Pregnancy is an incredibly special time, but what happens when a global pandemic takes centre stage? This mama-to-be shares her experience of being pregnant during COVID-19.
Being pregnant is both exciting and nerve-wracking. I am now responsible for another human being (and that is a scary thought!) but I’ve been comforted hearing from other mothers that this feeling is normal. However, I never expected to be pregnant during a global pandemic which has brought a new type of anxiety that is anything but normal. Here’s how my husband and I are dealing with this unprecedented journey of being pregnant during COVID-19.
Back in October, my husband and I took a once-in-a-lifetime trip. We were walking through one of the oldest cities in the world, Petra. It was breathtakingly beautiful and I wanted to explore every nook and cranny but my body was telling me otherwise. I was so exhausted that every few hundred meters, I would lean or sit on a rock but I just blamed it on the desert sun. The next part of our trip was to Beirut. I love Lebanese food and I was excited to go on a food tour. But all I wanted to eat were pickles and hummus. My usual go-to flavours of onions and spice put me off, and that’s when I knew something was happening!
Back in Hong Kong, I booked a doctor’s appointment and he confirmed I was pregnant. While we were elated, I found it difficult. I held down my nausea all day, hid my exhaustion, barely ate but managed to keep my secret. I still went on business trips to Southeast Asia every two weeks. I had weekend brunches with my friends. I visited the gym twice a week to stay fit. Life stayed relatively normal and I looked forward to meeting my baby girl in June.
When we announced our news to our family and closest friends, plans were soon made. Although both sides of the family live in various places in the world – America, Malaysia, England and Ireland – they were comfortable with flying long haul and were ready to hop on a plane whenever it was needed. When Christmas arrived, we were in Italy for a family holiday. We marvelled at the architecture, spent quality time together and of course ate pizza, pasta and gelato every day. We flew back home to Hong Kong just after New Year’s. Little did we know at the time, that trip would be the last time we would be on a plane for a long time…
Pregnant During COVID-19: Second Trimester Shockwaves
Very quickly, news of this unidentified virus in Wuhan spread. It didn’t seem like a big deal at first. I thought it would disappear quickly and only China would be affected. My thoughtful neighbours gave me some masks to wear but I carried on with life as I always did. When I went to the clinic to get my seasonal flu vaccine, the nurse took my temperature, which read 37.3 degrees. Although only 0.1 degrees higher than the acceptable range, they turned me away and asked me to come back later. While I didn’t understand why they were so strict, I just shrugged it off and went back later that week. To celebrate Chinese New Year, we had a barbecue with eight of our friends. Again, little did I know that would be the last time in a long time we would all be together, or much less even be in a group of more than four.
Straight after the holiday, things started to change much faster. Both mine and my husband’s companies announced new work from home measures and only essential business travel was allowed. Schools were closed. Supermarkets were empty overnight. To my husband’s disappointment, who had been training for a year, the Hong Kong marathon and Ironman event in Taiwan were both cancelled. The US stopped flying to Hong Kong, which meant my in-laws’ flight was refunded. We still thought this virus would disappear soon and definitely before June. It was also reported that pregnant women were not especially susceptible to COVID-19 so I stayed calm as I knew anxiety can harm my unborn baby, and carried on with life as normal.
Almost immediately after that, there was an announcement for those who were pregnant during COVID-19. I read public hospitals were not allowing birth partners into the labour room and wards. This sent a shockwave through me. We are lucky to have insurance but it did not take away the fear that the same would be imposed on private hospitals. My mind was starting to fill with questions and worst-case scenarios but I tried very hard to ignore them and focus on the impending arrival of our baby girl.
I cancelled all my upcoming business trips, but my coworkers outside of Hong Kong were still able to attend which made me feel left out. Eventually, we ran out of masks, so our parents sent some over. Luckily, we had enough toilet paper and food at home. We also hired our full-time helper, who had to go back to the Philippines to process her visa. I tried to stay on track with my preparation, but there was a niggling feeling inside that life was starting to not feel normal anymore.
Pregnant During COVID-19: Hospital Regulations
By the time the virus spread to South Korea, Iran and Italy, I could feel my emotions running wild. I was trying to read “What to expect when you are expecting” but kept getting distracted by the fear and negativity on the news instead. I wished for time to stand still as things were changing so fast.
Unsurprisingly, my hospital soon announced stricter measures. My husband isn’t allowed to hold the baby until after we are discharged and can only visit me for four hours a day. This devastated me, but I focused on the positive that he was at least allowed to be with me for the delivery. I asked them a barrage of questions, particularly when would the measures be lifted but, of course, they can’t answer – which means I can’t prepare. There are too many unknowns that could happen between now and June.
In a blink of an eye, life no longer feels ordinary. Lockdowns were quickly announced in parts of Europe and Asia, and it was devastating to see scenes of chaos in Italy after we were just there enjoying gelato in the streets three months ago. Our home countries were suffering, and we were worried about our families. Our helper’s paperwork is on hold and she is stuck in the Philippines indefinitely, possibly until after the birth. Unemployment is increasing, the stock market is suffering its lowest in decades. I knew our baby would change our world, but I did not expect the whole world to change.
Pregnant During COVID-19: Third Trimester And The Future
I entered my third trimester recently with my head spinning. There is too much to digest. Borders are closed. The healthcare system is overrun. COVID-19 cases in Hong Kong are rising again. All tourists from overseas are banned from entering Hong Kong, which means my parents can’t fly in for the birth of their granddaughter and possibly even the months to follow. I was relying on their support but I reminded myself that women have been doing this forever and therefore so can I; it might be a rough first few months but we will find ways to cope. While my mind was trying to absorb this avalanche of information, my body was changing just as fast.
Already worried about delivering a healthy baby and being a good mother, I now have the added anxiety of contracting the virus and an impending global recession. I realised it helps to limit the amount of news and social media I read and focus instead on my baby’s arrival. She isn’t going to wait until things in the world get better! But it does make me think, what kind of world am I bringing her into? Right now that looks like a world without kisses and hugs but fear and panic. I try to ignore the dread and anxiety but it has reduced me to tears numerous times. Luckily, my supportive husband always found a way to comfort me.
I admit that I had taken our lives for granted. Just a few months ago, I daydreamed about a baby-moon, a baby shower, meeting new mamas and having playdates. All of this seems so menial now. We live far from our families but it was easy to take a plane to visit before all this. Now, taking a flight is considered very risky so we are not sure how long until we see them again. I pictured my family and friends cuddling my newborn, but with reports of young babies contracting the virus, this now makes me feel uneasy. I have had to adjust to my new normal. We stay indoors as much as possible. I practice social distancing from my friends. We wear uncomfortable masks if we take any essential trips outside. We use hand sanitiser to clean our hands every 30 minutes until the skin is dry.
This is not what I had envisaged my pregnancy to be but with less than two months to go, I am concentrating on the positives. Despite all of my fears, our baby is healthy and kicks me numerous times a day. I am blessed to have a wonderful husband who keeps me grounded while stuck indoors and we experiment on new recipes together. We have a strong network of family and friends who check in and send encouragement from all over the world, and we will get through this.
I have also come to realise that there is only so much we can control in our lives right now. I have given up predicting the future, and I am instead focusing on the present. These are extraordinary times. As well as relieving my back pains and ticking off baby items to buy, we take preventive measures and pray that we stay healthy – and that our baby does too. We are taking things one day at a time, knowing that we will be stronger on the other side. But my most important lesson is to never take my health and my family and friends for granted again.