Like most women I know, my journey to motherhood began long before pregnancy. There were doctors’ appointments. (Then more doctors’ appointments.) So many books! Budgeting convos. Fertility tests and ovulation tracking apps. Everything about getting pregnant was part of careful plans. But I soon learned that everything about being pregnant replaces careful plans with question marks — particularly being pregnant during a pandemic.
The unknown that occupied the first half of my pregnancy was pretty typical — whether or not my pregnancy, and my baby, was healthy. I was convinced I was having a miscarriage at the slightest tinge of discomfort (which I’ve since heard is common). I took what seemed like a dozen or so doctor-administered tests to check for every sort of complication and abnormality and waited impatiently for each result. Shortly after receiving the all clear on my last significant one, the anatomy scan, a new unknown had unceremoniously arrived.
Health-wise, no one can definitively say how the novel coronavirus impacts pregnancy at this point. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not have information from published scientific reports, the organization does state that pregnant women might be “more susceptible to viral respiratory infections, including COVID-19.” The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends following the exact same preventive measures (handwashing, social distancing, etc.) recommended to the general public. While one small report published on March 7 in the Lancet journal, based on nine pregnant women with COVID-19 suggests it doesn’t get transmitted to the fetus, other small reports, like one published on March 26 in JAMA Pediatrics based on 33 pregnant women in China, suggest it could be possible to spread to infants. And the long-term implications for infants exposed to it will be unclear for some time. Quite simply, the coronavirus is too novel and the data too limited to know anything for sure, but it has drastically changed the course of pregnancy for millions of women.
The economic freefall hasn’t spared anyone, and many pregnant women (myself included) are facing the biggest investment of their lives with a significant loss of income. On a lighter note, the few “fun” things about being pregnant — baby showers, babymoons, etc. — are either cancelled or indefinitely postponed. My husband and I had a fairly low-key trip planned to the Florida Keys on March 14. In the weeks leading up to it, the CDC had no restrictions on domestic travel. I received a text plea from my stoic older brother on March 9, though, that completely caught me off guard: “I love you and sorry for the unsolicited advice but please strongly consider skipping your trip to Florida. Only bugging you because I care.” By March 11, things were looking bleak — we cancelled.
More devastating is the possibility that women might have to go it (at least partially) alone. In a Facebook group I joined at the start of all of this, now comprised of over 17,000 expecting moms, members from across the country have reported that their partners are being shut out from prenatal appointments, which is the case at my OBGYN practice in New York City. It makes sense — medical professionals need to do whatever they can to limit potential exposure to the virus for themselves and other patients. The labor limbo, though, is the thing that many pregnant women can’t wrap their heads around.
Here in New York City, the epicenter of COVID-19 in the U.S., it was reported in late March that some hospitals had initially banned partners from the birth entirely, which led to a March 28 executive order by the governor of New York that one “support person” be allowed in the room. But hospitals are forming their own interpretations. NYC-based doula Latham Thomas says she’s heard that some expecting mothers are being told their partners can’t accompany them to scheduled C-sections.
Because the situation is changing daily, Thomas is advising that her doulas prepare their clients to birth solo, just in case, and is offering free webinars from her company Mama Glow to give expecting mothers tools to prepare. Although partners and doulas can Zoom into the birth (all of Thomas’s 300+ doulas are now fully digital), “you should be ready to advocate for yourself,” she says.
I am drowning in all of this — the ifs, the maybes, the who knows? — with crying becoming a considerable part of my daily WFH schedule. Here, I am definitely not alone. “Throughout pregnancy and postpartum, there is an elevated sense of anxiety for most women,” explains Catherine Birndorf, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry and obstetrics and gynecology at New York-Presbyterian Hospital Weill Cornell Medical Center. For many, Birndorf adds, the current reality is exacerbating an already fragile mental state.
It’s totally okay to feel down about this situation, but Birndorf says it’s critical to closely monitor emotions: “If you are unable to manage new levels of anxiety or your level of distress has crossed the line, relative to your norm, reach out for help.” The Motherhood Center of New York in New York City, where Birndorf is co-founder, medical director, and CEO, has taken all programming online and added three new support groups to keep up with demand. And while regulations usually restrict telemedicine across some state lines, those have been loosened to meet the needs of what Birndorf is calling a “global mental health crisis.”
In the complete groundlessness of this moment, I have managed a foothold in a familiar place: my beauty routine. I’ve always relished in my tonics, serums, and potions. Anytime in my life I’ve felt myself losing control, I knew I could turn to whatever was on my shelf to regain some version of it, at least for a few minutes. But I have never felt relief from the simple act of washing my face the way I do right now. For me, these steps are the mental equivalent of taking your bra off at the end of the day (when you were still wearing a bra). I am slathering on a blue chamomile-laced face balm with abandon. Every night, I say hi to the little man inside me doing baby gymnastics with a generous application of belly balm. I am stuck inside a small Brooklyn apartment — but at least it has hair masks.
This coping mechanism isn’t all that surprising to Birndorf. “Ritual is so important at a time like this. It creates a semblance of normalcy,” she says, adding that the actual products themselves help too. “The senses can be used to create a distraction when your mind is going in an unhelpful direction. When you’re washing your face, the lovely scents and the cold water on warmer skin creates a sensation that draws your attention away from your racing thoughts and to the moment,” adds Birndorf.
It seems like others are similarly finding solace in beauty. You can’t open Instagram without seeing a jaw-tension-busting, live gua sha tutorial. Cyndi Ramirez, founder of New York City’s self-care sanctuary Chillhouse and mama-to-be, tells me she’s turned her shower into a veritable meditation pod. The silver lining in all of this, Ramirez has found, is that if you’re lucky enough to have more time on your hands, that means more time to tend to your needs. “I’ve never been so attuned to my body,” Ramirez says. “I think this moment is forcing us to be better about taking care of ourselves.”
Of course, there is privilege in being able to prioritize something like skin care at a time when many people, expecting mothers included, are being forced to face more sobering realities. Like the guilt that welled up inside of me every time I got a healthy test result, I feel for anyone suffering more than my mild panic attacks right now. “It matters what is happening in the world right now,” Thomas comforts me. “But it also matters that in the midst of the crisis, you find peace. We need to reclaim our joy in this process.” There’s more question marks ahead, and all I do know is that I don’t know what will happen. But right now, I am holed up inside where it’s safest. And so is he.
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Originally Appeared on Allure