It was the day after Thanksgiving when I found out I was pregnant. After the initial surprise wore off, it was time to start doing some serious calendar math. I’d be due to give birth around the first week of August. Tricky timing with my older daughter starting kindergarten in the fall and my younger daughter beginning preschool, neither with camp plans for August, but it could always be worse. I crossed my fingers that my husband could take a decent late-summer paternity leave, and we’d have a month to find our rhythm as a family of five before the controlled chaos of new school routines.
Fast forward five months, and here we are on Day 3,967 of coronavirus quarantine (feels like it, right?) with no end in sight. Women who are pregnant with their first baby are likely to feel a mix of worry and anticipation. How safe is the hospital? What will giving birth be like? What about caring for a newborn during a lockdown? And pregnancy already comes with a long laundry list of worries and concerns. Too much caffeine? Not enough exercise? Listeria! Pre-eclampsia! Toxic cat litter! Plus, every other potential pregnancy complication, both known and unknown.
My first pregnancy was smooth sailing, and I had no complications whatsoever. But I was blindsided by placenta previa in my second pregnancy, which made for a high-risk situation and a mandatory C-section three weeks ahead of my due date. This time around, I have no known problems, but now I’m 35 and, therefore, at higher risk for a host of issues, like premature birth and birth defects.
Woven around all the usual uncertainties are now the ever-changing COVID-19 complications. It feels like I’m refreshing my newsfeed every 5 minutes some days. Other times, I want to stick my head in the sand and pretend everything isn’t happening. All the while I’m hearing this ticking clock that’s counting down the days until I no longer have to carry around the added weight of pregnancy, but will then have to navigate an unknown world with a new baby.
Managing the Unknowns of Coronavirus During Pregnancy
Each prenatal appointment feels like a small risk unto itself. The doctor’s office calls me 48 hours beforehand, asks me if I’ve traveled outside the U.S., or have been in contact with anyone who has coronavirus and then instructs me to come alone to the appointment and not bring my husband or children. When I arrive, I’m given a face mask, my temperature is taken, and I’m pointed in the direction of the hand sanitizer. I take each of these precautions with gratitude, but also with a distinct increase in pressure around my chest. I use my elbow to open and close the bathroom door when I have to give a urine sample and wash my hands for what feels like the 40th time that morning. I choose my seat in the waiting room carefully, picking the one with the worst view of the television and is, therefore, the least popular.
When I return home to my family, I take off all my clothing and put it directly in the washing machine, before vigorously washing my hands yet again. I pull out my phone and update the news apps for the latest facts and figures. How likely is it that I contract the virus before giving birth? How likely is it that I already had COVID-19 this winter during one of the countless illnesses that brought me to my knees during the first trimester? What stories can I find of other pregnant women who have given birth during this pandemic? How did they do it? How are they now? What can I learn from them?
I’ve always been a diligent planner, but now I’m finding I need to track and micromanage everything from germs to groceries. I keep a careful count of yogurt pouches and toilet paper rolls. And I don’t wait until Monday morning to figure out meals and needs for the week. Still, each day is full of immediate and sometimes pressing matters (Looming deadlines! Bathroom leak! The dog broke through the fence again!), so any swirling pregnancy thoughts are put on the back burner.
Every couple of nights though, after the kids are in bed and all urgent emails are answered, I allow myself some space to have all the scary, catastrophic thoughts of what could happen: getting the virus this spring or summer, going into labor too early, giving birth alone, losing a close family member or friend.
It’s hard to tell if the constant heartburn I’m feeling is pregnancy-related or a symptom of the low-level anxiety that I’ve been batting around for months. I would probably be planning for a home birthright now if I didn’t have a C-section with my second daughter. But having a full medical team at-the-ready seems essential given the cumulative risk.
If I’m feeling optimistic and assuming all goes well, after giving birth, I’ll ask to be released from the hospital as soon as possible. I want to be at home. Home is the only place that truly feels safe.
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Whitney C. Harris is a freelance writer and NYMetroParents’ Manhattan and Westchester calendar editor. She lives in Sleepy Hollow, NY, with her husband, a toddler, a preschooler, and a dog.
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