Covid-19 Stories: I had a baby in the middle of the pandemic

Jun 23, 2021 04:58 PM IST

Giving birth is always a harrowing event. Having a baby amid a pandemic, however, is a completely different ballgame.

Yashika Khanna is a former journalist based in San Francisco, California

Representational Image (Pixabay)
Representational Image (Pixabay)

Life away from home has never been easy. The difficulty of living halfway around the world from your core family is amplified when you get pregnant in the middle of a pandemic and there is no one around to support you except your husband and a few select friends (who you can’t meet because again… you are in the middle of a pandemic).

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In April 2020, I realized that I was going to have a baby. The world had just shut down a month ago and life everywhere had come to a standstill. The borders were closed, and our suburb of Fremont in the San Francisco Bay Area looked like a deserted island. Our 4-year-old daughter had just celebrated her birthday and was home because her preschool had also shut down. Our home was like a battleground of work calls and home-schooling a young child. And now this new baby was due in December.

We tried not to panic and prayed that international flights begin operating soon. My mother had helped us for several months during our first child’s birth and there was no way I was doing it without her this time. But the probability of her visiting us seemed very low. We started preparing for the inevitable but prayed every day that the flights would begin operating soon. Meals were frozen and I started my search for post-birth support services. Another couple we are friends with delivered their first baby last June. They managed it alone, took charge of everything and almost made it sound easy. They couldn’t even hire a doula or aai for their new child because of Covid. Their experience gave us strength. My husband wasn’t allowed to accompany me for any prenatal appointments. He missed all the ultrasounds, stress tests and pelvic examinations. He was however allowed to join in over video, so that’s what we did. My daughter made peace with ultrasound pictures of her new sibling.

In August, I did some research and read about air corridors. Apparently, one existed between India and the US. The two airlines that were starting to fly passengers within the corridor were Air India and United. I could not find tickets for the former online, so we picked the latter to book a ticket for my mother. It was a huge risk, given how uncertain flight schedules were, but we decided to take the plunge. Nothing less than a business class ticket was going to make the cut as it reduced the number of people you are exposed to on a 16-hour long flight. We found the most comprehensive health insurance plan for her stay. We choose window seats because an online article said that they minimized the chances of exposure. We made the safest decisions we could, and then we waited.

A Facebook group for Indian Americans helped me immensely in my research for travel requirements when the time came for my mother to board the flight. Here in the US, we were bracing ourselves for a last-minute flight cancellation. We had made arrangements to drop off our daughter at a friend’s place in case my mother could not fly. Obviously, our little one was not allowed to accompany us to the hospital because the number of visitors was being limited to one. So, it was just going to be me and one support person, which I chose to be my husband. My daughter was going to miss the birth of her sibling.

Cut to two weeks before my December due date, my mother took the flight. Thank heavens that everything went smoothly, and she reached us uninfected. We quarantined her at home for 14 days, as was mandated by the state of California at the time. Just as her quarantine ended, our baby decided to make an entrance. The drive to the hospital, which would have usually taken an hour with office traffic across the Dumbarton Bridge, took just thirty minutes as everyone was staying home. I was asked to wear a mask all through labor. The doctors and nurses that attended to me were all masked too. At 7-cm dilated, I was asked to give a nasal swab for a quick covid test which was mandatory to get me admitted into the hospital. The swab was collected before an epidural was administered. My mother and daughter were not around to support us, and it was just me and my husband. Thankfully, the baby arrived within 6 hours of the onset of labour, and we were home in two days. I still find it hard to believe that I survived six hours of heaving and gasping during labor with a mask on my face! Our families in India breathed a sigh of relief when everything finally ended okay.

Our story is not too different from the stories of several Indian Americans who found a way to get through life in the difficult times of the covid calamity. Another couple we are friends with were locked up at home with a screaming 2-year-old for months because his day care permanently shut down due to losses incurred after closure. They found a way to manage work calls around his sleeping schedule. Other immigrant families have scrapped through to hold on to pieces as they navigate this new life where the difference between work and home is blurred. Families like ours rely on grandparents visiting occasionally to help out with the kids and their needs. That suddenly wasn’t an option anymore with the advent of the pandemic. As the crisis worsened in India this year, people visiting home to tend to ailing family members are permanently stuck as their visa wouldn’t allow them re-entry with the new travel ban imposed by America. Their spouses and kids are eagerly waiting for them to return but no one knows how long the wait would be.

As for us, we consider ourselves to be on the other side of the crisis now. My mother had a successful stay and is now back in India, safe and snug at home. We are now fully vaccinated. Our new baby is thriving, and life has almost returned back to normal. But the childbirth experience in the middle of a pandemic has left us with some unique, sometimes perplexing, but lifelong memories on which we will forever look back with amazement.

Views expressed are personal.

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