Navigating city tough for moms-to-be

Expectant mothers in the city struggle with the poor urban planning and shoddy public facilities

Critically-acclaimed 2012 film ‘Kahaani’ showed Vidya Balan as a supposedly-pregnant woman, on a hunt for her missing husband through the busy streets of Kolkata and the challenges she faced.

From shabby and unkempt public facilities to the crumbling infrastructure of the city, mothers-to-be in India’s Silicon Valley navigate a maze of obstacles every day. From searching far and wide for clean public toilets to back-breaking rides on bumpy roads, pregnant women, especially those in their advanced stages of pregnancy, face a host of problems.

No clean toilets

Prebitha Alex, a homemaker with two young children, says that she struggled with a lack of access to clean toilets and limited commute options.

“I used to carry extra panties because you don’t have toilets everywhere and it’s so difficult to find a good toilet, except in malls and hospitals. Because of this inconvenience, I even stopped going to many places,” she says.

Unlit skywalks and Improper garbage disposal

Rashmi Sharma, who recently had a baby, says skywalks in the city’s outskirts are not properly lit, posing serious safety challenges for women using it after dark.

“We can’t walk fast, even if we feel unsafe, making us vulnerable to anti-social elements.”

Piles of garbage on the roads near residential areas are another health hazard she encountered, especially because these attracted dogs and rodents.

“And during rains, the leachate from this waste would flow onto the roads, making them slick and slippery. I had a tough time getting home from office during the months I worked while pregnant,” she says.

Bumpy roads and rude cabbies

Travelling was another hassle, with cabs charging exorbitant fares and not being safe and public transport turning out to be unreliable. Prebitha recounts a nightmarish experience she and her husband faced while taking an Uber from Nagavara to their house in Avalahalli.

“We have to cross KR Puram and many drivers are reluctant to take that route on weekends for fear of getting stuck in traffic. Our driver took another less-travelled road, despite us repeatedly requesting him not too, as that route was very bumpy and I was seven months pregnant at that time. When we kept protesting, he asked us to get out. It was in the middle of nowhere and we had to walk for some time before we reached the main road and got another cab,” she recounts. 

Insensitive metro staff

Meghana Nair, now famous as the Bengaluru FC fan who was upgraded to the prestigious owner’s box after she tweeted to the Indian Super League football club seeking permission to carry hot water from her house to the Kanteerava Stadium on a matchday, says that the staff at metro stations are unsympathetic towards pregnant women. 

“Recently, I had to approach three separate counters at the Baiyyappanahalli metro station to buy a ticket, because the persons manning the counters were reluctant to give me change. The staff there spoke very rudely with me, while making me wait in two queues for almost 15 minutes,” she says.

Meghana also has a grouse with the fact that the restrooms in metro stations are placed far away. “Pregnant women can’t control their bladder, which is why we have to use the washroom frequently. The restrooms in these stations are located far away and are not easily accessible, making it difficult for us.”

When asked about the state of public loos in prominent areas in the city, Meghana says she just uses the ones in cafes as they are cleaner. 

Poor socio-economic background adds to woes

Varsha Shridhar, lactation counsellor at PCMH Restore Health and public health researcher, says that women from the lower strata of society have a rough time during pregnancy, especially since they can’t afford to stop working.

“Once, during my stint as a postnatal and antenatal counsellor at St Philomena’s,  I met a traffic policewoman, whose biggest worry was the pollution on the city’s roads. She was inhaling smoke and fumes on a daily basis and though she was very worried about the effect it was having on her unborn child, she couldn’t quit as her family needed the money,” says Varsha.

Long commutes to their workplaces also affected pregnant women working as clerks and receptionists in IT offices, the ones without the privilege of a work-from-home option.

“I know women who, since they had to travel for almost two hours one way, would stop eating or drinking some time before the trip so they don’t feel like using the bathroom,” she says. 

Varsha adds that expectant women working in garment factories in the city would not be allowed breaks by their supervisors, who would instead taunt them for coming to work while pregnant.

Lack of awareness a challenge

Meghana Naidu, co-founder of The Birth Home, a midwifery care and birth center, points out that lack of awareness still remains a major hurdle. “Knowing more about your body is a big step in giving ladies the confidence to move about.”

Prebitha adds that it is also difficult to find a good gym, as many trainers don’t know how to deal with pregnant ladies. “There are apps which describe exercises for such women. I would write these down, get it approved from my doctor and do it on my own.”

A much-neglected aspect is the mental health of the expectant mother and her partner. Meghana Nair says that though some private hospitals provide counselling classes for parents-to-be, they add a hefty charge to an already exorbitant package.

“These classes, which are held just once or twice, take place in five-star hotels. Sometimes the classes happen on successive days and the hospitals offer you an option to stay in the hotel, for a huge amount,” she says. 

Problems continue for young mothers

Not just pregnant women, even young mothers struggle with the lack of utilities. 

Prebitha Alex says she faced a lot of problems when it came to breastfeeding her child in public. 

“Feeding booths are quite rare to come by, even in high-end places. Once my husband and I went with our six-month-old baby to the German consulate, for some visa work for him. They didn’t have a feeding room in the waiting area. I had to go to the fourth floor, which was abandoned due to some construction work going on there, and feed my baby there,” she says.

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