Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 22 October 2020

CORONAVIRUS

No fomo and no audience: the pros and cons of giving birth during a pandemic

'The number of people to have seen the human being I already can’t wait to show off is limited to single digits'

Panna Munyal and baby Myra in hospital in Dubai just after the birth. Photos Panna Munyal / The National
Panna Munyal and baby Myra in hospital in Dubai just after the birth. Photos Panna Munyal / The National

Myra Munyal arrived in this world after 39 hours of labour – and 39 weeks of gestation, nearly half of which were spent living and growing under the shadow of the novel coronavirus. It was declared a pandemic in January, the same month in which the UAE registered its first case.

Lockdowns and curfews ensued, sterilisation programmes were put in place, makeshift hospitals and quarantine units were built, and masks and gloves became part of regular attire. Dubai’s lifeline – the ubiquitous mall – was cut off for a bit, while travel restrictions in Abu Dhabi are still in place.

Baby Myra may not have seen too many other humans or much of the outside world yet, but her parents are both thankful for this time and hopeful that this, too, shall pass

Amid all the heart-warming and breaking stories, the socialising component – arguably, the essence of what makes us human – was turned on its head. Movie nights and milestone celebrations alike were put on hold as people began to self-isolate for fear of catching the highly contagious bug that had affected so many.

Oblivious to the situation, baby Myra wailed her way into this world in the protected wing of a private hospital in Dubai. Neither her father nor I were allowed to leave the room assigned to us under any pretext. Upon being discharged, we were guided through a labyrinthine path of empty corridors and emergency exits through the back of the building, to ensure we did not come into contact with any Covid-19 patients also being treated in the same hospital.

Baby Myra after she was discharged, asleep in the family home.
Baby Myra after she was discharged, asleep in the family home

Relieved at being under the open sky after nearly a week of being shuttered between four walls, I breathed in the last of the open fresh air I was going to get for a while – pacing the length of my tiny balcony notwithstanding.

Upon reaching home, my husband and I dutifully disposed of our masks and gloves, popped our clothes into the machine and ourselves into the shower. We got busy settling and swaddling our delicate newborn, even while reminding one another to reply to the dozens of demands for photographs made via WhatsApp from friends, families and colleagues. After all, it was the only way they would get to see the new entrant for who knew how may days, weeks or months.

Myra Munyal has so far only been seen by less than 10 people, and her mother is eager to show her off.
Myra Munyal was born on April 23, bang in the middle of the lockdown in the UAE

The fear of the unknown is a debilitating one. Obviously, then, no parent would risk exposing their newborn to people who may have been in contact with others, who in turn may be unwitting carriers of the virus. These are strange times, under any circumstances. But with a baby, they are truly the best of times and the worst of times.

On the one hand, the situation has given us the headspace needed to settle into the feed-clean-sleep-repeat routine. It’s given me the leeway to get used to the triumphs and tribulations of breastfeeding without any well-meaning intrusion or advice. Plus, with the husband working at home, I am thankful for an extra pair of shoulders to burp the baby.

We have also skipped the fomo (fear of missing out) phase that many erstwhile party-animal parents go through. None of our friends are doing any of the fun weekend activities that were such a regular part of our pre-baby life. Zoom calls are the new normal and those are something we are still able to jump in and out of.

On the other hand, we have had no audience for our proudest production, including my stuck-and-hyperventilating-in-Mumbai mum. Nobody to sit down with and share philosophical musings about the fears and joys of raising a child. Almost seven weeks later, the number of people to have seen the human being I already can’t wait to show off is limited to single digits.

The lockdown has since eased and friends gingerly inquire when they might come by to visit, but that debilitating fear raises its ugly head each time and we apologetically make our excuses. Baby Myra may not have seen too many other humans or much of the outside world yet, but her parents are both thankful for this time and hopeful that this, too, shall pass.

Growing up, I remember haranguing my parents to repeatedly regale me with stories of my birth. Can you imagine the tales we will have to tell our Covid-19 babies about the circumstances surrounding theirs?

Updated: June 19, 2020 01:29 PM

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