When their little daughter Leah was born, everyone at Letterkenny University Hospital knew Gimee Etwarysing. “They would say, ‘You’re the lady stuck here,’ says her sister Swatee Dunne. “You were talking about the maternity ward.”
Etwarysing has been stranded in Ireland since March. She is from Mauritius and was visiting her sister and family in Letterkenny, Co Donegal when the first case of coronavirus was detected in her home country. Mauritius closed its airports and did not allow Etwarysing – and other Mauritians – to return home.
But there was an additional complication. Just before she left, Etwarysing discovered that she was pregnant. The longer the lockdown, the less likely it was that she could return to Mauritius for birth.
“It was very scary,” she says. “I was afraid for the baby. All I wanted was a safe pregnancy, and I was worried about the baby and worried about myself. I just wanted to go home and couldn’t. “
She had her first scans in Ireland; At 21 weeks old, the baby’s growth was found to be slowing and she was advised not to travel.
“I realized that I had to stay and have the baby here,” says Etwarysing. “I felt less stressed after I decided to stay, I accepted, but I was still homesick.”
Her partner and family back home in Mauritius were concerned, “especially my father – he rang the doorbell every day to see if I was okay – and my partner would come and visit us, but he couldn’t”.
Everyone was grateful that she was with her sister, especially since the pregnancy was difficult and there were hospital appointments once and sometimes twice a week to check the baby’s growth.
There were other burdens too – because of Etwarysing’s visa, which had to be renewed several times in order to legally stay in the country, as well as the financial implications. She is the revenue controller in a casino in Mauritius and has not been able to work since March. She paid for private health care and other expenses from her savings.
Leah was born on October 8th through an emergency caesarean section. Etwarysing says she is grateful to the hospital’s doctors and nurses, especially Dr. Matt McKernan, for her medical care and support, and the nurse who “stayed with me all night holding my hand.”
Etwarysing’s brother-in-law, Joe Dunne, goes on: “The doctors in Mauritius had told her she could never have children and I don’t think Leah would have survived if she hadn’t been here in Ireland. She is a miracle baby. “
Leah, now nearly three weeks old, has become a favorite with the extended Dunne family and the people of the area.
“All of the neighbors know her, and many of them gave her gifts when she was born,” says Etwarysing. “I was so surprised that even people who didn’t really know her would do that. it is very different here.
“I love the people here, they are so nice and Donegal is absolutely beautiful, although the beaches are not the same – they are beautiful, but the weather is not the same as Mauritius.”
She also collected many souvenirs to remember her daughter’s stay in her adopted country – not least an Irish birth certificate and a photo of her next to the Letterkenny hospital sign “to show her when she is older”.
She purposely chose an Irish name so that her daughter would always have a connection to the country in which she was born. “It means ‘the light of the sun’ in Irish, and her middle name is Shreya, which means ‘luck’ in Hindi, so she has an Irish name and also a Mauritian / Hindi name.”
She hopes they can return in time to spend Christmas in Mauritius. The country reopened its airports earlier this month and while they are still unable to travel due to their caesarean section, they may be able to fly back and quarantine 14 days before the holiday season.
The whole family will miss her in Letterkenny – not least Leah’s cousins Rory, 8, Sophie, 5 and Ethan (3). “She’s like a little sister to them now,” says Swatee. “They take care of her and say a prayer for her every night, and before going to school they come in to check on her.
“You are very attached to her. Rory said the other day, “We have seven in our family now.”
“I want to bring them back,” says Etwarysing. “Maybe she could even come and study here.”
At the moment Leah is sound asleep in her cot next to a window overlooking the green fields of Donegal. “Sometimes I think: Is that even real?” Laughs Etwarysing. “I have a big story to tell her when she gets older.”
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