Pregnant and furloughed in a pandemic - what now?
Updated: Oct 10, 2020
I never fully envisioned the ideal birth of my baby girl - all I knew is that I wanted to have a drug free delivery in as natural a way as possible. I read one book to prepare myself for the big day: Ina May’s Complete Guide to Childbirth. As I turned the last page, I felt ready. I learned about what I thought was every possible scenario, I meditated on a smooth and easy delivery, and felt like nothing could unsettle my determined and stoic approach to the birth.
Despite my relentless efforts to remain calm amid the chaos, the series of events that unfolded tried my ability to trust the clouded perfection of the moment.
March 13th, 2020: Our office decided to close and start working remotely until the virus scare settled. We still were taking it relatively lightly, bidding on hand sanitizer and face masks on eBay. With my family being in Milan, I was aware of how deadly the virus could potentially become, but I wanted to believe it was a fleeting fear and that things would return to “normal” again soon.
May 5th, 2020: I was told that May 10th would be my last paid day with the company, and that I would be furloughed until further notice. Would I get maternity leave? And health insurance? What would unemployment be and would it cover my expenses? Would I ever get my job back?
June 11th, 2020: We decided to invest in an Airstream and take off on an adventure through Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Yellowstone, Montana and back. The places we saw and the experiences we lived helped us understand what type of life we want to create for our family, and what steps we need to take to reach those goals.
June 30th, 2020: We made it back to LA in time for a check up with my OB. All was in line except for an unusual amount of itching that was increasing drastically every night. I brushed it off as (one of the many) unexpected pregnancy symptoms.
July 15th, 2020: After a couple of non-stress tests done the previous week to check on low fetal activity, the continuous itching and increasing number of scratches on my body, my Dr. decided to do a bile acids test to diagnose me for cholestasis.
July 21st, 2020: I received a call from my Dr. that my levels were high enough that I needed to get the baby out the same day. I packed my bag and we headed to the hospital.
We arrived at St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica, undressing and preparing for a C-section at 8 pm. We couldn’t believe our little Luce was going to arrive 3 weeks early, but also that morning had a feeling that something was changing. I woke up knowing she was arriving very soon, and spent the morning watering the plants, organizing her nursery and doing a Target run. As we were loading up the car and driving to the hospital, I felt surprisingly calm to be meeting our baby so much earlier than anticipated. I was taking it all very lightly - like I was notified that a backordered package I had been anxiously waiting for was going to arrive earlier than guaranteed. That sense of blinded excitement carried on until I was rolled into the operating room and administered an epidural for the surgery.
All of a sudden a sense of panic overcame me - what am I doing? Is this the right thing to do? What if she isn’t ready to come out and there are complications? Should I have waited full term and risked the consequences of the cholestasis?
Fast forward through the cutting and to when I heard Luce’s first cry as she was removed from the womb. It was a foreign sound - not like anything I had ever heard before in my life. But the cries were short lived and weakened as the minutes passed. I turned my head over my strapped down arms and from the corner of my eyes saw Dr. 's rushing over to her. They said she was having trouble “transitioning” and let me hold her for a millisecond before rushing her to the Nicu. What just happened? Was she ok? Was she going to survive? I felt so scared and helpless as they were sewing up my body.
Flashbacks of my recurring dream for the past months were haunting me - Luce’s hand reaching out through the womb trying to grab mine, telling me she wasn’t going to make it. Is that what she was telling me? That I had cholestasis and that my womb became toxic for her, to the point that even a 3 week early C-section wouldn’t save her?
I asked my supportive rock of a husband to go stay with her in the Nicu and to update me as soon as he knew anything. I sat in the room next door, staring at the clock on the wall moving tortuously slow, trying to distract myself with my saint of a nurse Tanya, who was graciously cleaning me up and getting me ready for postpartum recovery.
After the longest 36 hours of my life were over, Luce was finally released from the Nicu and in the recovery room with us. Until we were “allowed” to leave the hospital, I was anxious-ridden with an overwhelming sense of constraint. I was exhausted, run down and felt powerless as the nurses kept referencing numerous tests Luce had to pass before being able to leave the hospital. All I wanted was to be back in our house, all together, and have all of this behind us. Finally, on day 4, we were released and able to go home.
My grandfather always tells me that expectations remove the sweetness out of life. He says to expect nothing, and always be pleasantly surprised. Nothing could have been more relevant in getting through these months with gratitude in my heart for every curveball that was thrown my way. The powerful lessons that are now ingrained in me because of this experience have shaped me into the mother I need to be for my Luce.
You don’t have to prove anything to anyone.
In the postpartum recovery room next to mine was a mother who had just given birth to twins naturally and alone as her husband was home with their 5 year old. The loud voiced nurse that kept waking me every hour made sure to remind me numerous times “how strong some women are” and “how unbelievable women are who have natural births”.
How could she make a comment like that? All women are amazing. What women's bodies are capable of doing to create and give birth to a child is the most magical of experiences. I couldn’t help but feel my body flood with anger, shift to shame, and later, to sadness. All I wanted was a natural birth. I wanted to be one of those “strong women” that gave birth to their child without drugs, the way I always believed “it should be”. I felt like she was diminishing what I had been through to give birth to Luce, and like it was so much easier than what the women next door had been through.
Although the reality is, she didn’t make me feel anything. I did. I let her words trigger an insecurity within myself and wanted to have someone to direct my frustrations towards. The woman next door was really unbelievable and what she did is nearly unheard of - but I am pretty amazing also. I am not in competition with the woman next door, we are all in this together. No birth is easier than another, and no woman’s experience diminishes your own. Some things are out of our hands, regardless of our desire to control and plan situations to our liking and that is the way it should be. The unexpected things are the ones that teach us what we need to learn.
Trust every moment, no matter the temptation to give into fear.
In the peak of my frenzy as I was being administered the epidural for surgery, my Dr. (who was not my actual assigned Dr. as my Dr.’s husband sadly had a stroke two weeks earlier and I was assigned to someone else in the practice), walked in and started speaking to me in Italian. He asked how I spoke Italian and where my family lived and we connected that he received his medical degree in Milan down the street from my grandparents house. Just like that, I was gifted a moment of reassurance that everything was going to be ok as his Italian speaking presence and mannerisms made me feel like my grandparents were in the room with me.
When I first found out my original Dr. was OOO until further notice, I panicked as I felt we were so in sync with my birth plans. As nervous as I initially felt, I later understood that the Dr. that was then assigned to me was the person meant to give birth to Luce. He was direct and fearless, and instilled all the confidence that I needed to get through everything. Not only was he a gift for me during the birth, he has continued to remain a pillar of support for me, and I feel lucky enough to now call him my friend.
If I had told myself this two weeks before the birth, I never would have believed any of it. I always pride myself on following my hunches and intuition in making big decisions, although feeling so passive in the process instilled in me an even greater trusting of the present moment, whether or not it is what I would have wanted. Sometimes what we need is not what we want, but maybe we don't always know what we really need.
Hidden in every crisis is an opportunity hoping to be unveiled.
In one way or another, these past 6 months have been a challenge for everyone. Who would have imagined being quarantined in their homes for months to avoid Covid, distanced from friends and family, with no end in sight? Or what about the earthquake, fires and political unrest this country is currently facing. We’ve all had the opportunity to evaluate what is important, what we feel we could give up, or what we value too much to ever lose.
The pregnancy and birth were far from what I ever imagined. I wanted to wear cute maternity outfits and bee bop around town with friends brainstorming names and buying baby clothes. But what I gave up is nothing in comparison to what people have lost. Being able to have made the most of my situation has been a privilege that I know not all have been granted. This quarantine gave me my baby girl, and I am fortunate to still see 2020 as a blessing.
Luce (pronounced loo - c'è) means light in Italian. Her middle name is Liv - short for Olive, a symbol for peace, and to encourage her to “live” her life to the fullest. We want her name to remind her to let light always guide her adventurous yet peaceful life, feeling grounded in the universe and the foundation her family created for her to build her dreams upon. I hold her and think, how will I ever protect her from what the world will throw her way? I look at her perfect tiny hands, and imagine all the things that they will do. One day they will write, paint, create, and who knows what else. But not yet. Let me just sit and stare, overwhelmed with love, freezing the moment for just another moment (or two). 2020 has forced all of us to accept we can’t know what is being thrown our way, but we can (and must) control how we react to them.
I won’t be able to protect her in my arms forever, but I can, and will, give her the skills she needs to feel grounded, confident and relentlessly pursue all that she loves and is most in line with her inner truth. Because what is life if not an opportunity to do exactly that?