Malaysia’s birth rate may have dropped by 4.4% this year, yet nearly 112,000 babies were born. Mine was one of them.
I had my baby in June, the month Malaysia’s daily COVID-19 cases hit four figures. While resting on the hospital bed, high on pain medication, I was relieved about my baby coming out safely, yet apprehensive about him entering a virus-stricken world.
Looking back three months later, perhaps I shouldn’t have worried about having a baby then because the worst was yet to come. Daily COVID-19 cases are now in the five figures in Malaysia. Someone dies of COVID-19 every day. Life is terrifying, especially for babies.
Call it wishful thinking if you want, but it seemed easier to protect my baby while he was still inside of me. All I had to do was to protect myself from COVID-19 when I was pregnant. But now that he is out, my baby is exposed to a virus that could potentially be deadly for him.
My husband and I try to stay indoors 99% of the time and we sanitize literally everything that’s in the house. Anyone who enters from the front door will be automatically disinfected with a battery-operated spray gun. Am I doing enough? I can’t think of anything more that I can do. But something tells me that the virus can still break through.
Staying indoors for too long can be a bit of a drab, even for an introvert like me. Trust me, lounging around at home was my favorite thing to do until it became the only thing I do. I sometimes wonder whether my baby gets bored of being at home all the time, lying down, and staring at the ceiling every day. I would take us on domestic “adventures” around the house when these moments come up.
“Come on, Max, let’s go on an adventure!” I would say in a sing-song voice while sweeping him up. These so-called trips normally end in the kitchen or the laundry room, where Max would watch his mom transform into a domestic goddess, preparing him milk or hanging our clothes to dry.
Max hasn’t been able to meet the rest of my family, which is one of my greatest wishes these days. Due to coronavirus fears, not even his grand-aunties, relatives, and friends who live nearby are confident that it would be safe enough to visit him – unless they reach out from a distance.
A few of my friends managed to see Max from afar when they came to drop off gifts and try to get his attention by yelling stuff like, “Remember my voice, baby!” and “Hello, baby! It’s auntie!”
I’ve also resorted to creating a private Instagram account for Max so that the family can “connect” with him or react to his photos or videos. I will reply to them on my baby’s behalf, of course.
PROTECTING HIM FROM COVID
We were feeling brave enough last weekend for our quick first walk to the nearby park. It was empty except for a jogger, who was nice enough to keep his distance. Even for a brief moment, Max was able to soak in his new surroundings, mainly the trees, the swimming pool, and the empty swings he’ll probably play with when he’s a bit older. Later, Max ended up with a prolonged rash and had to be hospitalized.
My baby became the youngest person I know to take a COVID-19 test at the hospital. He seems calmer than any adult I’ve seen taking a swab test, shedding just a few tears when the healthcare worker poked the RT-PCR swab into his nose.
It was at the hospital where it dawned on me how little protection babies had against COVID-19. There are no such things as masks or vaccines for them, which seems unfair, especially when they’re always surrounded by adults who could be carriers of the virus despite being fully vaccinated. The only thing I could do was to drape one of Max’s dinosaur-patterned muslin cloth over him as a protective layer.
It’s been more than a year into the pandemic and we still don’t know how to protect them from the coronavirus. What will the post-COVID world be like for babies? When can babies get their COVID-19 shots? Why don’t we have masks specially made for babies? Will infected children get the help they need? None of these questions came to mind until Max entered my life. But nobody has the answer.
I do hope that vaccines come for babies soon. Teenagers can now get vaccinated in Malaysia while children as young as six months old in the U.S are eligible for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. As the waiting game continues for babies, I can only do my best to protect my child, by staying clean, wearing a mask, avoiding poorly ventilated public spaces, and getting that vaccine dose when it’s available. My heart goes out to parents looking after their babies while COVID-19 continues to spread, but know that you are trying your best.
This disease may have ravaged earth and changed the way we live, but life goes on.
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This article, I gave birth to my first child just before COVID-19 worsened in Malaysia, originally appeared on Coconuts, Asia's leading alternative media company.