I feel the familiar cold jelly on my huge belly and see my baby pop up in black and white squiggles on the ultrasound monitor. “He’s pretty low already,” my gynaecologist informs me, pausing the scan to palpate my belly. “He’s about two-fifths engaged.” She resumes the scan and measures my baby’s growth and the amniotic fluid levels, pronouncing herself satisfied. My husband helps me down from the examining bed and we exchange a smile through our masks, happy and thankful that our little one is healthy. Like every other first-time parent-to-be, we’re incredibly excited to meet our baby now that our due date is just a few weeks away.
I ask if there are any exercises I can do to speed things along. My gynaecologist chirpily tells me to walk a lot, and we all share a laugh. “Just walk in your house lah,” her nurse jokes. Living in Malaysia, we’re under the Movement Control Order lockdown from (18 March to 14 April 2020) as part of the government’s Covid-19 measures. As a result, walks outside — even around your own neighbourhood — are forbidden.
We’ve wanted our baby for so long. Who would have guessed that he would arrive during a global pandemic?
More cases, Increased measures
As we watch number of coronavirus cases rise in Singapore and Malaysia, we start wearing masks to our antenatal appointments. The hospital scans the temperatures of every visitor and patient, and hand sanitisers appear at every counter. Now, they also require us to complete declaration forms stating our travel history, and contact with known Covid-19 cases.
Our prenatal appointments have been staggered and seats in the waiting lounge are demarcated for social distancing. Wearing masks, we couples sit one seat apart while waiting for our obgyn appointments.
Then case numbers explode in Malaysia and the government imposes a two-week lockdown (now extended to four weeks). So we make our baby preparations from home.
Preparing for Baby in a Pandemic
My husband goes out for groceries wearing a mask, avoiding the larger — and cheaper — supermarkets with their big crowds. He is not just being socially responsible; it’s also to protect our baby. Some days, bread or eggs aren’t available.
I order diapers and baby paraphernalia online, and spray all our parcels with alcohol disinfectant before packing them away. Thankfully, items are still readily available and delivery hasn’t slowed despite the lockdown. Not allowed to go out to swim, I stretch and squat along to prenatal workout videos on Youtube.
Instead of enjoying our last few weekends with romantic brunches or movie dates, we #stayhome inside. Plans to DIY maternity photos in the fields outside have to be laid aside. Instead, we spend an afternoon playing around with the camera in our own room.
Nesting at Home
The nesting instinct I’ve been bracing myself for skips me but hits my husband hard. He attacks home improvement projects, painting furniture and reorganising our storeroom with a will. No Doraemon voice needed here — in fact, these few weeks have made me extra grateful for an extra supportive and caring husband.
He tells me I’m beautiful — with my ratty home tee shirt and perpetually sweaty nose. He goes downstairs to the kitchen to bring me a midnight snack in bed. He has also taken on the lion’s share of house chores and spring cleaning, while reminding me to rest.
We set up our guest room, and hope that our parents will be able to make it through Malaysia’s current interstate travel bans to help us during my confinement. While we prepare letters from our doctor and our parents approach the police for a permit, we keep our freezer stocked just in case we need to fend for ourselves.
Hospital measures for Giving Birth during Covid-19
On the way to the hospital for our 38-week appointment, we encounter a roadblock and have to report where we’re going. I’d read about how some hospitals are stopping partners from supporting mothers in the labour wards and delivery rooms. For us, our doctor tells me that I have to take a Covid-19 swab test before I’m admitted. My husband will not be allowed to stay overnight.
Thankfully, he can be by my side during labour and delivery. All of us — my doctor, my husband, and myself — will have to don masks throughout the process. After packing clips and elastic ties to keep sweaty hair out of my face, I’ll now be huffing and puffing through a mask. The measures don’t sound so bad, until I learn that to protect my newborn, I cannot breastfeed him until the Covid-19 test returns a negative result. This could take 24 to 72 hours.
Having read up on the importance of latching in the first few hours of baby’s birth to promote milk production and set the stage for a successful breastfeeding journey, I worry that not being allowed to breastfeed from the start will throw off our learning process and rob my baby of the goodness of colostrum. My doctor assures me that I can pump and feed my baby later, when the test results have cleared. As I add my breast pump to my hospital bag, I can only pray that the results come in earlier.
Giving Birth in a strange time
Some of these worries are certainly new and unexpected as we anticipate the birth of our first child during this strange time, but happily, other timeless new-parent experiences remain the same.
Like any other expecting couple, we veto names back and forth before arriving at one we both love. We learn Mandarin as we choose a Chinese name with a good meaning for our baby. We set up a crib and a nursing chair in our bedroom. We call no dibs on diaper duty. We put our hands on my belly and pray for him together every night. Covid-19 or not, we are thankful to be blessed with a healthy baby, and look forward to meeting him very soon.
Tansey Tang, Features Editor of our sister site SingaporeBrides, gave birth to a healthy boy two days after writing this column. Congratulations, Tansey and Phil!