For women who are pregnant amid a pandemic, a recession and racial turmoil, the future is an anxiety-stirring unknown. They began their pregnancies in the “other world” that promised baby showers, gender-reveal parties, visits with grandparents and browsing stores for onesies. Now, they contemplate how they would handle a novel coronavirus diagnosis, prepare to give birth while wearing a mask and fight through old traumas that the virus has triggered.
We asked four women who have found themselves in this unfamiliar and unsettling position to describe how they are coping with the new challenges, and to describe their hopes and fears in letters to their unborn children.
Kristen Hanna, 26
Kristen Hanna settled into bed. Her eyelids drifted down, and she rested her palms on the bare skin of her belly. Sending steady breaths downward, she focused on noticing her child’s small movements as Lauryn Hill’s voice quietly traversed the room.
But then an angel came one day
Told me to kneel down and pray
For unto me a man child would be born
Woe this crazy circumstance
I knew his life deserved a chance
The pandemic has done away with maternity shoots and baby showers. Hanna and her partner, Rodney Freeman II, even had to postpone their summer wedding. But Hanna says the pandemic has given her a surprising gift: the time to lie still and feel the sensations of the child inside of her.
Hanna has been passing along messages such as this as a yoga and meditation instructor, albeit through Zoom and Instagram Live these days. After her Amarillo, Tex., studio was forced to close permanently in late March, she began exploring online platforms. And now, she feels her work has taken on additional meaning as U.S. cities combust with rising racial conflict. She began to focus on tending to the mental welfare of communities of color, though she says anyone is welcome.
On a recent Saturday morning, Hanna led a prenatal yoga session on Instagram Live. Between movements, she asked her audience to recognize the messages of equality emanating from around the world. “I just want us to send love and peace out to our brothers and sisters that are hurting right now,” she said. “Maybe that means sending peace into yourself, if you are hurt or disappointed. If you even feel disconnected from your baby at this time, because there is so much going on, send love within.”
Hanna is mindful of the fact that the killings of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd happened as she prepares to bring a black boy into the world. She realizes there is discrimination that she may not be able to protect him from. But she believes the values she and her partner teach him will make him strong, and make other people understand what a gentle and loving black man looks like.
Hanna embraces the hard work ahead — in helping others heal, in pushing for change and in simply bearing the effects of the pandemic. “I’m big on the idea of sacrificing for future generations to flourish,” she said. “If this is something we needed to go through to evolve as people, to treat people better, to be more connected, ... I’m going to always think it’s worth it.”
April Moore, 33
April Moore is not supposed to be pregnant.
There was the first miscarriage. Then the second. Then the third. Then the fourth. None of them made it past 10 weeks; something was wrong. Moore’s obstetrician encouraged her and her husband, Kevin, to consider in vitro fertilization.
During the IVF process, Moore had another miscarriage, and they found out some of the embryos had different chromosomal abnormalities, leaving their exact problem a mystery. Then, in 2018, Moore gave birth to Berkley, now a bright and vivacious 1-year-old. Another miscarriage followed as the Moores tried to add another child to their family.
Mentally and emotionally exhausted, they pressed pause.
So of course Moore would find herself unexpectedly pregnant during a historic pandemic, with their first naturally conceived baby to make it past 10 weeks.
In March, as the coronavirus stretched its tentacles across the United States, medical professionals scrambled to understand how covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, would affect pregnancies. Moore’s doctor advised her to take off work for a few weeks as a precaution, saying she could resume when it was safer.
By now, two weeks has stretched into three months that Moore has not returned to work as a hair stylist at Fourteen01 Salon Suites in Houston. Because of her difficulties reaching full term and the spike in cases in Texas, she feels she cannot risk the high level of contact from doing hair coloring and extensions until after she gives birth and has recovered in December. But she worries she may not have clients to return to by then.
For now, the Moores focus on a more immediate problem: staying physically distant from others while encouraging Berkley to develop social skills. On weekends, they hang out on opposite ends of their driveway with their parents and Moore’s grandmother. “Mimi hug?” Berkley asks, using her nickname for her grandmother Shari Tullis, who sits only a short tricycle ride away.
Moore’s heart aches. “Do you want to hug her in a couple months?” The closest they’ll get right now is when Berkley embraces Moore’s phone during FaceTime calls. “She hugs the phone, but she can’t do it in person,” Moore said. “And for a little 18-month-old brain, I think she’s trying to decipher between the two things.”
Moore is also preparing for the difficult decision that is being made by pregnant women at hospitals across the country: whether to voluntarily separate from their newborns after birth should the mother test positive. “With all that we’ve gone through, there’s no way I could risk his health just for my mental well-being. ... I can’t imagine [separating from him]. But I also can’t imagine burying my baby,” she said.
Maranda Torres, 29
Maranda Torres was going through the car wash April 8 when she got the call from her hospital, informing her that five days earlier, she had taken care of a patient who tested positive for the coronavirus.
Suds dripped down the car as Torres, a labor and delivery nurse, struggled to keep panic from her voice. She thought about having exposed her children and her husband, who were all sitting beside her. At 18 weeks pregnant, she worried about the baby in her belly.
Save for a headache and high blood pressure, the patient had been asymptomatic, and her positive status was only discovered when she was tested after being transferred to a different hospital before giving birth. Torres was lucky that she didn’t take care of the patient during labor, during which the virus can be aerosolized. To be safe, she got tested. The result was negative.
Throughout the pandemic, hospital administrations have patched and repatched policies to reflect emerging knowledge about the virus. Now, patients coming into her hospital can opt to be tested before coming in to give birth.
For Torres, helping women deliver while pregnant during the pandemic has resulted in an information overload. But overall, she sees her work as a learning experience for taking care of herself and her baby. “I would rather have too much information than not enough at this point. So I think it’s very good for me to be exposed to the hospital world,” she said.
And she hopes the pandemic can be a teaching moment for her kids, too. They know that if they come in contact with other people, they need to change in the garage to avoid bringing germs into the house, and they need to shower immediately. Torres hopes that some of the new behaviors, such as thorough hand-washing, become lifelong habits.
When the pandemic has passed, two of her five children may be too young to remember anything from this time. So she envisions one day gathering her family together, so the older kids can tell the younger ones the story of how they survived.
Hannah Goodwin, 29
The Goodwins were considering the names Theo, Arlo, Miles and Milo for their second child. But when their 2-year-old daughter unexpectedly yelled out, “Come on, George!” during an ultrasound, they decided to look up the meaning. “To tend or heal the earth,” they read. It seemed to encapsulate what was needed in a world seething under a pandemic and racial conflict.
Even before being born, George has been a force for healing in Hannah Goodwin’s life. As the virus spread, the wave of panic that washed over the world crashed down hard on Goodwin, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and other psychological traumas. Periods of change tended to trigger her. And in March, the helplessness, isolation and uncertainty flooded her with a potency she hadn’t experienced since adolescence.
The anxiety attacks were hitting almost every day. One night, she lay in bed unable to fall asleep, finally walking in the dark into George’s nursery. She rubbed her belly in slow circles and began to talk to him for the first time. “Mommy’s going to be strong for you,” she told him. “We’re already overcoming this challenge together. I don’t know what things are going to look like, but I’m here for you.”
As the birds started chirping ahead of sunrise, she realized she had made it through one of her toughest nights by drawing strength from her bond with her child.
Because of her history of abuse, Goodwin never felt like her body was her own. “Birth was the first experience I ever had where I felt the power and self-autonomy and beauty that a female body could have,” she said. About half of the clients she works with as a doula have also had a history of trauma. She works with them on identifying triggers and helping them feel safe during childbirth.
These days, Goodwin spends a lot of time with her daughter, Vivienne, in the garden, a place where she finds peace. In a particularly bad moment of anxiety, her own doula had asked her to go there and pick something out — to watch the wind blow it, to spend time with it. She chose her purple passion flowers.
Now, she remembers her doula’s words: “In nature, things unfold slowly, … but if taken care of, the flower will bloom.”