On April 29, 2020, I had conditioned myself to reach Week 39 of my second pregnancy journey—not too early, not too ripe, just right. I feared that if it was 37 weeks like with my eldest, I would be “laboring” again for days on end. I also conditioned myself to give birth at home, with my nurse husband. At that time, COVID-19 cases were just starting to overwhelm hospitals and most of them couldn’t accept other emergency cases like childbirth.
The hospital where my husband works was turned into a COVID facility, so off we went to another nearby hospital as soon as I felt light contractions. It had been two months since the last time I talked to my OB—it should be weekly consultations in the normal setup—but she got the dreaded virus. Thank God she and her family were back to a healthy slate after a few months.
At the hospital’s triage area, I was interrogated endlessly. Later on, I learned that another pregnant woman had just died from COVID complications and the hospital didn’t know she was positive.
By lunchtime, the ER doctor said I was dilated by four centimeters, and that it should progress by one centimeter per hour, until the baby finally says “hello” at around 5 p.m.
After an hour or two, I barely could hold the pain anymore. It was excruciating like dysmenorrhea times 100. I knew I was crying so horribly. It’s so embarrassing — I don’t remember any instance I cried that much, not even with my first pregnancy. My knees were shaking while I waited for the epidural shot.
The doctors surrounding me were all our friends—my husband’s colleagues—but I couldn’t recognize them because they were all covered in PPEs. One of them ordered to sedate me because “nakakaawa na eh,” as she told my husband in the waiting area.
“Someone please catch the baby!” I shouted. Instead of pushing (ire), I was clenching my muscles and trying to hold the baby in. But to them, it was just an unintelligible whimper. “Ano daw?” I heard one of them saying. I wanted to laugh and cry at the same time.
When they gave the go signal, I gave one big push and little Juan Alonzo came out crying—and I think I slightly passed out. My attending OB had just arrived, but it was only 3 p.m. so she was still early. She stitched up my messy third-degree tear, and consoled me until I recovered. I wanted to hug all of them in that delivery room.
Then they showed me the little bundle of pain and joy. After months of subchorionic bleeding, low amniotic fluid, scary visits to the different ultrasound clinics for fear of catching COVID-19, he was finally in my arms. I looked at him with joy, triumph, relief and a resolution that I would never want to get pregnant again.
I was still groggy when a nurse asked if I wanted to keep the placenta. I shook my head, and thought of some mothers who could practically eat their afterbirth or turn it into soap.
DOUBLE THE FUN, DOUBLE THE FEARS
Coming home, the anxiety only worsened. I was able to calm myself despite not getting enough sleep or having painful breasts and joints, but a simple sniffle from anyone in the household would make me panic. Now, we have two children— my eldest is five years old—to shelter from this pandemic that has turned the world upside down.
We have foregone the baby’s monthly check-up at the hospital, which used to be an exciting part of this new-baby journey. Every once in a while, we would just message our generous pediatrician about baby rashes, poop, vaccines, etc. A good friend from the health center would visit us monthly to give him vaccines.
Other blessings that I’m thankful for are the four-month maternity leave and work-from-home setup, which let me breastfeed the baby and be with the kids 24/7. With my eldest, I had to express milk in the office or bring the heavy-duty pump and cooler to all my event coverages. By the way, it’s crazy that some hotels would tell you to just pump milk in the restroom.
By September, I was back at work, juggling Zoom meetings, writing, editing, caring for the baby, watching my daughter’s Kumon classes—we didn’t enroll her last school year, cooking, washing the clothes. Thank God for technology.
We couldn’t find a yaya but my mother— who took care of my eldest pre-pandemic—or younger brother would occasionally assist me. Now, we stay with my in-laws during weekdays, but it’s still difficult. The languishing feeling is real, and it’s not because I’ve only gone outside a handful of times since the pandemic started.
The husband does most of the other chores when he gets home, but as a frontliner who’s always exposed at the hospital, he couldn’t bond enough with the kids and would always wear a mask even inside the house.
JUAN YEAR LATER
We recently celebrated our Juan’s first birthday, which was followed by his baptism last Sunday. In both occasions, it was just us and the in-laws. He has lots of ninongs and ninangs but the church only allowed four adults to accompany the baby. It was the fastest christening ceremony I’ve ever seen, though, which makes it nice after all.
As I ran through the photos, I saw one that troubles me until now. It was shot by my sister-in-law who sat behind me during the baptism. I zoomed in and, to my horror, I saw more than 20 wiry strands of white hair at the back of my head. I’m sure they weren’t there before the pandemic struck.