really sick and he’s okay? Can I re-infect him? Do we keep him separate from us? The doctor’s advice though was clear: ‘Mother and baby is one unit’. No separation for us.
Then there were other questions. Was he hydrated enough? Is it dangerous if the fever lasts for more than four days? Is he losing weight because of the illness?
In my moment of desperation, I went back to my trusted breast pump. I could only get two tablespoons or so of milk. The paediatrician joked that this is breast milk in homeopathic doses. I’ve let it slide. All I know is the fever did not hit 100 after I gave him those precious few drops for two days.
It was also clear that while babies might recover faster than us, they don’t just bounce back. While my son’s fever was gone, he was clearly in some sort of pain. He was crying easily, and wanted constant comfort. In a moment of panic, my husband got his blood work done. It wasn’t good. Our primary paediatrician again asked to ‘monitor’ him. Another one said, ‘Ignore the blood work. If the baby is active, taking his food, it’s fine.’
But we were told to watch out for anything unusual. A drop in appetite? Okay, but is it due to Covid or is it just moodiness? Is he less ‘active’ today? Why is he crying so much?
As parents, this ‘monitor’ advice isn’t exactly enough to set your mind at ease, but you’re supposed to trust it. Even when it is clear that your baby’s body is still fighting the infection. Even when the fever is 99, and you’re not quite sure whether you should give Crocin now or wait.
You’re supposed to have faith that things will get okay, while your mind is conjuring all the worst possible scenarios. Fortunately, babies are a lot more resilient than what we give them credit for. And that’s what we really need to remember, especially when Covid-19 comes floating in.
National Editor Shalini Langer curates the fortnightly ‘She Said’ column