“That night I felt like I was breathing shards of glass,” recalls Divya Karthik. The 35-year-old Indian expat was 19 weeks along with her second baby – conceived during peak COVID-19, in 2020 – when she found herself gasping for air in the middle of the night.
“My husband raced me to Latifa Hospital, where I was admitted. They thought I had the coronavirus,” she explains in an interview with Gulf News. Now isolated, the doctors conducted a number of tests to confirm the diagnosis, but each came back negative. At the same time, her lungs were deteriorating and her odds of carrying to term getting slimmer.
“They considered it [the respiratory illness] atypical pneumonia,” she says. There were doubts she would be able to carry the baby to term.
When the family had found out about this second pregnancy – the couple already had a six-year-old son at the time - they hadn’t been pleased as it would mean a greater stretch on their resources. “My husband didn’t want the child at first,” she says. But as an embryologist working at a fertility clinic in Sharjah, Karthik had seen couples struggling to get pregnant. It had filled her with gratitude for the new life she was carrying – and she loved it. The family had come around after a few days. This 19-week crisis had everyone reeling.
“My husband talked to the doctors... to keep the child meant moving me to a different hospital,” she says.
The ambulance ride was one she saw through tears. As she shuddered and gasped, she recalls, her husband kept saying, “Just breathe. Just breathe.”
Karthik was in the ICU for 21 days, pumped with steroids, heparin injections, antiviral drugs and hooked to a steady stream of oxygen.
The couple’s six-year-old son, Hemish, meanwhile was stuck at home. “He knew what COVID-19 was and thought I had it, which is why I was in hospital. But he didn’t know the extent of the problem.
“For days, as I battled for my life in the ICU, he had a different battle to fight – being alone,” she tells us.
Hemish would be asleep most days when his father would come home, having eaten food dropped off by his parents’ friends, done his homework under the tutelage of his teachers over Zoom, attended classes and spoken to friends and family members over video calls. He would have washed his hands as his parents had shown him and brushed his teeth. Then he would have fluffed his pillows and gotten into bed. “Because of COVID-19 lockdowns across the world, our family members could not come. But we had so much support from our friends here – it was amazing,” she says.
Through all the treatment and after it as well, says Karthik, she was worried. Scared that all the medications that she’d been put on would affect her newborn’s health. Terrified of how her son was doing at home all alone. And she was determined to make it up to both of them.
Slowly as the medicines began to clear her system and help her heal, she began to feel positive again. When she went home at the end of the month, she was excited. Come December, as the flight bans lifted, her parents came down to Dubai for the birth – a planned C-section on December 16.
Karthik sighed in relief once the procedure had been done and she heard the good news: her baby weighed 3.2 kilos and looked healthy. Unfortunately, his health took a turn for the worse the next day. “The next day he developed a fever and they said he had a blood infection. He was taken to neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). They told me to go home, but the baby would need to be there for a week. I refused to leave,” she says, adding that finally she was given a room near NICU so she could be there. A week on, the child came home.
The episode, she says, taught her about resilience and the fact that parenthood brings out the best in people. “A mother must confront all her deepest fears and come out the other side, for her children. Motherhood is an exquisite thing one is blessed with and I’m proud I made it because of all my love for my kids,” she adds.
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