I don’t want to downplay the problems — there are plenty. But looking on the bright side led me to some unexpected perks of a pandemic pregnancy.
Like most expectant women, I had a pretty clear vision of how I wanted my pregnancy to go. No complications, minimal morning sickness, decent sleep before the storm, and maybe a pedicure every once in a while. Believe it or not, that vision did not include a pandemic.
Since the news broke that our country was going into lockdown, all of my expectant mom groups on social media exploded with concern. And rightfully so.
New York kicked things off not even allowing partners to join birthing mothers in the delivery room, and even when that was overturned, most hospitals were limiting birthing partners to one, and sending them home after just a few hours postpartum.
As a second-time mom who has done this before, I was really counting on my doula and husband duo to pull me through labor again. I also could barely fathom the idea of having to recover from a difficult birth while dealing with a screaming baby in a shared cramped hospital room overnight without my husband by my side.
There was also the concern about when our parents would get to see their new grandchild, or the safety of leaning on them to help out with my 2-year old son in the weeks after birth.
While pregnancy is supposed to be an exciting time filled with maternity photos and newsletters reminding us what fruit our baby is comparable to in size, I have at times been so preoccupied with worry, I forget when I’m due.
To help me press on and muscle through the weeks of uncertainty ahead, I have made an extra effort to seek out the surprising perks of this strange experience we call pandemic pregnancy.
You know what was really nice? Being able to let my (rapidly) growing first trimester bump out into the world (okay, it’s just my house) without feeling the need to squeeze it into Spanx or hide it under unflattering sweaters until I was ready to tell the world about the baby on the way.
Unlike my first pregnancy, all first trimester I was able to wear clothes that were actually comfortable for my growing body, and not worry that people would start placing secret bets on whether I was expecting or just eating too much pizza.
You know what is also generally annoying about the workplace and first trimester? Having to constantly come up with excuses for why you’re not toasting the promotion of a co-worker or sampling the sushi when you’re invited out to work parties and functions.
I mean, not sipping your favorite wine or going for that second cup of coffee you’d really love to have is a pregnancy struggle in itself, at least in COVID-19 Life. I don’t have to be surrounded by temptation (and forced to lie) every time I’m around friends or co-workers in order to keep my pregnancy under wraps.
Oh, morning sickness… What is an uncomfortable enough experience is made even more mortifying when it happens at your cubicle desk.
You can only fake “food poisoning” so many times, so it’s been nice to be able to hang out nearby my own porcelain throne until the symptoms passed.
I don’t know if it’s the work-from-home and parent-a-toddler juggle, or if it’s just normal pregnancy exhaustion, but I cannot seem to get enough sleep. Seriously, I’m getting a solid 9 hours and am still basically a nonfunctioning sloth by dinnertime.
With my body working overtime to grow a human, I can’t say I’m mad about the idea of working on more “flexible” hours at home with no early alarms going off for 5 a.m. spin class or an hour-long commute.
Track pants? Check. Hubby’s T-shirts? Check. Slippers? Double check. Introducing your new work-from-home uniform.
Seriously, though, in my first pregnancy I spent a small fortune on cute bump-friendly dresses, pants, and shirts. But in quarantine, I can go from my nighttime leisurewear to my daytime leisurewear and no one will be the wiser.
I also don’t have to squeeze my swollen sore feet into cute office-appropriate shoes. YES!!
I don’t know where this mystical pregnancy glow is people keep referencing, but this baby has definitely made my face break out and I haven’t bothered to cover it up with concealer for over a month.
Likewise, my hair gets washed exactly once a week (before a video conference call, of course) and my roots look more skunk-tail than ombre-chic.
And my nails? Oh boy. I made the mistake of getting an expensive shellac mani the week before lockdown, and I just basically decided to rock heavily chipped maroon fingertips and overgrown cuticles ever since.
Pre-COVID, I would begrudgingly primp, but I’m feeling just fine about having the luxury of looking as crappy as I feel.
In my first pregnancy, I would often wait for up to 2 hours after my appointment time to see my obstetrician. Now? Everything is timed to the minute so that I’m seen moments after I sit down (in the physically/socially distanced waiting room). BONUS.
Let’s get one thing straight — it took me weeks to grieve the loss of my family’s sunny California trip mid-March, so I absolutely love to travel. But for work? Hard pass.
There’s nothing fun about flying twice in a single day without your family or friends, just to land somewhere (exhausted) to do work. And that’s not even considering the swelling and dehydration that accompanies pregnant flights. I am A-OK to have to see these work obligations indefinitely postponed.
Even if it’s an expected, normal, and amazing part of pregnancy, watching your body change so rapidly can be uncomfortable, and even anxiety-provoking for a lot of women.
While it would be considered taboo and rude to comment on a woman’s weight gain — never mind actually CARESS her stomach — any other time of life, during pregnancy, for some reason, it’s just what people do!
Even when the comments are obviously well meaning and the belly gropes are supposedly endearing, they can make you feel self-conscious AF.
I don’t think I realized how often people would comment on my growing body until I just stopped seeing people in real life, and when the FaceTime or Zoom angle cut me off below the chest, people just didn’t bring it up.
How nice it is for people not to be body checking me at every chance and to look at my face — not my stomach — when we talk!
Okay, so sure, your mother-in-law and mom are definitely still going to tell you about why they breastfed, their drug-free labor, or how to swaddle the baby via FaceTime. But the fewer face-to-face human interactions you have, the less time there is for unwanted small talk about your unborn child.
As soon as I went into hiding, I stopped hearing things like, “Oh I hope this one is a girl!” or “You need to make sure your son is well socialized in day care before baby two comes!” Now, the few moments we do have virtually interacting with colleagues, family or friends are packed with actual legitimate matters (e.g., not my unborn child’s sex).
Pregnant or not, can we all just agree that less small talk is a major perk of COVID Life?
Sure, for those of us who are second- or third-time parents, not having people around to entertain our toddlers and older kids is a bit of an overwhelming thought. But if there’s any silver lining in social isolation, it’s that you have a legitimate excuse to keep unwelcome visitors to an extreme minimum.
While some visitors know the unspoken rules of newborn visits (e.g. bring food, 30 minutes or less, wash your hands, and don’t touch the baby unless told you can), others just have no clue and end up being a lot of work to entertain.
Without the pressure to host visitors, you may get more time to bond with your little one, more time to nap or just rest, less obligation to get dressed, shower or put on your “happy face,” and may even have a smoother breastfeeding experience (if that’s in your plans).
So first of all, I acknowledge my immense privilege in still having a job when so many others across the world do not. No budgeting strategies can compare to the overwhelming loss so many of my peers are facing right now.
But if we are attempting to focus solely on the positive, I have saved a lot of money in quarantine that can be used against some household income loss, and the expenses of having another child.
The maternity clothes, the prenatal massages, the pelvic floor therapy that my insurance doesn’t cover, not to mention my usual “beauty” regimen — all of this amounts to hundreds of added dollars every month.
And while my grocery bills are up, my overall food spending is overwhelmingly down as I haven’t entertained clients, gone out for weekend brunch, or watched my husband order a marked-up bottle of red on a Saturday night.
Again, these frivolous expenses are absolutely not enough to outweigh the financial losses of families laid off from work, but I find comfort in fantasizing about the little things that might help.
I have to tell you, while being home all day every day with no day care, work friends, playdates, or programs has been a huge challenge for all of us (my son, included), I do feel that the extra time with mom and dad has helped him grow.
Since we locked down, my son’s vocabulary has exploded, and his independence has truly surprised me. It’s also been so nice just to spend that extra time loving on my little family of three before we transition to a busy family of four.
The same could easily be said for my first-time mom friends. You may miss your restaurant date nights with your partner, but if quarantine has likely afforded you anything, it’s more quality one-on-one time with your little family unit.
Listen, the net effect of COVID-19 on expectant women is likely not so glowing. Pregnancy is already a particularly sensitive time for anxiety, depression, uncertainty, financial strain, relationship testing, and exhaustion, and I can’t say I’m not struggling with all of this and more. It’s normal and valid to feel sad that this was the unfair hand we’ve been dealt, so I would never want to diminish that experience.
But I also have come to realize that this is our (unfortunate) reality for a little longer, and while raging hormones make it challenging, we can (sometimes) choose where to direct our thoughts. I am over here trying damn hard to harness a little extra hope every day, and direct my energy towards the little things that make this situation a little more bright.
If you are struggling in your pregnancy, quarantined or not, to find a little joy every day, speak to your healthcare provider about getting some (virtual) help.
Abbey Sharp is a registered dietitian, TV and radio personality, food blogger, and the founder of Abbey’s Kitchen Inc. She is the author of the Mindful Glow Cookbook, a non-diet cookbook designed to help inspire women to rekindle their relationship with food. She recently launched a parenting Facebook group called the Millennial Mom’s Guide to Mindful Meal Planning.