A Tale of Pregnancy and Birth During a Pandemic

Pregnancy itself hasn’t always been an easy topic for me as I have dealt with infertility since my husband and I began trying to have children. It took 2.5 years, multiple hormone treatments and tests, and three rounds of IUI before we got pregnant with our first child.

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You would think that I would be less anxious the second time around. After all, I had been through this all before. Unfortunately, I was just as worried this time, and maybe even more. I still didn’t want to wash clothes, bottles or blankets until the baby came, due to an immense worry that I would jinx it and lose the baby somehow. I joined a support group for “pregnancy after infertility” with a focus on anxiety as we were all struggling with anxiety regarding our pregnancies (a support group that moved online due to COVID-19). My anxiety: I wanted something (my two children) so desperately and did so much work to have it (them) that I was unable to trust it would stay. “Something will go wrong. This is all a dream. The other shoe is going to drop any second now.”

This was all before March 12th when everything changed. March 12th was the last time I went to work, the last time my son went to school (six months of staying with a toddler 24/7 is … interesting), the last “normal” day we had. I was almost 23 weeks pregnant (just over halfway done) when my pregnancy was co-opted by a global pandemic. My husband and I stopped leaving our house, except for his bi-weekly grocery trips. Even then, he would do a “full decontamination” protocol. He left non-perishable food in his car, Clorox wiped the perishable foods, stripped down in our laundry room, washed the clothes he wore in public, went straight to the shower following the path I cleared for him, and kept away from our toddler until he had fully cleaned himself. We sprayed all packages with Lysol, wore masks walking our dog around our cul-de-sac, and refused to see anyone. We even made our parents self-quarantine for two weeks before driving the 10+ hours to Michigan, and yes, we made them drive instead of flying. (In our minds, if they flew, they would definitely get sick.) We asked that during their road trip they would avoid stopping for food, wipe the gas pumps, and wear glove-and-masks outside at all times.

News reports in April were filled with stories of death, overflowing Emergency Rooms, ICUs, ventilator shortages, and so much speculation about a virus that nobody knew anything about. As it became clear how easily this disease could spread, more and more restrictions were put in place. Stories came out about hospitals not letting laboring women have anyone with them in the delivery room except for doctors and nurses they didn’t know—no doula, no family, and not even a spouse. Despite multiple reassurances that St. Joe’s wasn’t going to do that, they did restrict the number of people allowed in the delivery room to one. Also, they pushed the normal two-week appointments that gave me so much reassurance and relief in my first pregnancy to six-week appointments. (Side note: this is less frequent than when you are in your first trimester, much less about to enter your third.) I am still thankful for this; I heard that many other pregnant women had all their prenatal appointments moved to telemedicine.

As you can tell, the pandemic didn’t do anything to dispel my anxiety. Once the pandemic was declared, I researched everything anybody knew about pregnancy and COVID-19 or newborns and COVID-19 (because it is a brand new disease there was basically nothing), and what might happen to our growing family. I obsessed over finding every possible thing that could go wrong, a sentiment I discovered was common with many of the members of my support group. Every time I went to an appointment, I thought of the dangerous virus ravaging the entire world that could kill or seriously harm me, my husband, my toddler, or my unborn child. And I had to be tested for COVID-19 upon admittance for delivery; if I tested positive, I would be “strongly encouraged” to quarantine, to subject my newborn child to life without his mother for two weeks while someone outside of our home cared for him.

There are many things I feel silly being upset about. We had planned a “babymoon” (something we hadn’t done the first time around) to Hawaii for May that we had to cancel. Due to my struggle, I wanted us to celebrate this miracle as much as we had celebrated our first, but I could no longer look forward to my baby shower. We were going to get professional maternity and newborn photos done since we hadn’t done it with our first child. We knew this would be our last pregnancy, and we wanted to go all out. I know it seems silly, but I still feel the need to justify every extravagance I wanted because getting pregnant hadn’t come that easily to us. Well, COVID-19 had different plans.

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We adapted, though. We made do. My best friend from college put together a virtual shower for me. Some of the ladies from my church did the same. It wasn’t exactly what I had dreamed of, but it was so wonderful that they wanted to celebrate our little boy. A friend who had some professional photography background did a socially distanced maternity photo shoot for us, and thanks to my iPhone’s “portrait mode,” I shot some really great photos of the first days of our little boy’s life. We didn’t do our original plan of “going all out,” but our village came together and went “all out” for us. As for the “babymoon”, I guess we will have to replace it with an exotic trip next year to celebrate ten years of marriage.

The day before my due date, my husband went to the doctor for stomach troubles. They immediately scheduled him for two COVID-19 tests: rapid (15 minutes) and normal (48 hours). They informed him that 20% of negative results from the rapid test are actually positives and advised him to self-isolate until he got the normal results back, even if the rapid test showed a negative. They had to give him the rapid test again when his results came back as “inconclusive.” While he was receiving his multitude of tests, my in-laws were making the 10-hour drive to Michigan from North Carolina to help once the baby arrived. While he waited in the long line to get tested again, we scrambled to figure out how to self-isolate my husband from his parents. We were too afraid to acknowledge that if his results came back positive, I would be in labor by myself and would again be “strongly encouraged” to not see my newborn for the first two weeks.

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I am happy to report that it all worked out. After the emotional rollercoaster of my last few days of pregnancy, our son was born happy and healthy with both parents present. For those who were wondering: YES, my husband and I had to wear masks the entire time I was there, from entering the hospital to leaving (including while laboring, pushing, during skin to skin, recovery and even in the mother/baby unit anytime someone came into our room).

My major takeaway from all of this is that it could have been so much worse. I was able to deliver with my husband present, my baby is healthy, my whole family is healthy, I got a ton of quality time with my toddler before our second child was born, and my village of loved ones came together to give me the best pregnancy they could during a global pandemic. In the grand scheme of things, there is a small group of women who will be able to say they were pregnant and gave birth during a pandemic. Stories will be told about us, and history will tell of all of us moms who parented during this unprecedented time. Our children will have the great “fun fact” for get-to-know-you games of “I was born during a global pandemic”.

To all the women out there currently pregnant and about to deliver, this is my message to you: you can do this! Is this what you imagined when you first got pregnant? Of course not, but you can survive this. To all the women out there who are moms, you can also do this. We are doing this right now. It’s not going to be “normal,” but the secret we’ve been living with for ages before the pandemic hit is that “normal” has never existed.