“A pit of anxiety in the back of my chest”: what pregnancy looks like during a COVID-19 pandemic

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Exactly a year ago, I was on a flight to Toronto from Beijing after a reporting mission to Shenzhen, China.

When I got home after 1 p.m. in a middle seat, where my main concern was that my neighbor was leaning on the armrest, I started planning my June wedding again, a celebration with 140 guests, almost half of whom flew to the event.

None of these events would now be possible during the time of the coronavirus, travel restrictions and social distancing. It makes me jump every time I realize how much the situation has changed in a year, especially since I am now in my third trimester and preparing to have a baby during a pandemic.

It’s weird to announce a pregnancy in a press article, but hey, this whole pandemic is ruining everything. Plus, it saves me from having to organize a photo shoot for an Instagram revelation.

A fast-spreading virus adds another layer to the classic anxieties that accompany a first pregnancy. So far, it seems that pregnant women are no more likely to contract the virus than other populations, according to global health officials, but it is too early to say how it could affect infants. Preliminary reports show risks of premature birth for women who contract COVID-19 during their pregnancies, so forgive me for feeling a little paranoid.

COVID-19 has already reshaped the way Canadian women give birth in hospitals and how we will navigate our first weeks with our new roommates.

Before reacting to the new restrictions on labor service (spoiler alert: yikes), I want to recognize women around the world who give birth in much more precarious circumstances, whose safety is threatened or not in the event of a pandemic. I also want to emphasize my respect and gratitude for all the health workers who put themselves in danger by going to work every day. I want to do my part to help keep them and hospitals safe for those in need of care, including vulnerable infants. But I would be lying if I said that the following restrictions did not leave me with a hole of anxiety in the back of my chest.

I can’t imagine having to tell our families to stay away from our first baby

Currently, many hospitals in the Greater Toronto Area where I live allow only one support person during labor and delivery for women who do not have COVID-19. It means that your doula or your partner. Your husband or your mother. If your support person has symptoms of COVID-19, they are not allowed to enter. If your test is positive, no one is allowed to accompany you.

In some COVID-19 hotspots, such as New York, some hospitals prohibited partners, period. Women deliver on their own until the governor issues a decree on March 28, requiring hospitals to allow a partner in the labor and delivery room.

Here in Canada, things haven’t gone bad yet – yet. Support people are not allowed out of the room once they enter. Some hospitals limit the length of stay for support persons after birth, giving them a window of several hours. No visitors are allowed to visit the baby in the hospital.

As for the visitors, once you get home, well, sorry, grandmother and grandfather. Doctors do not recommend any visitors for at least two weeks. Instead, parents present their babies to video chats or, when at home, hold them in front of windows so that family members can see through the glass.

Of course, all of these recommendations are fluid and subject to change at any time.

My pre-pandemic concerns now look cute. They included navigating the wide range of essential advice on babies and pregnancy, what to eat, how to tell your boss which stroller to buy (seriously, how complicated are they than cars?).

As the June deadline approached, my questions focused on work and life afterwards. Should I hire a doula? How long should my parents and parents-in-law come to visit me after birth? Can I keep my mother trapped in our guest room for several months to help us with the baby?

The pandemic could radically change the answers to these questions and raise many more.

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People keep telling me that parenting is a constant process of giving up control. It may have been naive, but I felt quite zen about the birth, knowing that plans are often thrown out the window if an emergency Cesarean is needed or if the baby arrives too fast to get an epidural.

But I never imagined giving birth without my husband by my side. And I can’t imagine having to tell our families to stay away from our first baby, the first grandson of my in-laws, for weeks or more. A little conspiracy.

I try not to focus too much on these possibilities, and not just for fear that the Internet will warn me that stress is bad for the baby. Rather, I try, with varying degrees of success, to keep hoping that social distancing measures will work and that things will be closer to normal when the baby arrives.

Above all, I focus on what I am grateful for: a loving partner who volunteered on YouTube “How to deliver a baby” in case we need a home birth. A safe house. Family and friends who support us, even from afar. Healthy pregnancy (so far, knock on wood). A job that allows me to work from home. Living in a country where I have access to world class medical care and maternity leave.

It’s a long list, and I recognize my luck and privilege.

Yet being pregnant during a pandemic makes me feel even more exposed during an already vulnerable period. So please, for us all pregnant women struggling with the added uncertainty that this virus poses during one of the most precarious and yet most significant moments in life, help us flatten the curve. And not just because I don’t trust my husband’s DIY delivery skills.

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