Thoughts on being in the last trimester during the COVID-19 pandemic...with potential coronavirus symptoms...and a toddler to care for
About a month ago I was sitting in the waiting room at a birth center for my prenatal appointment and thinking about all I had to do to prepare for the birth of my son. The to-do list seemed endless, as did the concerns I had about how my 3 year-old daughter would adjust to the coming changes. Little did I know that in just a couple weeks my worries would increase 100 fold.
As I write this I’m now 30 weeks pregnant and the “peak” of the pandemic in the United States is unknown, although many have attempted to predict it. About three weeks ago, my daughter began complaining of an upset stomach and then came down with a fever and a cough. I remained healthy for most of her illness (which lasted about a week) and then I was struck with what I might describe as, “the worst cold I’ve ever had” if we weren’t in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, I don’t know what to call it. I don’t know what it is. I got a fever (not high enough to hurt the baby I’m carrying) and a deep dry cough that after two weeks, is still hanging on. Did I call the doctor? Yes. Did I call the midwife? Yes. Did I call the hotline and try to get a test? Yes. But my symptoms were not quite “severe” enough to get a test and I was advised to stay home and let my doctor know if things got worse. Tomorrow-April 4th 2020- my family will be in self isolation for three weeks. Personally I have not left the neighborhood in that time. Just short walks around the block to get fresh air and exercise since I am, after all, pregnant and due in 10 weeks.
In that time I’ve had a lot of time to think, plan, cry, worry, talk myself in and out of being worried about giving birth alone and try my best to practice self-compassion while caring for my family and myself. I’ve coughed my way through sleepless nights tending to a feverish toddler, prepared an endless string of meals, learned to clean on whole new level and struggled to take care of my personal needs (as most parents do even under the best circumstances). I’ve spent my days coloring, coming up with activities and crafts for a bored and intellectually insatiable toddler, building indoor obstacle courses etc.
All the while trying to figure out where I should give birth- at the birth center as planned? At home? What would be safer at this point? How could anyone know what the situation will be in early June? Will I be well by then? (It appears I am slowly getting better so my hopeful answer is “yes”). All the while watching the news and scrolling through my Facebook feed at nap time, trying to find something reassuring, but instead reading about increasing COVID-19 cases and death tolls. With a blanket over my head at night so I don’t wake my daughter I spend precious time that should be spent sleeping, checking for the latest articles about hospital policy (understandably) tightening up visitor policies. This ends up leaving some women facing the possibility of birthing without their partner or support person there.
Would that be me?
I can’t help but see the fear growing among the pregnant people in my online groups and feel deeply that we are all facing the same thing; we are bringing a helpless baby into the world in a potentially dangerous environment, at a most uncertain and strange time in history. However seriously one does or doesn’t view this disease, it cannot be denied that how it is being handled is very much reshaping the birth and postpartum experience on just about every level.
I admit that I’ve been at a loss at times as to how to talk to people about how I’m “doing”. (Especially when I was coughing every five minutes- sort of joking but not really). I’m surviving. I’m grateful to be experiencing milder symptoms as time goes on. I’m privileged to live in a home where I can stay safe and where my staying home can keep others safe as well. After all, in more densely populated countries, “social distancing” is often a privilege of the wealthy. My partner is home and helping me physically and emotionally. I have the comfort of an aggressively affectionate dog with no boundaries who doesn’t remotely worry about his level of distance, socially or otherwise. I have choices. I may not always like them, but I acknowledge that I have some choices in every moment. Many times I choose to follow my worry down the rabbit hole but when I utilize my practice (I’m a long-time meditator, a yoga teacher of about 9 years, and practitioner of yoga and Buddhism for about 20 years now. I’m also in long term recovery from alcoholism- sober 17 years) I find moments of calm amongst the chaos, just long enough to get me through the next article I read, the next figurative and literal obstacle course, the next piece of “breaking news” that threatens to break my spirit.
Yes- I am pregnant in my third trimester during a pandemic. I am sick and have been caring for the sick. I am feeling my baby move in my body, hoping he is safe and that I am doing all I can to keep him safe. I am attending my prenatal appointments over the phone instead of hearing the reassuring thump-thump of my baby’s heartbeat.
Yes- I am self isolating instead of planning baby showers and postpartum family reunions. I am FaceTime-ing, zoom-ing, phoning, emailing and texting, and I am grateful to have the technology to reach out. (And another upside, for once, no strangers are attempting to touch my growing belly!) I am also grateful for my practice for gifting me with the ability to reach within and be able to turn toward the difficult emotions that are coming up for me and either choose to be with them or to simply say, “I see you, and I will come back when I am able.”
Yes- I am apart, but I am not alone.
In these times we are more aware than ever of our interconnectedness, of our need to co-regulate with other beings, of our capacity for empathy, our smallness, our sense of survival, our ego, our tendency to fight, fly or freeze. We have all begun to know ourselves in a different way than before, even if we aren’t conscious of that knowing yet. I believe that these new ways of relating to self and other are planting seeds for a cultural shift; as we confront this “novel virus” amongst our family, friends, neighbors and strangers, we consider others in a “novel” way. I believe many of us are creating a re-connection with, and appreciation of, the natural world.
This incubation period (mine more literal than some others) allows opportunity for introspection, and for new skills of compassion and self-compassion to develop, for interest in hobbies to grow and for the true nature of our relationships -both intimate and remote- to reveal themselves.
Does that mean that we should all just “be positive” and not acknowledge the individual and collective trauma that we are all inevitably experiencing in this ever-changing environment? Should we all look at this an an opportunity to be “productive”? No, of course not. There is a grieving process for a previous way of life that, in many ways, must happen.
If you are pregnant and feeling overwhelmed, you are not alone. Maybe you are grieving the loss of your baby shower or birth plan, or wondering what giving birth will look like now that nothing is as it was several weeks ago. Perhaps you went from planning a hospital birth to a home birth or vice versa, due to the unpredictable nature of this virus and of pregnancy in general. There are already many unknowns when one is expecting a baby, and throwing a pandemic into the mix complicates things beyond measure.
The things that I can control can seem small in comparison to the things I can’t – but one thing I can control is how I respond, (as opposed to simply reacting) to the emotions that come up and the virus-related information I hear or seek out.
As I go to bed every night and rest my hand on my belly, I feel everything from hope and excitement to anger and grief and even despair. All these feelings are messengers. I am not always so open to all of them, as it is natural to resist the pain of reality and go into thinking, planning and worrying to avoid feeling. However, I am trying to welcome the message each feeling holds for me and be open to receiving the kernel of wisdom that I know lies within every emotion that flows through me. Wisdom and compassion – the two wings of practice- are what I need to get me to the moment I meet my son. I stand in solidarity with all the people having to make sacrifices and hard choices when it comes to the health and safety of their families. I see you.
If you are interested in mindfulness practices that may help, please see www.beginwithbreath.com for free meditation and movement resources, and a link to our YouTube channel and our blog. Please feel welcome to subscribe to receive updates about how to naturally boost immunity and decrease stress at this time.
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