Not the First Lockdown: When I Stayed Home as an Expecting Mother
Numerous women have experienced ‘lockdown’ at some point or the other in their lives.
Witnessing the general angst about the lockdown, and listening to people share their frustration over isolation, is bringing up strange thoughts to the surface of the mind.
No, I am not referring to the very urgent and pressing problems of shortage of food, or livelihoods in peril, or a shortage of medical facilities. Those are not the things I speak of, right now.
I speak now of people finding it difficult to be confined within the house, frustrated at being unable to go to work, angry at staying home all day.
People who are turning irritable and quarrelsome owing to these reasons.
And yet, strangely, it feels validating to me as a woman.
Validating, because ‘lockdown’ is something that numerous women have experienced at some point or the other in their lives, and yet their ‘lockdown’ has never been considered important enough to be spoken about, in terms of a mental health emergency.
My Lockdown as an Expecting Mother
For me, this lockdown came seven years ago, when I became an expecting mother. The lockdown that meant having to quit a full-time job and start afresh as a freelancer, mostly working from home.
Being confined to the house for the most part and forced into a drastic change. The lockdown that plunged me into depression.
At that time, my reaction to motherhood was the opposite of what society expects from a new mother, who is supposedly brimming with joy and gratitude. But I see now, with the whole world under lockdown, and people needing support for mental health – despite being ‘perfectly fine’ otherwise – that my reaction was not an anomaly.
That I was not a ‘freak’. That my frustration, my anger, the entire change in personality that happened to me, was normal. It would happen to anyone under those circumstances.
That this is what lockdown does to people’s mental health.
What If Coronavirus Affected Only Women?
This is what ‘forced lockdown’ has been doing to women’s mental health all around the globe, but is dismissively brushed away as ‘women’s issues’. Society refuses to make provisions which would distribute the effort of childcare equitably between the parents, and companies and organisations shy away from making enabling efforts to ensure that the responsibilities are not a woman’s burden alone.
It makes one wonder: Had COVID-19 been a disease that ostensibly affected only women, would the world have taken it so seriously? Or would coronavirus have also been brushed under the carpet, only being referred to as a ‘women’s issue’?
Newspapers, news channels, social media, everything has been inundated with coronavirus news for months now. But if this were a disease that endangered only women, it would have got scant coverage and talking about it would have been taboo.
If women did talk about it, they would be told to stop ‘whining and complaining’ and to ‘talk about more serious issues.’ That it was a serious issue for half the global population, would have been overlooked entirely.
Worse, people would have declared that this is why ‘a woman’s place is at home’, because she is only ‘safe inside her home’. A perennial lockdown would perhaps have been advised, asking women to remain in isolation ‘for their own safety’, with society taking scant measures to counter the virus
‘Choice’ is Necessitated by Circumstances
For many women, the ‘personal lockdown’ that comes from giving up a full-time career – whether temporarily or permanently – is termed as a ‘choice’.
What people don’t consider is that it is a choice necessitated by circumstances; in quite the same way, as this lockdown is a choice necessitated by circumstances, to prevent greater damage.
Women who have no family back-up to look after their children, and the absence of quality childcare facilities in the vicinity, are forced to opt for this self-imposed ‘lockdown’.
Child sex abuse is one of the biggest fears that prevents many women from leaving their children in the care of strangers. And this is not limited to the girl child, because 52 percent of all child abuse survivors in India are boys.
So yes, it is a choice women make for the greater good, and to avert greater tragedy. But, that doesn’t prevent it from taking a toll on their mental health, just as it would take on anybody’s mental health – quite like this lockdown has shown.
Women have been dealing with lockdowns for centuries. It’s just that women’s health – whether mental or physical – matters far less to society.
(Zehra Naqvi is a journalist who writes on gender and socio-political issues, and is the author of a forthcoming memoir being published by Hay House. She tweets @znaqvisajjad. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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