People say nothing can prepare you for the many challenges of motherhood—they’re right. Add a pandemic to the new-parent craze and suddenly your world is turned upside down.
I wanted a beautiful, cookie-cutter Instagram pregnancy. I’d be the glowing mom updating friends and family with adorably creative weekly bump updates followed by photos of the baby shower which was planned by an extra best friend. My husband and I would surprise our families with the news in the cutest way and hold hands into every blood test, ultrasound appointment, and doctor check-up.
We’d take our time preparing the nursery, sign up for prenatal classes and make mommy friends. And our family members would be in awe every time they got the chance to feel our baby kick. I was already role-playing how I’d reluctantly accept my mother-in-law’s traditional Chinese soups and discussions about where to host our child’s 100 day celebration.
Instead, I was sitting in the parking lot alone as my husband took our infant son into the emergency room. Our baby needed bloodwork done, an ECG, an echocardiogram, and a consultation with his cardiologist. But due to precautions around Covid-19, only one parent was allowed in.
My heart ached a week into being a mom and I felt deep guilt and helplessness. I wanted to be there for my son and I wanted to be there for my husband but I couldn’t.
Pregnancy basics, COVID style
When news first hit about COVID, I panicked. But wait! I’m having a baby! What about diapers? Baby formula? I’m out of prenatal pills. And I still need a crib!
And then the pandemic made my husband stop working. As a contractor, it was very unclear when he’d receive his next paycheck or be able to start working again. Would he be able to provide for our baby?
My plan for a healthy knowledgeable pregnancy slipped away as prenatal classes were cancelled, women’s clinics closed, and birthing programs shut down. The reassurance of having my doctor physically check my blood pressure, my growing belly, and our baby’s heartbeat became rare. Visits to the doctor became mostly phone calls. It was as if we had to play doctor and it was terrifying.
My husband sort of knew how to check my blood pressure. We had an old half-functioning weight scale at home that we hoped was accurate. I’m pretty sure I felt the baby moving but as a first-time-mom, I couldn’t tell during the early months. All we could do was hope that everything was okay and hold our breath until we were allowed to visit the doctor in person.
Then it was announced that doctor visits and ultrasounds would only allow the patient in, so my husband would have to wait in the car for all of our appointments. This was especially hard because we already couldn’t see family or friends during our pregnancy. All we had was each other and now, we didn’t even have that. I felt alone laying on the ultrasound table, overwhelmed with emotion at seeing our baby shift and squirm in my belly but without my husband by my side. All he got to experience was a grainy print out afterwards.
We were forced to define for ourselves what it meant to experience something “together”. Instead of the both of us physically being with one another, squeezing each other’s hand, stumbling through difficult conversations with our doctor, and experiencing something together, “together” now meant relaying information to each other and giving each other pep talks before appointments when awaiting good or bad news from our doctor.
To be alone
It wasn’t too hard for me to let go of the idea of having the picture perfect baby shower or the fun and creative gender reveal. Although it was too bad, the events themselves didn’t matter much to me. What mattered was not being able to celebrate and spend quality time with the people we love: not feeling their comforting hugs, encouraging smiles, and affirming words during this exciting but also downright scary milestone.
It was sad to realize that my husband and I would have to forge ahead without the love and support of our family. We wouldn’t have any fun pictures or videos to look back at in 10 years of the whole family together with the baby bump. But we didn’t have much of a choice; the health and safety of our friends, family, and our baby came first.
No one could come see Baby grow. No one could feel Baby kick. No one could come over to rub my belly just for fun. During my pregnancy, physical distancing was at its peak and so much was still unknown about the virus. Our baby didn’t get to feel the love and warmth of the enormous family he has and that we had imagined would surround him. It broke our hearts.
The day Baby finally arrived, we had to decide if we should take the risk and allow family visits. Even if we did, what would the visits look like? Who was ‘worth the risk’? Who posed too much of a risk? We received endless messages from our family and friends, all while trying to learn how to care for an infant, healing physically and emotionally from the labour, and neither of us really having slept for the last 72 hours. Would family and friends understand if we didn’t want to take the risk and would they respect our decision?
The fact that I had to make a decision like this made me upset. I just gave birth to my first child, and I had to decide whether my family could visit the baby? It felt surreal and unfair. At first, we decided to not allow visits, but then caved because our hearts couldn’t handle not having family share the moment with us. But afterwards, we heard that not everyone was supportive of our initial decision, which was upsetting. In an already stressful situation, hearing others judge our situation made everything worse.
Raising a baby in a world that’s foreign to myself is daunting. Will he develop the social skills he needs? Will he ever get to run free on a playground and bump into and hug random other kids on the playground? What will daycare look like? Will he develop a strong bond with his grandparents?
To this day, my son still hasn’t met his extended family. With seniors in the family, the risk is too high.
Still, in the midst of the chaotic time, I’ve found things to be thankful for. I’m infinitely thankful that everyone I love is healthy and safe. I’m infinitely thankful to have access to some of the best healthcare in the world. And I’m infinitely thankful for all the frontline workers who risked their health and safety for the rest of us.
Although it still terrifies me to think that I’ll be raising a child into a world that even I don’t recognize, I’m infinitely thankful for my baby boy, my husband, and the unique journey we’ve shared as a new family.
People say nothing can prepare you for the many challenges of motherhood—they’re right. And new motherhood in a pandemic is an especially unique challenge. I hope that by sharing my pregnancy journey that any other first-time moms who were pregnant when the pandemic first hit can find comfort in the fact that you are not alone. I hope that my story will shed some light on how to support new mothers and what they might currently be going through.
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