Blissful. That’s pretty much how it felt to hold my baby son in my arms after such a stressful 37 weeks of a pandemic pregnancy.
He is here, healthy and strong, and my wife, Stef, is doing well after having a beautiful labor experience in the comfort of our own home. His birth was a sigh of relief from so much anguish and worry that kept me from exhaling for so long.
We went through so many challenges during this pandemic pregnancy. First, we thought our baby wasn’t going to make it full-term. What started as weird pregnancy symptoms eventually became a medical concern for pre-term labor. Coupled with my wife’s lupus, we thought perhaps he wasn’t going to be able to make it.
We started the second trimester with my wife on medical-ordered bed rest. It was a moment in my life where I was really struggling to be OK amidst everything going on. I needed to be there not only for my wife, our unborn child, and our preschooler daughter, but also for myself and my responsibilities. Many times I questioned the timing of everything.
We went through other sad moments during this time, like the death of two people close to our family. And the struggles of mental health, as I was learning to cope with generalized anxiety and seeking therapy for what I had noticed become unhealthy behaviors in my thinking and increasing patterns of worrying. Then amidst a move to a new house and a job change for me, we got hit with the pandemic.
A pandemic pregnancy. Reports from China showed that COVID-19 affected pregnant women by causing pre-term labor, something Stef was already at-risk for. Then when the virus was ravaging through New York, we were so uncomfortable with the stories of mothers having to labor alone – or worse; having to be separated from their children because they were born with the virus.
Stress, anxiety, a dislocated shoulder
We had just bought a house and I had started a new job that now didn’t seem guaranteed. Our rental properties had tenants who were getting laid off and couldn’t pay rent. We chose to have an extensive self-quarantine. No grocery trips. No visitations. We had midwives come to check up on the baby instead of going to a clinic for appointments. And in the span of 13 weeks of self-quarantine, we had to learn how to be OK in a home that we couldn’t finish furnishing and with a preschooler that has always enjoyed socializing and being anywhere BUT home now having to do online classes at age 3. I became obsessed with the virus, at one point worrying if I was to catch it from just being outside in our yard.
But alas. 37 weeks. That’s the magic number they give for a pregnancy to be considered full-term and for it to be legally OK in Florida to have a baby at home. Then, the day after we get the all-clear, I dislocated my shoulder during an at-home workout. I had such a fear of the hospital that we first tried to pop it back using YouTube videos to teach me how. I ended up having to go to the ER, where I thought I would for sure I’f be bringing back the infection and possibly miss out on my son’s birth.
But something happened in that ER. I was there alone. Not only did it ease my fear of exposure to the virus, but it also reminded me that there was a world outside our home. That soon it was my job to raise a little boy in a way he deserved.
I thought of conversations I had with my wife regarding the mental impact this must be having on our daughter – and that soon she was about to go through a major change in her life as she became one of two kids. I don’t know what it was, but it clicked for me that I just needed to enjoy whatever was in front of me, regardless of a situation I couldn’t control. Being this affected hadn’t allowed me to enjoy the moment. My wife had hit 37 weeks. Both she and the baby were healthy. My daughter was happy and an incredible being. And that in itself should have been enough. I got my shoulder popped back in, with good wishes from the amazing medical staff who together had given me more social interaction than I had in months.
From then on, my outlook changed on everything. We left our house for the first time. We decided to go to a plant nursery and see what it was like to go to a place with other patrons. We became OK with walking on a golf course in our neighborhood. We recorded our first TikTok video, which was a great deal of fun and got us enjoying the beauty that was my wife being pregnant. Each day was the last we could be as a family of three, and we were milking it.
Pandemic pregnancy to beautiful birth
Just five days after my shoulder injury, our little boy made his debut to the world in a crazy short two-hour labor. The labor was beautiful. Stef woke up to strong contractions around 1:30 on the morning of May 24. I called the labor team of two midwives, our doula, and a doula-photographer who were going to be making their way over from all parts of Orlando.
At 3:32 a.m., I had the opportunity to catch him as he made his way to the world. The oxytocin that must’ve formed after seeing my wife lovingly breathe our baby out could have been why my shoulder and arm seem to work fine and all I could feel at that moment was the silence of the world as I laid eyes with my son.
I had not enjoyed this pregnancy the same way as I did our first. I didn’t bond with my baby in utero as I did with my daughter. I was worried most of the time, in fear of missing out on the moment of being able to ever hold him. And here he was, all 6.4 lbs of human in my hands. It was one of those moments where everything stops and the meaning of life gets just so simple. The world stops spinning amidst things happening right in front of you, but instead of the past flashing before your eyes, it’s little glimpses of all your dreams of the future, bundled in a physical manifestation of love.
None of the worries I had seemed to matter. Not the quarantine, not the effects of labor, or the stresses of the pregnancy. It was bliss. A moment of perfection where everything just seems to be right.
And now here we are – still in a chaotic, non-ideal planet for so many reasons, but in a state of happiness with our boy. We’re getting ready to reintegrate into society once more. And while we don’t know how that looks like yet, we are enjoying this little bundle of joy, seeing my daughter take on her role of big sister, and experiencing everything that comes forth as I become a dad once more to another living being. Another little miracle. One with the potential to leave his own mark on the world.
A version of this pandemic pregnancy story first appeared on Being Papa. All photos contributed by Marlon Gutierrez.