For Mpho Makhubela, the announcement of the national lockdown on 25 March was doubly stressful. She’s been expected to show up to work as an essential worker, and she’s expecting her second child. But working and being pregnant during the lockdown has taken a physical and emotional toll on the mother-to-be.
“The company tries to put precautionary measures to minimize the spread of the virus, but I have been so scared, to the point where I ended up consulting my gynecologist to see if the baby and I are safe. I’m scared which affects my blood pressure and pregnancy,” she says.
She adds that the joy of pregnancy is been taken from her due to the virus, and that she’s “not free at all,” during this time.
Similarly to Makhubela, Amanda Ndlangisa has experienced more stress than usual over this period due to confusion about lockdown regulations and new healthcare facility policies.
Two days after her baby was born, she was informed by the hospital that visitors would no longer be allowed to visit patients.
“It was hard for me hard for me because my birthing partner was my everything during that time. I had a C-section so recovery was long. I needed help with bathing the new baby,” she says.
Besides facing the loneliness of being hospitalised and not having any visitors allowed, Ndlangisa also had to deal with the loss of income.
“Covid-19 has affected my money. I am on unpaid maternity leave and I applied for UIF [Unemployment Insurance Fund] in March. It’s May now and I’ve received nothing. The Department of Labour closed its offices in early March and we were told that they would reopen on the 6th of April. Then the lockdown happened, and they closed which delayed the process even longer. It’s been really stressful taking care of a baby while on unpaid leave,” she explains.
Both Ndlangisa and Makhubela chose to access antenatal care (ANC) at private healthcare practitioners, but even that had challenges.
Ndlangisa says that she was able to access these facilities because the lockdown happened a few days after she had given birth.
“But after that, hospitals and doctors started to get strict, by not allowing partners and having one person at a time,” she says.
Makhubela uses her medical aid to pay for consultations, however, it’s very expensive and she has to “pay an access fee with every consultation.”
Helping moms flourish
Both women could have benefitted from support groups for pregnant women and moms with new–born babies, such as Flourish. Flourish provides empowering antenatal classes to mothers at an affordable rate, however, during the lockdown the small group meetings were suspended.
“The implementation of Flourish relies on face–to–face contact between franchisees and moms. With the lockdown effected and restrictions being put on human interactions, the program has been suspended,” says Thabang Mametsi, the program lead at Flourish.
Flourish groups meet once a week at central venue for both moms and franchisees. The groups of 10 women per meeting sit in for 90 minutes, with discussions on maternal and child health, nutrition, maternal mental health, child development, stimulation and bonding.
Flourish hopes to reach 10 000 pregnant and new moms for the year 2020 through using social media and other virtual communication tools. Mametsi says that they are exploring the roll out of virtual flourish classes as of mid-June.
“We are hoping that through this approach we will connect, support moms through their pregnancies and life with their new babies. We have through our social media platforms supported mothers with Covid-19 related messages. We have held quizzes to keep moms and dads engaged.”
Pregnancy support grant
The lockdown has also brought pregnancy support grants back into public debate. The proposal for a maternity support grant was first made in 2016 by researchers from Wits University who looked at how similar interventions were made in 27 other countries, such as Peru and Bolivia. The study showed that the grant helped increase the number of women access healthcare services during and after their pregancy.
A petition has since been created to garner support for government to implement the grant.
“Our petition is still live and ongoing, and we are still asking people to sign. Covid-19 has exposed, to those who have been oblivious, the deep levels of hunger in our country, and one way this shows itself in children suffering malnutrition, which starts from birth. A maternity benefit grant is going to be one beneficial way the government can mitigate the effects of malnutrition,” says junior campaigner at advocacy organisation Amandla.mobi, Dineo Raboholo.
The petition currently has over 350 signatures and Raboholo says that the plight of pregnant women in low-income communities should be listened to.
“Their mobility and access to nutritional and other care is undoubtedly compromised. Our country cannot afford to have their plight ignored, and this may be how government gets to see the great need for a maternity benefit grant, as well as other social safety nets,” Raboholo adds.
The grant seeks to alleviate the burden that many pregnant women, who are sometimes economically vulnerable during this period, to not find themselves having to struggle to get the right food, health services and other forms of support necessary for a healthy pregnancy. And most times end up having to choose between other necessities and pregnancy care.
This proposal for the grant has been met with opposition from society, with many believing that “grants incentivise people who can’t afford children to fall pregnant”.
But Raboholo disputes such beliefs because of scientific data which does not support this.
“Multiple studies have shown that social grants are not a motivator for pregnancy and carry insignificant incentive for the future. In fact, the usefulness of the child support grant has been shown in giving women economic activity they use to improve they and their children’s lives and fight some power dynamics of financial and other abuse.”
She adds: “We acknowledge that the monetary cost implications of this are not easy, but the human cost surpasses the monetary cost.” – Health-e News