Family Women's Health

Pregnant in a Pandemic, Part One

December 16, 2020

It is so weird to be pregnant right now – constantly questioning social contact outside of my household, reevaluating birth plans as hospital rules evolve, and never seeing my care provider’s faces from the nose down. But let’s be honest, it is so weird to just be a human on this planet right now, let alone carrying a growing baby inside. The coronavirus pandemic has demolished 2020 – chewed it up and spit it out, leaving a saliva-soaked pulp that once consisted of the hopes and dreams of this year. We’re going to be processing this for a long time.

When I started blogging in September, this post was at the top of my mind. Really one of the main reasons I wanted to write was to process what I, and collectively we, are going through right now. And it took me three months to work up the courage to do it. Basically my whole 2nd trimester I’ve been writing this post in my mind. So here goes, an attempt to wrap my mind around 2020 and what it means to be pregnant in a pandemic.

I started out this year in immense physical pain. I had been struggling with what was assumed to be endometriosis for a few years. “Assumed” because this disease which affects an estimated 1 in 10 women can only be diagnosed via laparoscopic surgery and biopsy. I won’t even go into the details of how frustrating the experience of being diagnosed is, because it deserves its own post. But I basically suffered from GI issues, debilitating menstrual cramps and shooting pain that would seemingly strike at random. And after years of visiting specialists and trying different dietary restrictions, I self-diagnosed based on a post I saw on Reddit that described my symptoms to a T. Fast forward to February 2020 and I was finally getting laparoscopic surgery to remove tissues growing outside of my uterus and confirm that they were in fact endometrium.

The morning of my surgery – fluffy flamingo socks and a send off from Liza, my first child.

This in itself was an act to prepare to become a mother. My husband Alex and I had decided to become parents when we got married in 2018, but I knew that my body wasn’t ready. I was constantly at odds with myself – wishing that the pain wasn’t happening, tensing up when it would happen and self-medicating to distract from reality. It wasn’t until reality became unavoidable – days on the couch, cancelled plans, severe anxiety around food – that I knew I had to find out what was going on.

I had decided to become a mother later in life. I was 30 years old and had stopped taking hormonal birth control to experiment if it would help my depression and mood swings (for me, a definite yes), and as soon as the synthetic hormones cleared my system my saga with endo began and simultaneously I started seeing babies everywhere. I remember a poignant moment when I took photos at a friend’s wedding shower, and was editing the photos a few days later. My friend’s cousin was there with her baby, and I was looking at a photo of her holding him, tears leaking out of the corners of my eyes. My desire to become a mom made itself fully known that day. I just had to face my own reality before I could get there.

2020 was going to be our year – buying our first house and starting our family. Laparoscopic surgery for endometriosis was considered an elective surgery, but I was able to get mine the week before the hospital started postponing them due to Covid-19. The surgery was a success. My brilliant surgeon located several tissue growths, removed them and officially diagnosed me with endo based on the biopsy. While recovering, I cruised the endo blogs and forums for post-lap tips and felt twinges of guilt as I read post after post of women in pain who had waited sometimes years for a surgery appointment only to see it postponed or cancelled due to the pandemic.

Our strange new reality…

And that’s a small part of the untold toll of this pandemic. The numbers we know – the rising death toll, the multiplying positive cases – are staggering enough. But what about the uncounted numbers? The postponed surgeries, the delayed doctor visits, the milestone birthdays cancelled, the celebrations of life downgraded into zoom calls, the final days of a great-grandparent’s life spent alone or the precious early months of a little one’s life spent thinking that grandparents exist inside phone and tablet screens.

I’m not trying to debate the need for or efficacy of social distancing. We were dropping like flies, filling ICUs, we had to do something and in the absence of testing availability and extreme European-style lockdowns, we were told to stay home if we could, to stay away from each other as much as possible, to only do what was “essential.” I get it. But it doesn’t take away from the collective trauma we’ve endured this year, the temporary measures that have become our new normal: isolated and uncertain.

Six weeks after my surgery, my doctors gave me the go ahead to start trying for a baby. Alex and I now faced a new dilemma. After years of debate and careful consideration leading to our decision to become parents, we now had to consider if it was worth it to endure the anxiety and potential dangers of carrying a child to term during Covid or if it would be smarter to wait another year or so until the pandemic was in a different, more controlled state. This was April 2020. The first wave had crested and hospitals in Italy and New York were starting to get a handle on it. We were both working from home indefinitely, but there was still an air of “temporary” around everything – that life would go back to normal relatively soon.

This was 3 days after we found out we were pregnant and no one else knew yet.

Looking back on it, I wonder why it felt like that. Maybe because we didn’t want to accept how drastically things had changed, or maybe because the American approach was to always be looking ahead to a time when the economy recovered, even if there wasn’t a clear path as to how that would happen.

Ultimately, we decided to go for it. Mostly because we had no idea how long it would take to become pregnant. Having endo had given me a cautious outlook on the whole process. I was rapidly approaching my mid-thirties and I knew that if we waited a year to start trying it could be two years or more before we got pregnant, and three years before we became parents.

The world felt like a scary and uncertain place, but we were certain of our desire to be parents and felt that we had enough personal stability to justify the risk. Our positions of privilege definitely played a part – having jobs that transitioned to working remotely from home, and having savings we’d built up to buy a house. But, like any big decision, it still felt like jumping off the side of a cliff into a pool of blue tropical water. The initial shock of the decision while hanging in midair, followed by the release of having a direction, plunging into the warm, comforting waters of certainty during uncertain times.

Three months later we were staring at a “Pregnant” sign on a Clearblue test, and reality started to sink in…

Read Part Two of this post.

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