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By Fatin Najmi Mohammad Shah
Bernama reporter Fatin Najmi Mohammad Shah reminisces about giving birth to her second child on the first day of MCO last year.
KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama) – I was heavily pregnant with my second child when my husband sent me back to my kampung in Alor Setar, Kedah on March 16 last year.
It was the day Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin announced the enforcement of the Movement Control Order (MCO) nationwide from March 18 to stem the spread of COVID-19.
My baby was not due until a week later but he seemed to be in a hurry and probably wanted to greet the world on the first day his country was imposing unprecedented restrictions on the people’s movements.
I thought the delivery of my second child would be as fuss-free as the first one (my firstborn, a girl, is now three years old) but boy, was I wrong!
At about 2 pm after I had my lunch on the first day of the MCO, I noticed some spotting that indicated the onset of labour. My mother and I then left for Hospital Sultanah Bahiyah, Alor Setar, which, under usual circumstances, is only a 15-minute drive from my house at Jalan Pegawai.
But with the MCO in full force, many roads were closed and it took us half an hour to reach the government hospital.
The atmosphere of the hospital’s emergency unit filled me with apprehension. Several ambulances were lined up outside while health workers could be seen scurrying around wearing masks. Remember, those were still the early days of mask-wearing and it was a little nerve-wracking for me to see so many people wearing it.
Questions such as ‘Are there COVID-19 cases here’ or ‘Can I give birth safely here’ raced through my mind. But there was no question of me ‘retreating’ because I knew I would be going into labour soon.
My anxiety level went up a notch when I realised only a few doctors were on duty to see the huge number of patients crowding the emergency unit as most of them (doctors) were placed on stand-by to handle COVID-19 cases.
Before I could report to the maternity section, my mother and I were screened as required under the new COVID-19-related standard operating procedures (SOPs) set by the Ministry of Health.
Fortunately, I was given the go-ahead to proceed to the maternity ward. However, the nurse informed me that my mother could not accompany me as per the COVID-19 SOPs.
On hearing that, I became even more anxious because I specifically chose to have my delivery in this hospital as it allowed expectant mothers to be accompanied by a family member. No thanks to the coronavirus, I had to stay in the ward all by myself.
As most of the other wards in the hospital were being prepared to house COVID-19 patients, the maternity ward was chock-a-block with beds. It was not a comfortable sight.
I was assigned to one of those extra beds right next to the toilet. The light near my bed could not be switched off – switch it off and the toilet would be in darkness! I can’t help smiling each time I reminisce this.
Just before 9 pm, I went into labour and at about 9.50 pm my son Aaron Yusouf was born. However, my mother was only informed of his birth at midnight.
By then, my husband had already arrived from Kuantan, Pahang, where he works, but, due to the SOPs, he and my mother were only allowed to see me and the baby the next day when we were discharged from the hospital.
Nevertheless, I was grateful for giving birth to a healthy baby. I could hold and nurse him – not all the mothers there were as lucky as me. Some of the newborn babies had to be whisked off to the neonatal intensive care unit due to complications and their mothers were not allowed to visit them as the hospital staff had to control the movements in and out of the ICU.
My mother later told me about the anxiety she faced whilst waiting for me to deliver. She said the hospital had been making announcements of COVID-19 patients being brought into the facility. She said patients and visitors were urged to stay at least 100 metres away from the path taken by the staff to wheel the patients into the hospital.
Lastly, although I had made prior arrangements with a masseur for her services during my post-partum period, she only started massaging me 35 days after I delivered. She told me she did not dare to leave her house earlier for fear of getting infected by the coronavirus.
I am now waiting for my son Aaron Yusouf to grow older so that I can relate to him my experience of giving birth to him on the first day of MCO.
Translated by Rema Nambiar