As Anjana Shrestha, 23, ran out of her apartment during the 7.9 magnitude earthquake that hit Nepal on April 25, she slipped and fell. Then seven months pregnant, she lost her baby.
Waiting at the Prashuti Griha maternity hospital two weeks later, she sat with a dozen new mothers and babies under a big grey tent. The doctors had discharged her, but her rented home in Kathmandu was cracked and her family home in Kavre had collapsed, leaving her with neither shelter nor a plan.
“I have no idea where to go from here and what to do,” she said.
Shrestha’s problem is one that many women in the postpartum period are facing in the aftermath of the earthquake. Women like Shrestha need ample rest, a clean place to sleep so they aren’t exposed to infection, and regular nutritious meals so that while they cope with profound personal loss on top of Nepal’s collective trauma, their bodies can recover medically.
Like others in her position, Shrestha is not having these basic needs met. Her husband, Krishna Bahadur Shrestha, 26, is a driver, and has spent the last of his savings on her medicines. For 15 days, they have survived on simple rice and lentils, provided by Shrestha’s sister, who is living in tents with her family because her house has collapsed. Shrestha had one change of clothes, and her stitches have already been infected once, leading doctors to prescribe more antibiotics, which the couple cannot afford.
“Our child has died. She is scared. We have no one else to wait on her,” said her husband.
Shrestha’s parents, who would otherwise be helping her recover, are trying to move beyond their own tragedy: Having lost their home, they are currently living in a tent in a village in Kavre, four hours away from Kathmandu.
While problems of nutrition and health affect most post-partum women displaced by the earthquake, they have hit the already poor the hardest.
Like Shrestha, Maya Khadka, 19, has no home to take her newborn to. She travelled to Prashuti Griha hospital in Kathmandu all the way from Dolaka, Nepal, which was the epicenter of the second major earthquake, measuring 7.3 magnitude. Khadka’s mud and stone house was demolished during the first quake and, at nine months pregnant, she had been living in the animal shed with chickens and goats before her due date.
“We moved the cows and buffaloes, but cannot leave the chickens and goats outside. The foxes will come at night and eat them,” she said.
Because the nearest hospital from her village in Dolakha also collapsed during the quake, Khadka’s father-in-law brought her to Kathmandu, where she delivered the baby after an operation. Khadka’s husband is in Qatar.
“The house is completely gone. My baby and I will live in the shed, but at least we can light a fire there. He is already catching a cold here,” said Khadka. The Prashuti Griha hospital has doctors, but none of the buildings are functional to house patients.
Khadka will have to walk two hours from where the vehicle stops to get to her village.
“I am worried her stitches will snap open and she will get infected,” said Sundari Khatri, Khadka’s relative who is taking care of her. Now her worry is exacerbated because there is no health post or hospital nearby. Khatri lost her own house in Sindhupalchowk, the hardest hit area where the death toll has exceeded 3,400, but she came down to Kathmandu to look after Khadka because there was no one else to take care of her.
Under the same tents, Kesari Tamang, 26, sat with her mother Thuli Kanchi, 44, who is worried about her daughter’s health and her financial situation. The army airlifted Tamang from Dhadhing, Naubise when she was past due.
“Her family wanted her to deliver in the village. I kept saying she is past due. She will die. Let’s take her to the hospital. If the army hadn’t come, my daughter would die,” said her mother.
“Kesari has been sick since she was a little child. Her hands and legs aren’t strong, and she cannot walk without falling,” said Kanchi. Tamang is also cross-eyed. Now both their houses have collapsed to the ground, and Tamang’s husband is in no condition to provide food or a roof over her head. Her mother has depleted all of her savings paying for Tamang’s medicines and food.
“I told her not to run away with him,” said Kanchi. “I told her he was a drunkard and wouldn’t be able to take care of her. What will she do now?” Tamang’s husband had left the hospital three days earlier saying he would go find some money and had not returned.
But more than the roof over her head, Tamang’s mother is worried about her daughter’s health in the aftermath of the earthquake.
“I am most scared about her. The doctors have discharged her but she already has infections from the surgery. How will I take care of her? Where will I keep her?”