Architect Nusrat Jahan Bristy clearly remembers the afternoon of March 8, 2020. Thirty-one weeks into her pregnancy at the time, she had just left the BRB Hospital after a routine check-up.
While returning home, she received a call from her mother. The soon-to-be grandmother had terrible news – the first coronavirus patient had been detected in Bangladesh.
"I was very worried and scared. Once I calmed down, I had only one question in my mind: Would I get treatment at any hospital now?" Bristy recounted.
Fortunately, she did. But her experience was not a smooth one. Whenever she went for a check-up, she would always be terrified, thinking about whether her doctor had come into contact with a Covid-19 patient. She always tried to keep her distance from everyone – doctors, nurses and patients alike.
"I would stand in the corridor for two, even three hours while waiting for the doctor to call me in. I was so terrified that I could not even drink a single drop of water outside. The paranoia kept haunting me constantly," Bristy said.
Sticking to her diet was also difficult. Her doctor recommended eating high-protein foods, fresh fruits and vegetables. But these foods were not readily available as the nation soon went into a shutdown. So, Bristy had to follow a general diet.
Due to long-term planning, lecturer Runa Rani Roy was able to avoid these problems. Her spouse had stocked enough food before the shutdown. To avoid transmission of the coronavirus, the doctor suggested her not to visit the chamber. So, Runa depended on telemedicine throughout her pregnancy.
Things however got more difficult as the time for birth neared.
In line with the health directives, mothers have to wear masks for the entire duration of delivery, adding breathing difficulties to an already painful process.
"After a while, I gave up and took off the mask. I did not care anymore; I needed to breathe," remarked Bristy.
Moreover, as no relatives can be present during the delivery, mothers have to completely rely on hospital staff.
But getting to the hospital is in itself a major struggle amid this pandemic. The expecting parents have to singlehandedly take care of everything. They have to arrange disinfected transport, find a blood donor for emergencies and take care of every other minor detail.
For many women, the struggle continued even after getting to the hospital.
Housewife Sumi Akter, who was giving birth to her third child, got admitted at a hospital near Kakrail. She fell sick there and her temperature crossed 100°F. Sumi complained that neither a doctor nor a nurse came close to her during that crucial moment. Sometimes they provided her with basic care from the door.
After giving birth, the mothers and babies can return home, but they have to stay in self-quarantine for 14 days. It is also equally important for mothers to be in touch with a medical expert after the birth.
The experts help mothers with proper directions; they need to take enough vitamins, minerals, medicine, follow a healthy diet chart and consult about vaccines for their babies.
Giving BCG vaccines – a tuberculosis vaccine recommended for healthy babies as close to the time of birth as possible – is a terrifying ordeal for new parents. They worry that taking the babies to health centres could expose the infants to Covid-19.
Most parents have resorted to ensuring that new-borns have the least possible interaction with the outer world. All the greetings and congratulations have now moved online.
Caring for the new-borns and ensuring safety for them from the pandemic is also taking a toll on the health of mothers.
"I am too busy taking care of my baby and doing household chores. I often forget to take care of myself. My partner tries to help me but he has to go to work. If my friends and family were here, it would have been easier for me to deal with this postpartum depression," stated a frustrated mother.
Kaniz Fatema, executive senior consultant of Gynaecology and Obstetrics Department at the Shaheed Suhrawardy Medical College Hospital, said that partners can play a vital role here to overcome postpartum depression in new mothers. They need to be equally cooperative while nurturing the baby and separately, taking care of the mother as well.
She also advised new mothers to get enough rest, sleep and follow the prescribed diet chart. Blood pressure and blood sugar levels should also be regularly monitored at home.