News & Views
Pandemic Perspectives: Mom Guilt, the Stone Age and Just Keep Cooking
Laura works as a chief product and growth officer in Chicago. She’s currently 27 weeks pregnant with her first child. Wildflower interviewed Laura about her experience of navigating pregnancy during the pandemic. Here’s her perspective.
What have been the positives of being pregnant during the pandemic?
Being physically forced to slow down has been a major, unexpected benefit and something I wouldn’t have thought I’d need, but am very grateful for. Also it’s been great that my husband and I haven’t had to travel for work and are able to do “normal” things like have dinner together on a week night – every night in fact for the last 8 weeks now! That’s really special for us, especially before we become a family of three – and something we wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise. I am also grateful for video calls, because they allow for discreet hiding of my sweatpants and glamourous compression socks, which I wear all day, every day. With our kitchen only steps from my home office, it’s also been great to be able to eat whenever I want/need to and to prop up with pillows when I need to get more comfortable.
What about the negatives?
My husband was beyond excited for our 20-week ultrasound, but with current restrictions, was unable to come into the room with me, nor to FaceTime. Not being able to share such a special milestone of our first chance to really see our baby was sad – but we couldn’t really do anything about it. All in-person educational classes of course have been cancelled, so while I know there are lots of things I should be prepping for, I have no clue where to turn or how to make sense of all the online options and recommendations from friends. I didn’t have to worry about that with hospital-based classes. More than anything, I am used to feeling informed and in control, and I feel neither of those things in this situation. It’s also alarming to know that things like "birth plans" are out the window as my hospital is going as far as inducing right now to control testing and patient flow. Also, that friends and family can't be there to celebrate or help, and that my husband can’t participate in the delivery.
What has been the biggest surprise for you during your pregnancy?
Feeling so uninformed and helpless. I’ve spent a my career working for healthcare companies. And yet I’ve been at a loss of what to do and where to go throughout my pregnancy journey. I don’t know how to connect the dots between the benefits and care of my health plan, my provider and other support. I would say the other surprise to me is just how frequently things change on this journey. I thought it would be trimester by trimester, but in reality, every single day is different. What tastes great or feels great one day doesn’t work the next – it’s hard to keep up with a growing baby! But it’s been fascinating to see how my body has snapped into action and knows exactly what to do. It’s very carnal; but the cliché that we were born do this is so true.
Has the healthcare system effectively supported you during your pregnancy?
Unfortunately, it’s been a horrible experience in a lot of ways. And as someone who works to improve access to care and consumer knowledge / empowerment, it’s incredibly frustrating! I am experiencing first-hand what I have known – that maternal care is stuck in the stone ages. I’ve been given physical pamphlets and pointed to a generic website with zero personalization for my specific needs. I’ve had telephone appointments that consist of providing weight and BP measurement; things I already track in an app. But there’s no way to send that information in advance or for my doctor to review readings over time. I’ve been told to look out for symptoms of pre-term labor with no discussion about what that entails. At my 20-week appointment, I found out about a complication causing an elevated risk of C-section and was told to go home and “just keep cooking” for a few months – and hope that it sorts itself out. Great advice for someone who’s used to doing what is needed to get to the desired outcome! While I read about all the check-ins and discussions I’m supposed to be having with my care team, visits are super scaled back or consolidated, and knowing how overwhelmed the hospital system is, there’s nothing I can do about it.
Why do you think your experience has been so challenging?
I am by no means unique here – but while care has been scaled back, there’s been little to no digital support offered by my health plan, provider or employer to help me know what to do – and to fill in the gaps visits. Also, I’ve had little to no maternal mental health screenings offered, even though it’s no secret that anxiety and depression are higher in all populations right now. Also, it’s a complete unknown when I do get to have a visit who I will see at the practice, and whether it will be a doctor or nurse practitioner. This is true for in-person and virtual visits. While my OB-GYN is associated with / on-site of a major academic hospital, they are not prepared to interact digitally and remotely. And my health plan has been completely silent – when I know they have a ton of resources to support pregnant moms. I’m left to advocate for the care I need, and to find out for myself what exactly I need to be doing.
Are you afraid?
Absolutely. No one wants to hear that they have to be nonvoluntarily induced. Or that their husband can’t help with the delivery; or that their hospital for delivery is also dealing with a deadly virus. I know fresh air and walking are good for me and the baby, but I’m so terrified of everyone on the street – and worse, I feel like I am crazy to be so afraid of people. I’m doing everything I can to protect us, but I know full well that we don’t have all the answers when it comes to transmission of the virus. I want badly to "do all the right things," but I feel at SUCH a loss as to what those things are, beyond obvious things like eating and sleeping a ton. And beyond internet scraping and asking friends, I’m at a loss for what’s ok to do, or not to do, and I’m worried that my choices for activities such as exercise could end up hurting me or the baby.
How are you managing your stress and anxiety?
I try to take it really easy, most especially with sleep. People who know me well are shocked when I tell them I’m sleeping nine hours every night, as opposed to my usual 5 hours – but I need it! I also am knitting a lot at night. It’s incredibly therapeutic for me, as well as stretching and listening to music. I’ve also found it helpful (when I am up for it) to talk my worries out with people I trust, and when possible, moms who are at the same stage as me. It helps to hear that what I’m thinking, feeling and experiencing is “normal.”
What’s the strongest emotion you are feeling today?
Right now, I’d have to say it’s “mom guilt.” Which is crazy, as I don’t know if I can be considered a “mom” yet, pre-delivery. Carrying a child at the same time that a global pandemic is happening creates a lot of conflicting emotions. Whenever I’m “blue” for reasons I can’t articulate, or I’m scared or mad, or having any strong emotion really, I immediately feel guilty. There are so many horrible things happening in the world right now, and as far as I know, my baby is completely OK. I feel like it’s selfish of me to have these emotions. I also have guilt when I think about how much healthcare workers are having to deal with right now, how much danger and risk they are enduring for themselves and their families. My pregnancy seems very trivial in comparison, so I hesitate to speak up, ask questions and advocate for myself, when I know they are doing the best they can. In the back of mind, I’m thinking I should be grateful for even having access to care at all.
Are you having a boy, or a girl? And have you picked out a name?
We are having a baby girl. No name yet. I hear a lot of new parents are going with pandemic-inspired names, like Corona, but we are very old-school – and want something that won’t associate her forever with this horrific pandemic.