My husband and I were only eight days into the new year when we found out I was pregnant. We were celebrating eight years of marriage, and we both felt ready to welcome children into our family.
I often think about those first five days after we learned the news; and with the context of the events that would unfold over the next few months, I wish we had celebrated more during that time. Shortly after I found out that I was pregnant, waves of nausea overwhelmed me. I had heard of morning sickness as a common pregnancy symptom, but I had not realized that these bouts of nausea were not limited to morning hours only. I experienced what I refer to as round-the-clock sickness. Then something unusual began happening to my taste buds. I started to experience a change that caused all foods to taste unpleasant. I lost my appetite and was barely able to eat anything aside from fruits for weeks.
Amid the physical, emotional, and biological changes I was enduring, COVID-19 concerns and news coverage began to increase. The week before my home state of Maryland went into lockdown, I traveled with my work team to a conference in Florida. Many of us did not yet realize the severity of what we had been hearing about COVID-19. My mom, a nurse practitioner, made me promise to wear a mask during my time traveling that first week in March 2020. I observed that there were not many, if any, wearing masks at my point of departure in Baltimore, or my point of arrival in Orlando.
What Should Have Been
A week after we returned from our trip, Maryland went into lockdown. As an introvert, I wanted to be happy for the time to slow down; however, the difficulties I was experiencing as a result of my pregnancy left me feeling isolated, and I felt myself slipping into depression. A mental-health professional followed up with me after a survey I completed at one of my prenatal appointments. I was nauseated all the time, did not enjoy the foods I was able to eat, had low energy because of all the weight I had lost from my limited diet, and above all, I wasn’t able to see the people I love. Friends checked in with me regularly by way of texting and calling, but it wasn’t quite the same as seeing them and being with them in person. My mom, sister, and I spent hours every day on video chat. This was not how I had envisioned them preparing to meet their grandson and nephew.
At a time in my life when I felt an overwhelming need for community, I sometimes found myself alone. I struggled between wanting to be alone to deal with my sadness and wanting to be with friends and family. My sister reached out to me one day at the beginning of June and told me she was planning a family get-together on Zoom for the first Sunday of the month. When referencing the event a second time, she tried to casually mention that I should wear something nice. Suspicion led me to believe that I was about to be the recipient of a virtual baby shower. I was right. When I logged on, my aunts, cousins, parents, and sister greeted me with, “Surprise!” I wasn’t surprised, but my eyes welled with tears anyway, because at that point, seeing those familiar faces, even though they were behind a screen, gave me the emotional boost I needed.
One of my best friends then shared that she wanted to host a shower for me so that our church family could share their support and love, and so on the last Sunday of June my husband and I arrived at our church for a drive-thru baby shower.
Pregnancy during COVID led to several unique experiences. I was never one to make detailed and specific plans, except for my career. So, when I found out I was pregnant, I started from the ground up with my research. I soon realized that most of the usual prenatal activities and preparations would look quite different because of COVID restrictions. My husband wasn’t allowed to accompany me to medical appointments, so I went by myself to visits with my midwife and would call my husband to give him a summary of the appointment. I went to ultrasound visits by myself and would sit alone in the exam room, waiting for the doctor to return to tell me whether the baby was still healthy. Those were stressful moments. Childbirth and lactation classes were all now virtual, and so I found myself staring into the living rooms of other expecting mothers as we learned together about active labor, how to breathe through contractions, how to use a birth ball, and even how to help our babies latch correctly for breastfeeding.
Perhaps one of the most unusual occurrences during this process took place in the labor-and-delivery room. One of my good friends shared the difference between her two labor experiences and noted that hiring a doula made her second labor experience significantly better. A doula is a nonmedical professional who provides emotional and physical assistance in the few weeks leading up to labor and in the moments during and after labor. I researched local doulas but soon found out that hospitals were allowing only one support person to accompany mothers during labor. It was just going to be my husband and me. I soon learned, however, that some doulas were offering virtual services. My husband and I felt the value of having a doula, even if through virtual visits only, was worth it, and we found a doula that we loved. In the labor room, my doula invited my husband to join a Zoom conference on my laptop, and she began coaching me through the birthing process, helping me to remain focused through labor, and even providing instructions on when and how to push. The experience seemed surreal.
Apart from a close friend who worked as a nurse at the hospital where I delivered my son, we were not allowed visitors because of COVID restrictions. When we returned home, my landlady was waiting with gifts and cheers for us and took pictures of our upgraded family. Postpartum life with a newborn during COVID holds just as many unique features as did the prenatal period. During my son’s six-month checkup, he seemed noticeably uncomfortable and hesitant as I placed him on the exam table. He kept looking to me, perhaps for affirmation that it was going to be OK. I tried as much as possible to smile with my eyes because he couldn’t see the smile behind my mask, but it was challenging.
On Sunday, I get to hold my son in my arms and celebrate my first Mother’s Day. As I reflect on this past year, the bumps along the way now seem like minor inconveniences compared to the immense joy I experience from being a mother to Warrick. Every day I celebrate the gift that God gave to me in the form of my son. I am grateful for the community of supporters everywhere, who surrounded families like mine and individuals like me during this challenging time. Thank you for the texts, calls, video check-ins, drive-bys, socially distanced walks, meal preps, virtual game nights, and meaningful ways that you adopted to continue to express your love for those people in your lives who needed you the most during this pandemic.