Pandemic and Pregnancy

Pandemic and Pregnancy April 6, 2020

It may feel all but impossible to do anything right now not related in some way to the pandemic. For good reason, we are learning that the most ordinary things we do every day, like washing hands, wearing masks, and staying indoors, can have big consequences for someone else.  In these practical ways we’re encouraged to take care of our own health as a way of helping care for the health of others, including others we never have met.

1918 flu notwithstanding, many call our situation unprecedented. But the fact that our personal actions can really matter to someone else–that has precedent. For everyone, reliance on someone else’s physical care is an entry condition for living at all. Painfully aware of this now in the face of a pandemic threatening death, we might take it seriously in reflecting on pregnancy, how humans come into life.

Connections between COVID-19 and pregnancy might not be immediately evident. We lack research to indicate that this virus, unlike some other recent threats (including the 2016 spreading of Zika virus), carries any aggravated harms to pregnant women. However, it targets them in what has become one of the signature features of the experience of childbearing: frequent medical visits culminating in a planned hospital stay. With hospital-going worrisome, either from fear of contracting Coronavirus or as hospitals are overwhelmed by emergency cases, women readying for birth may make other plans. Traveling to another part of the country or trying homebirth have become plausible solutions for some women.

We should be impressed by the parallels between public-health calls urging us to us to consider the health of the most vulnerable and the language common to prenatal-care guides. These guides don’t only tell women what to expect when expecting. They tell women temporarily to reshape nearly facet of life in order to provide for and protect the coming baby. Eating foods with extra iron and folate, avoiding foods that may carry contamination or cause problems—tuna, deli turkey, brie, pineapple—shunning alcohol, tobacco, and some prescription drugs, changing work at jobs, even altering sleep position become part of a pregnant woman’s special duties. This can be ascetic, self-sacrificial. It might feel like a long Lent.  It’s a rigorous program of self-care for the good of another person. We should not hesitate to see charity, hospitality, and courage in that work.

Our current discouraging moment might seem the wrong time to be pondering the great good and mystery of how one person carries another into life. I would suggest the opposite! (And have a book just out saying so, Showing: What Pregnancy Tells Us about Being Human.)  Right now we need all the resources we can get to help bear one another’s burdens amid fear and suffering. We already have, in pregnancy, a model of embodied generosity and courage. You might say we were born for this.

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