I found out I was pregnant in mid-November 2019. A few days later, I found out I was already four-and-a-half months along. That's a story in and of itself, and though it wasn't that long ago, it already seems like it's been a lifetime. At the time of that first ultrasound, I knew life would change, but I was confident I could create and share a new life with my little one. Now, as my husband Andy, newborn son and I sit in isolation in Chicago in May 2020, there are more than 1.3 million confirmed cases of coronavirus and more than 80,000 deaths in the U.S.
The first time it occurred to me that coronavirus might really change my life was in January, when my mother was deciding whether to fly from Massachusetts for my baby shower, which was scheduled for late February. My cousin, who is a nurse and hospital administrator, convinced her the trip was a bad idea because of her age and preexisting health conditions.
I was disappointed and, at the time, thought my cousin was overreacting. The first Chicago coronavirus patient (the second confirmed case in the U.S.) contracted the disease while in China. Back in January that was easy to write off as an anomaly. Even by the time of my shower, there were still just two confirmed cases in the entire state of Illinois. My mom did not attend, though, and while the baby shower was lovely, I know it would have meant a lot to her to have been there. She never even got to see me pregnant.
I spent February keeping a wary eye on the growing number of coronavirus cases in Chicago. By mid-March, the schools in Illinois had closed, and Chicago residents were ordered to shelter-in-place March 20. The city had close to 600 confirmed cases just three days later.
Prenatal Visits in an Empty Office Tower
This news made my remaining prenatal doctor visits much more somber. The office started requiring temperature screenings, and then Andy was banned from attending them altogether. It was eerie going alone because my doctor was the only business open in a 22-story Michigan Avenue office tower. So we adapted. For those final visits, he just waited in the car until I texted to say I was on my way out.
But what I desperately wanted was my kid (whose sex we still didn't know) to be born so my new family could get back home safely, before the coronavirus peak hit.
Meanwhile, every time I posted on Facebook that, "nope, the baby isn't here yet," I was inundated with messages and texts from well-meaning friends and family members who seemed to completely disregard the fact that none of this was normal. That it wasn't fun and exciting for me and my husband to be waiting under these circumstances. It was, instead, incredibly stressful. And what an unfair burden on my unborn child to be "such a blessing!" and make everyone feel better about a pandemic and its politics.
For every message I got heralding the imminent birth of my child — as if he or she alone could cure the coronavirus — I'd get another message, equally hard to take seriously, suggesting I scrap the hospital plans and have a home birth instead, which many women were doing. I'm squeamish about all things medical, and I always figured (even before the pandemic was a reality) I'd be better off at a hospital.
That turned out to be the right call.
The Birth of My Son
By March 31, those 600 coronavirus cases in Chicago spiked to more than 2,600 cases and 26 fatalities. We weren't surprised when my doctor said we wouldn't be allowed visitors at the hospital. Andy had also seen the headlines about hospitals in New York City that weren't admitting partners in the delivery rooms. My doctors reassured me that was very unlikely to happen in Chicago. Even so, I cried tears of relief when Gov. Cuomo overturned the rules in New York.
But according to the nonprofit science magazine Undark, many hospitals across the U.S. still are restricting mothers to just one support person in the delivery room, usually the father or partner. If the mother has already enlisted the help of a doula for support during labor, she has no recourse. She must adjust to delivering without her doula's assistance.
Other reports we read about the evolving birthing protocol included mothers who'd normally be scheduled for inductions. Some doctors were being discouraged from this normal procedure because it requires significant resources from the hospital, while doctors were encouraging it. My doctor did induce me because I went past the 40-week mark in early April, though it took nearly a week to get it scheduled.
When we finally checked in April 8, the intake nurse told us Andy wouldn't be allowed to return if he left, so he never did — for five straight days. She also said we might be tested for coronavirus, though we never were. Those guidelines were being rolled out that very day. Cases in Chicago had almost doubled during the week prior from 3,427 cases on April 2 to 6,099 on April 8, and there were already 462 deaths in the state.
The actual birth of my son didn't wasn't affected much. Andy was by my side while I attempted to deliver vaginally. I ultimately needed an emergency cesarean section because my baby's huge head (96th percentile!) just wasn't going to fit. Thankfully, Andy was also allowed with me during surgery, too.
The only real hiccup was the cesarean section meant we'd be in the hospital longer than we planned. But the surgery was successful, and our baby boy was born healthy April 9, so we didn't care about staying a few more days.
But the extra time there wasn't quite what I imagined it would be. I'd always envisioned maternity wards as cheerful places, but the ward was so silent it was surreal. It was soothing at first, but it eventually turned unnerving. We didn't see other parents or new babies the entire time, even though certainly other babies were being born. There are about 300,000 births every month in the United States and even though hospitals have canceled elective surgeries to free up beds for COVID-19 patients that's not stopping babies from being born.
I'd also imagined some sense of ceremony as we filled out my child's birth certificate. In reality, the county called to say we'd have to submit his birth certificate via email. Another consequence of the pandemic. So much for pomp and circumstance. As the days in the hospital wore on, it felt like we were stuck on a bad vacation only to be going home with a bizarre little souvenir.
Finally at Home With Lincoln
By the time we were discharged April 13, there were more than 9,000 cases of coronavirus in Chicago and 22,000 in Illinois. The city, state and country were in lockdown, so our drive from the northside of Chicago to the southside took far less time than usual.
Once finally home, we saw my father-in-law, Lincoln's first and only visitor to date. (He'd been camping out on our couch dealing with a water leak at our house.) He wiped away a tear as he waved at his newest grandchild from 6 feet (1.8 meters) away. I felt guilty as hell as I scooped up my 4-day-old baby, hustled him off to our bedroom and closed the door.
Not seeing family and celebrating this new life is by far the most significant challenge we've faced. My mom lives 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) away, and she's been hoping for a grandchild since the day I was born. Like most first-time grandmothers, she planned to visit after Lincoln's birth. We've stopped even speculating about when that will happen.
My sister-in-law also had been eager to spend her spring break at our house, helping out and getting to know her nephew. Assistance from an experienced mom (and the company) would be so welcome about now. Lincoln's one- and two-week checkups were conducted by pediatricians wearing masks. I wonder how he's ever going to learn to recognize faces other than ours.
The other highs and lows are numerous but mostly — fortunately — relatively minor. We can't get professional newborn photos taken. The gyms I attended right up until my ninth month are now closed indefinitely, so who knows when or how I'll be able to shed the baby weight. As a freelance writer, I've already lost some of my regular work because of the pandemic, but it's not like I don't have plenty of ways to fill my extra time.
I don't worry about myself anymore, though, at least not as much as I fret over Lincoln, who won't remember any of this anyway. According to The Atlantic, he and his peers have already been dubbed "Generation C," and their future is, frankly, terrifying. I know other generations have faced crises, but we're told that this was simultaneously long overdue and that no one could have predicted it, so which is it? What are we supposed to believe? As a parent, I want to protect my kid from everything bad that could happen, and all around me are reminders that it's simply impossible.
Editor's note: While HowStuffWorks typically doesn't publish first-person features, we decided to highlight the birth experience of one of our regular and valued contributors to show that, despite the unusual times we are experiencing, life is going on.