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Maybe the joke is on me. A self-proclaimed “excellent family planner,” I was laughing all the way to the maternity ward, boasting of my impeccable timing for welcoming my first (and only) baby into this world. As I approached my mid-thirties, my husband and I decided our prospects were not likely to improve as my biological clock ticked, so we pulled the goalie and conceived my first pregnancy in the fall. Perfect timing for my career. An early June due date lined up nicely with my work schedule, and this kid would come a month ahead of what would otherwise be classified as a “geriatric pregnancy.” It also meant my in-laws could easily spend the summer in Santa Barbara with their newest grandbaby, helping to bridge us into the world as first-time parents.
My pregnancy has not been the easiest, but I worked really hard to establish a healthy routine to ease the symptoms of excessive sickness, including a lot of vomiting and painful bouts of indigestion and unconfirmed gallstone-like symptoms. I’ve had to go to the emergency room more than once. After months of these complications, I carved out a rigid diet and exercise routine — lots of smoothies, veggies, and leafy green salads, and regular lap swimming at Los Baños pool. In early March I was able to add in prenatal yoga to prepare my body for childbirth.
Then COVID-19 arrived. As all moms already know, the road to motherhood is full of uncertainty. Layer on the uncertainty that comes with a global pandemic that upends our way of life and the anxiety surrounding first-time motherhood becomes overwhelming. And I’m fortunate. My husband and I can both work full-time from home, I have great health insurance, and we have stable housing to welcome this baby into. I recognize a lot of people have a lot more uncertainty right now.
But this does not minimize the very real anxiety, vulnerability, and sadness expectant mothers are feeling. I’ve had to inventory all that has been taken away in preparation for welcoming this baby. From the trivial: No more Almond Squares from See’s Candy. No baby showers. No prenatal or post-natal photo sessions. No more lunchtime salad bar from Savoy. No hospital tour or other in-person baby preparation classes. No signing for a new car with better safety features than our current vehicles have (which are old enough to be able to have a college degree). To the more consequential things taken away: No swimming at Los Baños, which is the best prenatal exercise. No prenatal yoga classes. No visits or physical contact with grandparents or excited aunties and uncles. No hugs or belly rubs from loving friends and family. No quick and convenient visits to the grocery store (and, yes, my appetite finally rebounded the minute there was a run on food). My husband can no longer attend doctor appointments with me, and doctor visits have been reduced. I’m pretty much confined to my home as pregnancy reduces lung capacity and immunity. There are very few studies about COVID-19 in relation to pregnancy and newborns, and what does exist, comes from China, which is not a transparent nation nor does it have a good track record on maternal health outcomes.
Here are some of the panic-inducing thoughts I’ve had to work through and prepare for: I go to the bathroom no less than 20 times a day, all at home. I’m burning through toilet paper at an alarming rate. What happens if I run out the first night we bring the baby home from the hospital?! What happens when the baby is here and I can’t find diapers and stores are all out?! What happens if our doctors and nurses fall ill and there’s inadequate delivery staff?! What happens if we have to be in isolation when we bring the baby home from the hospital and I have complications breastfeeding and can’t get in-person help?! How do I tell eager grandparents they cannot hold and kiss a baby they have been waiting for years to arrive (remember, I’m a good family planner)?! Yes, I’ve reached solutions to some of these anxieties (like securing a stash of cloth diapers and boosting my TP supply), but these otherwise unanticipated anxieties are still very real and intense. And what if I have COVID symptoms in labor and my otherwise healthy baby is taken from me and isolated?!
Perhaps the biggest fear I have is the real prospect of having to birth alone. If hospital capacity is overwhelmed, so far in California, hospitals have the right to ban a birthing partner from the maternity ward. I cannot imagine doing this without my husband. In talking this over with my doctor, if my husband is barred from the hospital, the best they can do is supply me with an iPad so that he can stream the birth of our first child from home. If something goes wrong and I cannot consent to emergency medical treatment, he’ll have to consent on my behalf from home via video conference. He won’t be there to help my labor, and studies prove that a reliable birthing partner has tremendous positive effects on mothers and newborns. But the saddest of all, he won’t be allowed to hold our baby and build immediate critical bonds as a family.
Some folks have suggested I plan a home birth, and many women are looking into that option or other birthing alternatives. At this time, that’s not something I think is best suited for me and my family. And it is overwhelming that pregnant women have to even weigh or consider these choices.
Every day I hope that we can continue to flatten the curve and not overwhelm our hospitals and endanger our first responders. I hope that real federal leadership will emerge in coordinating our states’ responses (unlikely) and that American innovators will bring us testing, treatments, mitigation, or other tools to better respond to this pandemic.
As so many do, I yearn for a return to normalcy but know it’s going to be a long, rough road to get there. Most of all, I hope to have a healthy baby and will relish whenever I will get to show him or her the amazing world we live in.