Editor’s note: Welcome to The Pandemic is Personal, a weekly series focusing on on how the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV‑2) is affecting the everyday lives of people throughout the Pacific Northwest. We hope to enlighten you and reflect on what you and others are addressing as this pandemic runs its course. If you have a story to tell, please feel free to contact us.
In this installment, we’ll hear from NPI Documentary Advocate Theresa Curry Almuti, who joined our staff in the summer of 2017. Theresa is a veteran housing advocate and interim homelessness prevention manager for Solid Ground. During her time with NPI, she has covered major events like the Seattle International Film Festivals and Netroots Nation 2018 from New Orleans, Louisiana in addition to writing thought-provoking reviews of documentary films.
When I found out in late October that I was pregnant with my first child, a million thoughts raced through my head all at once, both excitement and worries.
But one thing that definitely did not cross my mind — that I never would even have imagined — was that I would have to be navigating a global pandemic for the second half of my pregnancy, and planning for labor and delivery in a world entirely different from the one in which my baby was conceived.
Living in Snohomish County, where the first case of COVID-19 was initially diagnosed in the United States, I was initially not too concerned.
I figured, it was only one person, and the health department seemed to be on top of it and connecting with everyone he had been in contact with since he returned to country, and that the virus would be easily tracked and contained.
As we all now know, that’s not at all what happened.
As events transpired throughout February, I tried to maintain a level head, not succumbing to fear, but not ignoring the news and assuming everything would be fine either. As Seattle-area tech companies started having employees work from home, I continued to commute into the office where I work every day.
As someone with a private office, in which I spent the vast majority of the day just working alone on the computer (with the exception of increasing restroom breaks, thanks to my growing baby), I thought the risk was still pretty low.
I was starting to think about maybe doing some work from home, but hadn’t thought about working completely remotely. Then in the first week of March, for the first time, Seattle-King County Public Health listed pregnant people as being one of the “high risk” populations for the virus. I realized I probably did need to start working from home, so March 9th was the last day I spent in the office.
At the time, I don’t know exactly how long I thought I would be working from home, but it seemed likely that I would be back in the office for at least a few weeks before I went on maternity leave. Many weeks later, it now seems almost certain that I will be working only from home up until my mid-June due date.
Like millions of other people, I’ve been struggling and adapting to the new normal of working from home, with all the challenges it brings.
Being pregnant has just added an additional layer. It’s hard to make yourself get up in the morning more than a few minutes before you need to log on for the day, especially when pregnancy insomnia kept you awake until 3 AM.
How do you keep your existential dread at bay in routine meetings, when your unborn baby is kicking and reminding you how much is truly at stake?
In some ways, still working full time is an important distraction from that dread, panic, and overthinking. When I do have time with my thoughts, I can get quickly overwhelmed. As a person who generally plans for everything, well in advance whenever possible, the uncertainty and not being able to plan anything has left me feeling unmoored, adrift, with no ability to control my direction.
I think most women have strong feelings about their pregnancies, and plans and expectations in mind for how they would like their labor and delivery to go. I’ve had to let go of all of that, despite being a planner and a detail oriented person. Even the simple things like routine medical appointments are different.
For the last two months, my pregnancy and parenting support group has been doing conference calls rather than meeting in person. In person check-ins with the midwife are kept as short as possible. A masked nurse takes my weight and blood pressure, scrubs her hands and then leaves the room.
I speak to the midwife over the exam room phone with any questions I have, minimizing the time she will need actually spend in the room with me.
She then comes in to do my belly check, tells me all is good, and that’s it. Not the usual warm and friendly bedside manner one gets as an expectant mother.
Attempting to plan for labor and delivery has been perhaps the hardest thing.
We initially planned for my mother to come over from Eastern Washington a bit before the baby was due so she could be with me during labor and delivery, along with my husband, and that she would stay for a few weeks after to help as we adjusted to our new role as parents.
Now, we are not certain if she should come at all, because she is in multiple high-risk categories, being in her late sixties with multiple chronic health conditions.
If she does decide to risk her own health in order to come be with us, she may not be able to be with me in the delivery room, as most hospitals are limiting people to having only one support person with them at the hospital.
I am left with the impossible decision of whether to have my husband or my mother with me for the most important event of my life, one where I will need all the moral support I can get and for which in normal times I could have multiple people there with me to help through the challenging moments and to celebrate the happy moment of birth.
I haven’t even started to think about after the delivery, and the fact that unless conditions have drastically improved by then, none of the rest of my family will be able to visit to see our baby or to provide us support.
My brother and sisters, my nieces and nephews, my mom and dad, when will any of them get to see and hold their newest family member?
Will my husband and I be able to have anyone help us with dishes, laundry, and food during those challenging first few weeks when we’ll still be figuring out feedings and diapering and swaddling correctly, while trying to squeeze in a few hours of sleep each night?
These are just some of the uncertainties that pregnant people and their partners are having to deal with right now. Issues that just a few short months ago no one would have imagined. Like almost every part of life these days, we will have to just wait and see what happens, and do the best we can to get through.