Conceived in a pandemic, born in a pandemic

John Nyonje and his wife, Victoria Adhiambo welcomed their first born baby on December 30 and named him Daryl Brandon Ogutu. Daryl’s time in his mother’s womb has perfectly coincided with the nine months that the country has been battling Covid-19.

When the first coronavirus case was reported in Kenya, followed by a partial lockdown that saw many people work from home, social media was awash with memes on how there will be a baby boom nine months later.

Many factors were attributed to the expected spike in births, including the plenty of time at the disposal of many and largely, because people sought compassion from their partners as the world fought the virus.

And although it was suspected that the rate of cohabiting had spiked, there was no official data or research to support that. However, for the babies born from December, it would be fair to say they were conceived, and born during the pandemic.

140 million babies

The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef) estimated that a total of 140 million babies will be born this year, with more than 370,000 born on New Year’s Day.

“The children born today enter a world far different from even a year ago, and a new year brings a new opportunity to reimagine it,” Unicef Executive Director Henrietta Fore said in a press release published on December 31, 2020.

“Children born [from] today will inherit the world we begin to build for them — today. Let us make 2021 the year we start to build a fairer, safer, healthier world for children.”

Nyonje and his wife were on their honeymoon when the first case of coronavirus was reported in the country.

On normal days, sunrises mean alarm clocks going off and at sunset, a day has gone by. But, on vacation, “they’re magical and mean more than that,” says John. “It was a moment for ‘chic flicks’ with all their romance and passion. And just like that, it happened; we got pregnant -- in a pandemic.”

“What we were not sure of, however, was how soon the pandemic would come to an end.”

Pandemic parenting

And as the pregnancy for the Nyonjes ended, it marked the beginning of a new journey -- pandemic parenting.

Without any prior parenting experience, they say, the journey is tiresome, yet enjoyable.

Their story echoes those of many others.

Beatrice Nduta had been trying to have a baby from January.

In March, the pandemic arrived, but her pursuit continued. She got pregnant in May and, on December 4 at 2.40pm, she delivered her twins. Cara Anakeya Watts, a girl, and her brother Creed Alang’wa Watts.

“I previously had a stillbirth. That wasn’t an easy time. And, since the death of my son, my gynaecologist advised me to take at least one year before conceiving again. Fast forward to early January last year when I gave it another try,” says Nduta.

Clinic check-ups

When she first learnt that she was pregnant, she recalls, she was excited, but also scared because it would mean she needed continuous clinic check-ups as she was carrying a delicate double bundle of joy during the pandemic.

“I endured the difficult pregnancy phase, the parenting phase, though, is nothing but a stimulating journey of unknowns to me. I’m totally enjoying it,” she adds.

The pandemic came with a surprising advantage for her -- there were no requests to touch her growing baby bump.

“Many learnt of my pregnancy after I delivered,” she says.

“The privacy bit of the pregnancy occasioned by the lockdown in Nairobi was wonderful.”

Despite the pregnancy being largely a lonely journey, like the Nyonjes, Nduta is struggling with how to go about choosing who will visit her babies now that a lot of relatives and friends want to.

“I’m really cautious about the people who want to visit us. I’m still paranoid and only comfortable with people who I live with,” she said. “When declining the request by people wanting to pay us a visit, I politely ask them to consider giving us more time to grow. Sometimes, I just send them photos or videos of the babies.”

Ectopic pregnancy

After suffering a life-threatening ectopic pregnancy in 2012, Carolyne Ngome and her husband convinced themselves that the hiatus to making a baby was over in 2020. What they didn’t know was that they would be experiencing another life-threatening pregnancy, with the journey punctuated by Covid-19.

If they made it to the end, the pregnancy would be lonelier than they had ever experienced.

“My gynaecologist put me on Pregnacare conception supplements after removing my five-year-old coil in February, by the end of April, we learnt that we were pregnant,” says Carolyne.

“It was extremely exhilarating to know that we were expecting, again,” she recalls, “But we became nervous along the way because the gynaecologist had hinted at the possibility of an ectopic pregnancy recurring.”

Carrying twins

With bated breath, they waited for three more weeks to do an ultrasound to ascertain that the pregnancy was in the womb and not in the fallopian tube. When her sonographer revealed that she was carrying twins, she was elated.

“A went through a rush of emotions. I had never imagined that I would carry twins,” she says.

Then a series of twists came. First was the heavy bleeding in her eleventh week. The babies were fine but her cervix was short and a bit open. A McDonald's stitch was done on the cervix to save the pregnancy. Then she developed preeclampsia at 34 weeks.

“That was too much,” she says.

When the babies finally arrived, she couldn’t help but jealously guard them against dangers -- like visitors who could be carrying the Covid-19 virus.

Parenting during this pandemic has been a blessing in disguise, she says. “In our previous pregnancies, we have always had the company of friends. In this, only my nuclear family was present.”

“I also got to learn about my children’s strengths and weaknesses. My 13-year-old daughter, for example, would cook for us as I guided her. She now prepares my favourite meals effortlessly, yet she couldn’t cook any food before last year,” she adds.

More expectant women

According to Ms Mercy Chepkorir, a nurse at Tenwek Mission Hospital, more expectant women have trooped into the hospital when the pandemic hit as compared to before.

“Before the pandemic, we used to receive about 600 expectant mothers on a monthly basis. However, when Covid-19 hit, the figures have spiked to over 700,” says the nurse who works in the maternity unit.

This boom, she explains, could partly be because most people were restricted to staying at home due to the fear of being infected.

But the fear of the virus has also discouraged visits to clinics.

Clinics after delivery

“On the flip side, the number of mothers attending clinics after delivery tends to dwindle,” Ms Chepkorir notes.

“The ones who come back to hospital for routine clinical appointments are the ones who either live nearby or those with challenges that need to be attended to.”

This, she explains, is a demonstration of the worry that mothers with infants have of contracting the respiratory disease during routine visits.

 “I think they have resorted to attending clinics in their health units or dispensaries near their areas of residences, which lessens the need of travel.”

Just like the Ngomes’, couples all over the world have taken precautions to ensure that their infants are safe from the risk of contracting Covid-19. These include limiting the number of visitors and number of visits that their babies can receive in a certain period of time.

Others require that their visitors clean up and sanitise, while others do not allow their visitors to hold the babies, but to look at them from a safe distance.