JOS, NIGERIA — My wife Nanbam and I didn’t plan to have a child amid a global pandemic, but we didn’t have a choice.
Looking at the news, our fears grew as we saw other families losing their loved ones to the coronavirus. But, on April 18, we welcomed Deborah Ememabasi into the world.
The first case of COVID-19 in Nigeria was confirmed in February, when my wife was already seven months pregnant.
She became apprehensive about attending her antenatal sessions regularly due to the often-crowded nature of the hospitals. But she made sure to perform checkups at less frequent intervals and take her pregnancy medications regularly.
Labor started quite unexpectedly. Based on the Expected Date of Delivery (EDD) provided by the hospital, the baby had not been due to arrive for another three weeks.
Child births amid lockdowns
Sitting in the hospital waiting room, I held my wife's hands as the contractions progressed, but was most grateful, looking around, to see there were fewer people than usual in the hospital that evening.
My family members kept asking for regular updates through phone calls and messaging apps. “How far along is she?” “What did the doctor say?” “Has she given birth?”
Things took a scary turn for us when the doctor failed to pick up his phone just when it seemed the contractions were the strongest. My anxiety grew as I wondered why.
Thankfully, the doctor arrived some minutes before midnight to assist with the delivery, which went through without a hitch thanks to his years of experience and the sheer grace of God.
Help for new birth
In Nigeria, a grandmother usually comes to stay with the new parents to help with the baby and the mother’s healing after the birth. The Ibibio tribe in South-South Nigeria, where I am from, call the practice “Umaan.”
During this period, the grandmother helps to cook the meals and provides hot water therapy and sitz baths to hasten proper physical and internal healing.
But with COVID-19 travel restrictions, and both our mothers in the high-risk age range, we have had to handle things on our own – including entertaining our 3-year-old son.
The grandmothers still get to check in with us often via phone calls and social media apps, to make sure everything is going well and to offer us wisdom from their wealth of experience.
Upsurge in COVID-19 cases
Despite increasing numbers of infections, Nigerian authorities on May 4 eased a weeks-long lockdown in major cities - but not in Jos.
Nigeria recorded its highest number of single-day infections on the same day the country began a six-week phase-out of lockdowns in the major cities of Lagos and Abuja as well as in Ogun state.
The loosening of restrictions came with conditions including the compulsory wearing of face masks in public, overnight curfews and a ban on interstate travel. Still, the country has seen the number of COVID-19 cases rise to more than 4,000 infections in the last week.
Social distancing guidelines are still largely ignored by many. The authorities have suggested that the total lockdowns will be reimposed if citizens continue to ignore the guidelines aimed at preventing the spread of the virus.
As for me, I continue to work from home as much as possible to keep our growing family healthy.