It took my husband and me a long time to get pregnant. But after more than a year of tests, doctor appointments, shots, hormones, and disappointments, it finally happened. We thought the worst was behind us.
I spent the first months of my pregnancy happier and less anxious than I’d ever been. We were hopeful and relaxed, and not one bit nervous about what was ahead.
Then, a new, highly infectious virus spreading across China started making the news. I ran our first story in the Ideas section on the new coronavirus on Jan. 24. Over the next several weeks, I ran a few more. The news worried me, but only in a slightly distant, far off way. That, of course, changed dramatically over the past few weeks.
When the coronavirus finally landed in Massachusetts, it landed hard, and changed everything. Our lives were upended in the blink of an eye. From the first case confirmed in the state on Feb. 1, it was only five weeks before we were being asked to practice social distancing to help “flatten the curve.” But six months pregnant, I needed to know: Would my baby be safe? Would I be safe? When will this be over? And what then?
Even before the official warnings, I started to take precautions. During my first trimester, I caught every cold and bug going around the office, so I knew I was especially susceptible. I bought an expensive parking pass for a downtown garage so I could drive to work instead of taking public transportation. I stayed home as much as possible. My usual anxiety, which had miraculously vanished during the first six months of my pregnancy, began to creep back.
On March 11, I was so nervous being in the Globe office, I cried. I’d learned that two people in my office had been at events where someone tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. (They were asked to self-quaratine.) By then, we knew about the Biogen cluster, and how the virus had spread through a small conference and then beyond.
As a journalist, I am used to asking questions and getting answers. I scoured the Internet and asked colleagues about the risks of COVID-19 to pregnant women and their unborn babies. But with the coronavirus, there are so few answers to be found.
I turned to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Its guidance offers no real guidance at all. We just don’t know, the site essentially says. I read an article in STAT that suggested having lowered immune response might actually protect pregnant women against the worst of the virus, which gave me a bit of comfort. But a week later, when data started to come out from China, I saw a chart that suggested children under 1 year old are especially vulnerable to the illness. I read that a newborn in Britain had tested positive for COVID-19. I harangued my colleagues to cover the story.
Looking for answers was like standing on the edge of a cliff, staring into a fog. Not knowing keeps me awake at night. I worry that the stress I feel is having a negative effect on my baby. Since I started working from home last week, I’ve felt her moving around much more. I imagine that she’s agitated by my stress, which makes me feel even worse.
I fear that come June, when my daughter is due to be born, the hospitals will be overrun with patients sick with COVID-19 and I’ll have to give birth at home, with no access to health care. One provider at the hospital where I’m scheduled to give birth has tested positive for COVID-19 and I’ve received an e-mail about deferring my prenatal visits and limits to who can accompany me to the hospital when the time comes.
But truly, what I fear most is that my husband and I made a terrible miscalculation. We’re older than most parents, and we spent a good deal of time discussing the ethics of having a baby at our age. We also worried about climate change, a topic we are forced to confront as journalists. The future of the planet can look bleak, but we chose to believe that there’s hope.
We thought we’d planned for future unknowns. But a life-altering pandemic was never on our radar. Maybe it should have been. Turns out, government officials saw this coming years ago.
Knowing that the mess we are in now could have been avoided, or at least ameliorated, and the new revelations that some in power purposely hid the truth from the American people while lining their own pockets, turns my sadness and fear into a powerful rage.
My husband and I never dreamed of an extravagant life for our child, but we hoped for a loving and comfortable one. Some immediate things we had looked forward to were simple: a visit with our parents; a baby shower; a trip so that faraway friends could meet the baby once she was born. But those things won’t happen now. The pandemic has made even the simplest of baby preparations more difficult. Do I order a crib online now while companies are still delivering? How will we paint the nursery? Are diaper services even still operating? These things may seem trivial, but they’re heartbreaking for me.
While the health of my family is a huge concern (my husband is also in a high-risk category, and I worry about whether our baby’s grandparents will ever get to meet their granddaughter), I feel OK about our odds of making it through, even if that means spending the next year locked in our house.
But what then? When the vaccine is invented, the treatment widely available, and we are once again allowed to venture out, how will our world have changed? What effect will all the isolation have on our personal and collective psyches? Will global recession or depression mean raising a child in a time of want? How will the pandemic change the way we interact with each other and the world? Will we reopen our borders? Or will we retreat into ourselves, shrinking our universe?
Will life’s little pleasures still exist for my little girl?
Every day as new norms are established, I wonder which of them will be lasting. And I continue to search for answers. But so far, I’ve found none.
Anica Butler is the editor of the Globe Ideas section.
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Anica Butler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.