Erin Wilcox, a writer and editor, is expecting her first baby at the end of this month. As the COVID-19 crisis amplifies in our state, Wilcox has been giving a lot of thought to what’s important to her in terms of her health, giving birth and the transition into new parenthood. She says she’s seen a lot of silver linings come from the crisis, but worries about what kind of attention families might receive if the “assembly-line system of medical care, already maxed out because of capitalism” were to undergo a sustained strain.
Below are one mom’s thoughts as she prepares to give birth.
Seattle's Child: Tell me about this pregnancy.
Erin Wilcox: Becoming pregnant was the fulfillment of a longing that I've hoped to fulfill for so long. It was a bit shocking when William and I realized, on our belated honeymoon, that this wish had been answered. I quickly adjusted to the new reality, though, and embraced it with joy. (Related: Q&A with soon-to-be dad William Gray.)
SC: What impact has the pandemic had on you?
Erin Wilcox: The COVID situation has been a strange backdrop to my third trimester. On one hand, it has added layers of stress and trauma at a time when I already had plenty of stress on my plate. I felt healthy, though, until last week.
That was when things really hit me, because I got a chest cold, which triggered my underlying asthma. With two of the three big COVID-19 symptoms, I started wondering if I would have to give birth in a quarantine ward. And I spent 30 hours waiting for a telephone appointment with a doctor to get my inhaler prescriptions, being very careful about managing my breathing so I didn't end up at urgent care or in the emergency room where there would be more people who might transmit something.
I really don't want to get any more exposure to anything, now that I realize my immune system isn't operating at its usual capacity. It was scary, but I was able to keep calm. When the doctor called, they swiftly prescribed Albuterol. At that point I still had to call four pharmacies to find one that had the generic in stock. My insurance wouldn't cover what my usual pharmacy did have in stock. After I felt more confident that I could breathe, I got a COVID test that came back negative. This means I can go forward with my preferred birth plans without endangering anyone who will be caring for me, for which I'm so grateful. Through this, I've realized that I really, really don't want to get anything else. Labor will be challenge enough if I'm healthy.
SC: Were you worried about the virus when you first heard about it?
Erin Wilcox: When I first heard the virus was here, I was a tad concerned but thought that everyone stocking up on supplies from the store was probably overreacting. (And I'm still fascinated by the American response of making a run on toilet paper.) But being here in Seattle, ground zero of the pandemic in the U.S., I started to understand this as a public-health issue, that every infected person can become a vector to someone more vulnerable than themselves.
Pretty soon the company where I work had all of us work from home. Then a convention for which I was co-organizing a reading had to cancel. At that point my fellow organizers referenced me as a vulnerable population, and I was surprised. I followed up and saw that the city of Seattle had indeed listed pregnant people as vulnerable. This whole time I'd been thinking about protecting the elderly or people other than myself. I started taking more precautions then, but it wasn't until I got a chest cold that I realized how vulnerable I and my baby actually are right now. It's been humbling and sobering.
SC: How has the shelter-at-home mandate affected you?
Erin Wilcox: The order to work from home came at a time when my commute to the Eastside was really starting to stress me out. Since it's possible to write and edit from home — and in fact I did so for a decade as a full-time freelancer — I wasn't negatively affected.
I also live next to a beautiful park where I've seen people out skateboarding, walking, jogging, meditating, picnicking with a loved one, even practicing parasailing. I remember seeing one person with their headphones on, boogeying down like she was the only person in the world. It lifted my spirits. Now people are keeping more of a distance and there are fewer in the park, but I would attribute those numbers as much to the weather change as the stay-at-home order, which still allows people to take walks.
Personally, my partner and I are moving to online delivery of groceries where possible and just minimizing in-person interactions. My prenatal doula appointments have moved to online format, and our in-person birth classes at Swedish were canceled. For the most part, online preparation is sufficing. But it's taken a lot of time and added stress to navigate all this.
SC: How has the pandemic impacted your choice of maternity care?
Erin Wilcox: Before the pandemic hit Seattle, I was already feeling drawn toward the option of a birth center, though I was seeing an obstetrician. This has a lot to do with my more holistic orientation not fitting so well with aspects of allopathic medicine as practiced in the U.S. I felt a lot of pressure and fear being pushed toward me through this system that I was starting to have trouble leaving at my doorstep.
When the pandemic hit, I tried to remain as neutral as possible and evaluate how this would affect various contingencies. It did end up being a push toward the birthing center, between the lower population that will be present there and the potential for the traditional system being overwhelmed in late April, when I happen to be due. I was lucky to get in at a place where we'd already met a midwife and toured the facility. Much longer and I might not have been accepted, since I think they're getting a lot of calls from concerned parents-to-be.
SC: What have you been told to expect at the facility where you will deliver?
Erin Wilcox: I've learned that the same restrictions from the health department apply to birthing centers and hospitals. At present, the big change is that the baby's grandparents can't be present at the birthing center. But we're waiting to see if that will change as it has in other states.
SC: What support will you have in the birthing center? Has your doula helped you navigate this fast-changing situation?
My doula has guided us toward online options for birth class, cutting our research time in half. She has promised that if some policy change precludes her being there in person, she will accompany virtually. I do hope she can be with me in person because her physical presence has a soothing effect on me. But even her virtual presence would be much better than no doula at all.
SC: What are your big-picture, long-term worries? What are your hopes and what are you doing to stay positive?
Erin Wilcox: My doula suggested that a positive energy bubble will be essential for helping smooth the road for our baby's arrival. That's at every level, from hormonally to how we all choose to interact with each other under stress and what outcomes we see from these small, significant series of choices. So I've signed up for a daily online meditation being offered through my yoga lineage, and I have hit "pause" indefinitely on listening to my Stephen King audiobook (I happened to be reading "The Stand" when all this happened — what are the chances?!) and switched to stuff by Anastasia Wilde, whose shapeshifter romances are super fun.
I have concerns about possible shortages of supplies the baby might need if they have any special needs. And in general what kind of attention they might receive if this assembly-line system of medical care, already maxed out because of capitalism, were to undergo a sustained strain. Even the very best people will crack if they have to work too many shifts in a row — and to be clear, I think those on the front lines of fighting this pandemic are wonderful people who deserve so much thanks. But because of my concerns about the system, I'm hoping to keep our care with midwives as much as possible.
SC: What are your postpartum care plans and how have they changed (or not) given this unprecedented situation?
Erin Wilcox: My and my partner's parents are in the midst of figuring this out right now. The short answer is that we don't know what will happen, where they'll stay, what their contingencies would look like for health care in Washington if they should need it. We were looking forward to the support and the chance to share this experience with our parents, and we still hope it can happen. The idea that it might prove too difficult is heartbreaking for all of us.
SC: How are you feeling emotionally as you look toward your labor day?
Erin Wilcox: The one thing that was really troubling me was the idea of giving birth in relative isolation if I were to have tested positive. Plus I'm the kind of person who wants to give birth in the most natural setting possible — ideally I'd be in a natural hot springs tucked behind a waterfall somewhere with my husband and lots of skilled hands nearby. I don't know what it would really be like giving birth in an isolated ward, but the images that came to mind when I imagined it were worrisome. I would have tempered those with research, though, and relying on the strength of my spirituality if I'd had to do it.
SC: What are you doing to keep sane in the midst of all this unknown?
Erin Wilcox: Just putting one foot in front of the other. There's plenty to focus on besides "what-ifs" as we try to keep up with the ever-changing landscape.
SC: What thoughts have you had about bringing your baby into a world deeply impacted by the pandemic, with many countries expecting recession, if not depression?
Erin Wilcox: There's so much impacting the world right now, from global warming to cyber warfare and, as my preferred presidential candidate Marianne Williamson put it, "dark psychic forces." I don't know what lasting effects the pandemic will have, but we will teach our baby about the importance of being good to one another. That is what we can ultimately control.
SC: Has this experience clarified in any way what is most important to you as a parent or family?
Erin Wilcox: I will parent from the heart and trust my intuition. It's feeling good to live my values, moving to the birth center and finding community on this path. It would have been fear that kept me in the traditional system. I'll remember this polarity between intuition and fear, and what pole I feel better about acting from, when I'm making decisions as a parent.
SC: Have any silver linings come from this experience? Any positives?
Erin Wilcox: I've seen my neighborhood activated and people bearing up under stress in admirable ways. I've realized that I can rely on my family to lift me up, even when it means sending boxes of toilet paper from two states away.
I know that there will be more silver linings, and if there's one good thing about being a pregnant person "of advanced maternal age," it's that I understand why it's so important to embrace those upsides, that doing so does not detract from our mourning or our respect for those who suffer, including ourselves.
Cheryl Murfin, CD, is a longtime writer, a certified doula and mother of two grownup humans, including a King County Public Health nurse. She owns Nesting Instincts Seattle.
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