Parenthood can be daunting at the best of times but when it happens for the first time and that too in the middle of a pandemic without the family-friends support structure, well that's when it takes on a whole new dimension - exciting but oh-so-scary.
The spread of COVID-19 has deprived thousands of young couples of the support system of parents, parents-in-law and even distant relatives who are ready with tips and tricks to help them transition into parenthood. And sometimes there is no domestic help either.
Just ask Vinolia and Ravi Sadrani, a Mumbai couple who had their first baby during lockdown when they were not stepping out of their homes and no one was coming in either. In March this year, when the lockdown to stem the spread of the disease was imposed, Vinolia was nine months pregnant, just days away from becoming a mother. It was a tense, anxious and physically exhausting time.
"Right after conceiving we were told it is going to be a complicated pregnancy and we would have to go for a caesarean delivery. So obviously we knew we would need a lot of assistance. This was our first child and we knew nothing," Vinolia, who gave birth to their daughter Ruhi on April 27, told PTI.
In a classic case of so near and yet so far, Vinolia's mother who lives in another part of Mumbai couldn't come and she couldn't go either. "Once the lockdown was announced, not only did the possibility of getting some extra help from our parents disappear but whatever little help we had in the form of the maid was also gone," the 29-year-old said.
Her mother has come to her place now but the first two months were harrowing. The couple was cooking and cleaning all on their own, and for everything else there was Google.
Whether it was reaching out to their parents through video calls for advice on what to eat before delivery and what to feed the baby or watching videos about pregnancy and parenting, Google was their go-to guide. The process of having a child in itself is trying, and the stress increased exponentially due to the pandemic and the lockdown.
"Access to nutritional food like fresh vegetables and fruits became challenging. We were always worried if anything we consumed would infect us and then jeopardise the baby's health. The lack of enough knowledge about the spread of the virus was very frustrating," Vinolia said.It has been worse for couples with parents in other cities and countries.
Like Canada-based Baanipreet Kaur and Tanveer Singh who had their baby last month, without any clue about the basic dos and don'ts of looking after a new-born and without parental help from back home in India.
Banipreet said they tried everything they could to fly her parents from Gurgaon, across the Atlantic to North York, but in vain. "The plan was that my parents would come to Canada... but the visa got rejected because of COVID-19. Two months back we applied again, but the application is still in process," the 28-year-old new mother said.
Banipreet, who gave birth to a son, Ranveer Singh, on June 2, said she was relying on her parents to help her navigate through the taxing times, but had to make do with the internet."It was all new to me. So whether it was about my food habits or the correct position to sleep or sit, all of it was a challenge. It was worse after the delivery. Questions like 'How do we take care of the baby?' 'What should I eat now?' 'How often should I feed him?' and 'Why is he crying?' kept flooding our minds.
"I would constantly be on video calls with my mother for every little query, and when she wasn't available, I looked up information on YouTube and called up friends who have children for advice," she said.
UNICEF in May said that an estimated 20 million babies were expected to be born in the country under the shadow of COVID-19 pandemic, between March and December 2020.
Due to strained health systems and disruption in the availability of medical assistance, it is important that parents take care of themselves as well as their infant, say medical experts. While maintaining hand hygiene before touching the baby is non-negotiable, paediatrician Manish Mannan also warns parents against deferring routine immunisation due to fear of COVID-19.
"Regular visits to the paediatrician should not be deferred either. Many neonates develop jaundice around day four-five of life and a few may need medical intervention. Hence, review after discharge is of utmost importance," said the HOD of Paediatrics & Neonatology, Paras Hospitals (Gurgaon).
Mannan also advised against the use of traditional products like kajal, or digestive liquids like 'jamam ghutti' and gripe water for the baby. As for managing the stress of becoming new parents in these unprecedented times, life coach Tiesta Duggal agreed that not having their parents physically around themselves to help out is likely to create an "emotional void", but it is important for couples to make the best of what they have.
According to her, couples must remember why they decided to get into parenthood, and that the current problem at hand is a temporary one. "This is an extremely good time to bond with their partner, as well as the child. The couple will get an opportunity to rediscover their relationship, and learn how to give each other enough space, while at the same time communicating with each other, because they are the only ones who are dealing with the situation at hand," Duggal said.
The problems are not confined to first time parents. Even those having their second child and expected to know the drill find themselves a bit lost. Noida-based Satyendra Kumar and his wife Sushma had their second child, a daughter, on June 12.
"On our second check-up, my wife was told she was ready to give birth -- 10 days before the due date, and I just did not know what to do. I wasn't ready. I wanted more time, but obviously I didn't get to decide," Satyendra said.
The last time Satyendra and Sushma had a child was in 2015, and almost everything was taken care of by their families. So they tried everything -- getting their parents to their house, travelling to their hometown in Patna, first by road and then by flight but nothing worked.He said the last pregnancy felt like a breeze, but this time was an eye-opener.
Between March and June, the two rediscovered their relationship. He even learnt to cook samosas to meet his wife's pregnancy cravings. "I have learnt so much through this experience that I can answer practically any query on pregnancy. Someday I might even write a book about this," Satyendra said.