As rural India grapples with the disastrous second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic the fear of childbirth and pregnancy-related anxiety is growing silently among pregnant women. While the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has prioritised pregnant women as a vulnerable (high-risk) group and issued essential guidelines to provide uninterrupted reproductive, maternal, newborn, child, adolescent health plus nutrition (RMNCAH+N) services during the pandemic, the reality on the ground is different.
Since the start of the pandemic, community health workers—such as ASHA workers and ANMs—have been focused on providing emergency COVID-19 care, and have therefore been unable to provide essential maternal healthcare to women.
In spite of her apprehensions about going to a hospital and potentially contracting the virus, Jayanti Devi*—a new mother from rural Samastipur—decided to go to the hospital for her delivery. There, the hospital staff asked her to stand in a 25-person-long queue to get a COVID-19 test done, before admitting her. Unable to bear the excruciating pain, she decided to come home and have the delivery at home.
Some time later, the baby contracted jaundice, putting Jayanti in a difficult situation. Normally, she would have rushed to the nearby anganwadi centre for treatment and also for all the vaccinations her newborn baby needs. However, during COVID-19 this has not been possible. Jayanti now has nobody to counsel her and this has increased her worries and anxieties not just about her own health, but also her child’s. She says, “Pata nahin ab kya hoga, bacche ko kaun dekhega? (I don’t know what will happen now, who will look after the child now?)”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, receiving timely care has become an issue. Myths around vaccination, the inaccessibility of vaccines, and insufficient support from ASHA workers and ANMs, are some of the causes of psychological distress among pregnant women. These include pregnancy-related anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorders, and fear of childbirth—all of which remain undiagnosed.
*Name changed to maintain confidentiality.
Ria Saha is based in London and works as a public health consultant.
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