It's late March and as I walk into my typically warm and inviting OB-GYN's office, I'm greeted with an ominous sign at the door warning travelers, delivery personnel, patients' spouses and anyone with a fever or cough to keep out. I press onward to find the waiting room flipped upside down, giving off a particularly apocalyptic mood. A large leather couch is pressed up to the front desk, protecting the mask-wearing receptionist from being approached. In lieu of a sign-in sheet, she calls to me from across the room: "Name?!"
A handful of scattered chairs are the limited remaining seating options. After all, I can't be expected to stand for long in my present state. At this moment, I'm 38 weeks pregnant.
Back in July, just a few weeks shy of my oldest daughter's first birthday, I learned that I was expecting my second child. I sat on my suspicions for several days before taking a pregnancy test—as if I could somehow delay the inevitable just a little while longer.
Now, just two weeks ahead of my due date, I find myself wishing to delay the inevitable again. Ready or not, I will be delivering this baby smack in the middle of a national emergency: the COVID-19 pandemic.
As I prepare for childbirth, what should be a time of uncomfortable-but-happy late pregnancy hibernation has become a state-wide "Shelter in Place" order. Businesses are closed, grocery stores are stripped of essentials and everyone I know is (smartly) holed up in their homes, leaving a crucial source of support I'd typically lean on largely out of commission.
As each day ticks by, I'm left wondering when my water might break and whether or not I'll have the supplies my family needs when it does.
According to my doctor, this little boy in my belly could have a complication-free delivery. Ordinarily, I would welcome this assurance with all the labor-inducing wives' tales: endless walking, pineapples, dates, and for Angelenos, a "special" salad with mysterious, baby-birthing powers.
But when the best answer we have regarding newborns, pregnancy, breastfeeding and the coronavirus is, "We don't know," followed by logical best guesses and limited statistics, I hardly feel confident about bringing something so tiny and precious into this semi-quarantined version of our world. While people continue to go about their business, risking exposure and spread of an unbridled, lung-attacking virus, I fear for my baby's fragile and defenseless little lungs.
My body is stretched beyond recognition, but I now find myself hoping and wishing that he would stay tucked safely inside just a little while longer.
I've dreamed of introducing my soft-hearted, nurturing 19-month-old daughter to her new brother in the hospital, pressing her little nose up to the clear bassinet to watch him sleep, but I now know that she won't be permitted to visit at all. After months of watching her cradle a baby doll in preparation for this moment, I feel robbed of our first hours together as a family of four.
I now fear that my husband could miss the birth of our second child with no other safe options to care for our first. Knowing what childbirth entails makes potentially going it alone all the more daunting.
As a stay-at-home parent and the primary caregiver for our bright and sensitive daughter who calls out for "Mommy!" first thing in the morning and reluctantly accepts help or comfort from other adults—I fear our impending days-long separation. My heart aches for how she may react when I do suddenly return home, a new mother to someone who is not her.
I now picture long, solitary days and nights in our home. No helping hands to wash the dishes, fold the laundry or offer a meal. No memories made with loved ones in our child's first days on earth. No airport pickups for eager grandparents, who may end up waiting many months to meet our son.
I wonder, Have I or my family been exposed to COVID-19 already? At this point, would the symptoms present themselves before or after the baby's arrival?
I plead, please don't let us become an example.
By all assurances from my doctor and the Center for Disease Control, we will be well cared for through this journey. But as any pregnant woman knows, logic and reason aren't always our forte at this stage in the hormone game.
As I scroll through endless COVID-19 content on Instagram, fear ebbs and flows through my body. I know I should stop. But my fingers can't quit.
Like a ping pong ball, I bounce back and forth between feeling excited butterflies as I imagine my newborn baby boy to feeling a heavy pit in my stomach. I mourn the loss of the birth and fourth trimester I envisioned. I reluctantly accept that so much of this is out of my control.
I feel sorrow and awe for all the medical workers putting themselves at risk each and every day to care for others while knowing that I too will be occupying a hospital bed any day now.
And yet, like all expectant mamas, I can hardly wait to see my baby's sweet face in the flesh. To hold him in my arms, hear his cries and count every last finger and toe. To smell his newborn skin.
My hospital bag waits diligently by my door, filled with toiletries and a flowery robe for me, and itty-bitty, beautifully patterned ensembles for him. I spent hours selecting them, envisioning what they'll look like on his little body. My heart swells at the thought.
Because even as terror looms over me, the joy of welcoming a new child rings louder. Because no matter the timing or circumstance, the juxtaposition of overwhelming fear mixed with overwhelming love is all part of the universal motherhood experience.