Many people have expressed fear and anxiety regarding pregnancy during a pandemic, but I would like to offer a different perspective: How pregnancy has helped me with living through the pandemic.
Accepting a new reality
The hardest part of my first trimester was accepting all the changes that my body was going through. The major symptoms I experienced were bloating, food aversion with some nausea, and fatigue. Because of the bloating I could not fit into any of my clothes by the second month of pregnancy. While I have always gone to bed relatively early (around 10-11PM), I started becoming extremely fatigued by as early as 7 and would struggle to even stay awake past 9 on many days. My diet also became mostly fruits, vegetables, and yogurt, and mostly carbs. The food aversion coupled with the overwhelming fatigue made cooking almost impossible on most days, but delivery from restaurants was even less appealing than usual.
While I had heard of much worse experiences suffered by other women (and I was grateful for the relatively mild symptoms I had), it was nevertheless difficult adjusting to these changes initially. I remember feeling incredibly useless and barely functional; the guilt and frustration of feeling so uncomfortable, physically limited, and generally unproductive was overwhelming. It took me weeks, maybe months, to mentally adjust and accept that life was going to be different whether I liked it or not. Once I accepted this new reality, it was like a fog suddenly lifted, and I found a new capacity to find joy and the grace to deal with whatever challenges came next.
The second trimester is typically considered the “honeymoon” period of a pregnancy with the least amount of discomfort, and it would have been for us except for the results we received during the anatomy scan. We were told that our baby showed signs of a rare birth defect. We had many questions and got very few answers, and the outcome ranged from no observable symptoms to life-threatening disabilities. In addition to processing this news, we had to make some difficult decisions based on very limited information. After series of tests and additional follow-ups, we were finally given the good news that everything looked good and normal for our baby.
The months between receiving the initial news and ultimately being in the clear were scary and laden with difficult moments, especially in the beginning. Having emerged on the other side, I have found myself with more courage in the face of uncertainty, tolerance for the unexpected, and confidence in managing risks — all of which have been invaluable in helping me cope with living through this pandemic.
Like most pregnant women, I had a plan and a vision for labor and delivery. However, I also took to heart that the only thing more important than having a plan is accepting that things rarely go according to plan. Having a vision can be helpful, but accepting that surprises and changes are inevitable is critical. A month ago I thought I could not possibly be more prepared, having thought about and put in place every imaginable support system for labor and delivery and postpartum recovery and childcare. In a matter of weeks, my perinatal therapist switched jobs (I had started seeing a therapist early during my pregnancy with the specific intention of building a strong relationship with a therapist that would hopefully provide additional protection against any potential mental health challenges during or after pregnancy, should they arrive.), our postpartum plans changed a handful of times, and we still don’t know if our doula will be allowed in the hospital with us. All of these changes and the continuing uncertainty of what tomorrow might bring are challenging to deal with, but that is also a facet of pregnancy. Even without a pandemic, pregnancy is fraught with risks and uncertainties. So instead of feeling more anxious and afraid because of the pandemic, I have chosen to leverage the strengths I have gained from my pregnancy to help me through this pandemic.
Prioritizing health and family
I have always been a fairly health-conscious person, but being pregnant definitely motivated me to be even more conscientious about protecting and improving both physical and mental well being. Many of the risks faced by pregnant women are due to the weakened immune system, and I imagine this is one of the causes of increased anxiety for many pregnant women right now. Boosting my immune system is something I have been working on for almost the entirety of my pregnancy now, and I will admit that it’s not always easy. Dragging myself to the gym has never been easy, and it’s especially challenging when I feel tired or uncomfortable half the time. I go through a lot of internal dialogue and usually end up convincing myself to go by reminding myself that I have never regretted going afterwards. Stress and general emotional management can also be challenging, but I made progress with the help of my therapist and continue to do so with self-guided learning and reading. Even sleep, which I have never had problems with, has become difficult during these last couple of months. Luckily I have been able to stay clear of under-eye circles with the help of body pillows and naps. While nothing can fully protect us from the Coronavirus, or any other illness, I try to do what I can to give myself and the baby the best chance at staying healthy.
My mom has been staying with us for almost three months now and will probably be here for at least another month (I hope anyway). This is by far the longest time we have spent together since before I left for college, and it was entirely unexpected (but pleasantly so!). What was initially planned as a 10 day stay quickly turned much longer as the result of the pandemic. If someone had asked me last year how I would feel about having my mom live with us for several months at a time, I would have felt ambivalent. While my mom and I have always been close, we have also had our fair share of difficult times over the last decade or so. Like many others’, my twenties was a tumultuous time filled with lots of ups and downs and incredible growths in many areas, but it also meant my mom and I grew apart in some ways and struggled at times to bridge our differences. I didn’t really believe in the cliche that motherhood can bring mothers and daughters closer, but I can attest that in many unexpected ways, my pregnancy definitely has done so for me and my mom.
The social isolation as a result of this pandemic can be challenging for anyone, but it has also made me even more grateful for the ability to be safe and together with the two individuals I am closest with. After my mom’s return trip to China got cancelled due to the pandemic, she debated whether to take an unpaid leave and stay here with us for longer. I will always remember the remark she made: what is the point of making all that money, if not to spend it with the people we care about the most? Financial independence has always meant a great deal to my mom, so I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for her to take an unpaid leave during such uncertain times. This is not the first time my mom has made significant sacrifice for my sake, and it probably won’t be the last. As I stand at the brink of motherhood myself, the poignancy of this lesson in love is felt more keenly than ever. The pandemic has impacted countless families all over the world. Many have suffered heartbreaking losses, still more are separated for an unknown amount of time, and some of us are lucky enough to be with at least some of our family members. As we weather through this pandemic, I hope we can all hold our loved ones a little more, a little tighter, if not in our arms, at least in our hearts.