When we found out we were pregnant Alex and I were ecstatic, and also terrified. Common emotions for new parents, I would assume, but my feelings were clouded with something else: doubt. Did we make the right decision not to wait? How would we get through the next nine months in a pandemic? Would we go without some of the traditional support systems available to expecting parents? I was consumed with researching all there was to know about Covid and pregnancy. And in July 2020, there wasn’t much to know.
Some preliminary studies indicated that there was a slightly higher risk of preterm labor in patients who had contracted the virus, but there wasn’t a lot of information about risks in the first trimester or any information about increased risk of miscarriage. They had, however, confirmed that the virus could not be passed from mother to fetus. There were still strict hospital restrictions in place: only one partner present at the birth and if the mother tested positive for Covid when admitted, she would have to wear a mask during labor and potentially be separated from the baby after birth.
There was also another piece of interesting data that had been collected since the pandemic began in March. While there was a slight increase in preterm deliveries in patients who tested positive for the virus, many countries saw the overall number of preterm deliveries decrease. There wasn’t enough formal research to indicate a cause, but that didn’t stop several social scientists from drawing a hypothesis that these numbers were due to more women staying at home during this time, whether because they had started to work from home or had recently become unemployed. Many Americans have lost their job this year, especially those in service industries like dining and travel. But many women have also chosen to leave their jobs or reduce working hours to care for loved ones – filling the gaps left by the virus in elder and child care.
There was so much to unpack here. Reading these statistics made me think a lot about my position in society, and how difficult the process of starting a family can be, even in the best of times. How was it fair that I had access to great healthcare and was able to work from home, while other pregnant women who worked in some jobs deemed “essential” (I particularly thought of grocery store and food supply chain workers) were putting their lives on the line by continuing to work, many doing so with a woeful lack of benefits like sick leave, hazard pay and health insurance?
One of the biggest takeaways of this year has been the deepening realization that we are all connected in an interwoven society and economy. Our actions affect each other and we literally rely on people who are barely paid a living wage in order to feed ourselves and our families. So many times this year I’ve looked across a service counter or cash register and met eyes with someone working one of these jobs, only to feel a flood of emotions rising up inside of me. Usually it’s a mix of shame and pride – shame at being able to stay home and pride that we are all trying to do our part to get through this collective trauma. Sometimes I just feel anger. Anger at a system that values money over people, that prioritizes businesses over schools, daycares and nursing homes, and that leaves so many individuals left to grapple with impossible decisions.
In August, Alex and I traveled to North Carolina to see my parents, who drove up from Florida. We stayed in a cabin in the mountains outside of Asheville, soaking up nature and the company of family we hadn’t seen since last Christmas. Keeping my pregnancy secret from my mom during the first trimester was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but it turned out to be worth it after seeing her reaction in person: the initial shock and then the tears of joy. And to be able to receive a real life hug afterward, it sealed the experience in my memory in a way that a video call never could.
After springing this joyous news on my parents, that week my family also received some difficult news. My cousin in Alabama, the only daughter of my mom’s sister had been battling Covid for the past 10 days. She was 50 years old, with chronic heart disease that placed her in the most vulnerable category of Covid patients. She passed away while we were in North Carolina. My aunt gave us the news, describing a heart-wrenching scene of a nurse holding up an iPad to her daughter as a ventilator assisted her breathing.
One precious soul was leaving the earth as a new one started to enter. Everything about that week encapsulated this year for me. How could I honor my own joy in the midst of overwhelming tragedy? In recent years, I had already started to think about life as a long roundabout hike, with ups and downs, mundane parts and magnificent ones, more about the journey than the destination. But this year has really driven that vision home for me.
Deciding to create a new life, to bring a new person into existence and place them in this world is not an easy one to make. I pondered it for years before deciding it was worthwhile to me. I realized that existing, while devastating at times, is ultimately such a rich and beautiful experience. Discovering simple pleasures like eating and sleeping, soaking in the embrace of loved ones, witnessing the intricate patterns of nature, having your heart broken for the first time, watching the sun set on the ocean, missing someone so much it aches, and laughing until you gasp for breath. This is the gift I give to my son. Even in the cruel, uncertain reality we’re living in, I can’t wait to see what he does with it.