My husband and I walked into the hospital for my first-semester ultrasound as the world was shuttering around us. It was March 17, 2020. In the week prior, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, the N.B.A abruptly ended its season, Tom Hanks announced he was among the infected and toilet paper had all but disappeared from store shelves.
The world was preparing for a lockdown. I was hoping for a healthy pregnancy.
I picked March 17 — St. Patrick’s Day — for my third first-semester ultrasound in 15 months hoping the date would bring me some luck. Up to 25 percent of all clinically recognized pregnancies end in miscarriage, but few women — 1 percent — experience repeated miscarriages. After a partial molar pregnancy — a “genetic accident” that requires six months of blood tests to monitor for the development of a rare cancer — and a spontaneous miscarriage — just “one of those things” — I thought I could use the help.
When the technician showed me the flickering signs of a new life growing inside me that day, the pandemic briefly didn’t matter. The world outside the four walls of my exam room all but disappeared. I was going to be a mother.
I still have that feeling of joy tinged with relief every time I feel the baby kick, but I can’t forget what’s going on outside. The pandemic is an ever-present reality for me, as I know it is for many other women navigating pregnancy during a global crisis. The anxiety that gripped the nation in the first few weeks of March, as we collectively struggled to manage our lives while a novel virus was spreading unchecked, has not subsided for me.
My world remains much smaller than it did before March — and I don’t expect it to open back up until well into 2021.
The CDC includes pregnant people among those who are at “an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19” and “at increased risk for other adverse outcomes, such as preterm birth.” The risk of contracting a disease that has infected more than 6.5 million people and killed nearly 200,000 in the United States alone does not, for me, outweigh the potential benefits of taking part in activities that I would have considered mundane six months ago.
While economic and social pressures have led states to loosen the restrictions they put in place to stop the spread of the coronavirus months ago, the U.S. still does not have adequate testing available to manage spread among asymptomatic carriers. We still do not have effective contract tracing, and we still do not have a national plan to deal with this virus.
I’ve had to become comfortable with a one-word answer to the limited number of invitations I have received since March: no. Skipping a few social engagements doesn’t feel like a great sacrifice to protect my health and the health of my unborn child. But I’m not just missing family dinners and gatherings with friends: I’m missing the pregnancy I had planned for and I will not have.
As my due date draws closer, the reality of an unchecked global pandemic has become even more stark. My husband and I will both be wearing masks when I deliver our first child. We cannot welcome visitors at the hospital. We will not be welcoming many visitors when we return home.
The first two times I was pregnant, I never saw or heard a heartbeat. I was devastated by both of the losses, but I often asked myself: Why am I so sad about something I never actually had? I didn’t know how to grieve my miscarriages. There were no funerals. There were no people to bury or obituaries to write. I didn’t have a handbook for how to move forward.
I’ve been learning to accept that my losses were losses — and ones that deserved to be mourned.
I find myself grappling with another loss now: the loss of what I expected this pregnancy to be and how I expected to welcome my newborn into the world.
This pregnancy is not what I had planned, but it is one the greatest things to happen in my life. I am sorrowful. I am joyful. I am anxious. I am happy. I am pregnant in a pandemic after two miscarriages.
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