Near the end of the 1994 film version of Little Women, Winona Ryder’s Jo casually mentions that her very pregnant sister Meg “has entered her confinement.” Normally during my family’s annual Thanksgiving viewing of the movie, this line has gone right over our heads. But last year I had just announced that I was expecting my first baby, so pregnancy was top of mind. The idea that Meg’s condition needed to be hidden away from the world was met by uproarious laughter.
“When are you entering your confinement Charli?,” my sister teased.
Turns out: March 17, 2020. That’s the day the French government imposed one of the strictest coronavirus lockdowns in the world. Nearing my eighth month of pregnancy, I was suddenly cut off from my job, my friends, my pre-parenthood plans, and told by doctors that as an “at risk” person, I needed to be especially cautious to keep myself and my baby safe.
As the shock of the pandemic spreading across the globe sank in, my maternity plans unraveled. There would be no baby shower, no last date nights out with my husband, no long child-free coffees with friends, no impulse spending at baby stores. I couldn’t even go for long walks. With the near future highly uncertain, I started stockpiling diapers and formula, just in case. I had entered my confinement. A pregnant woman hidden away, preparing for worst-case scenarios.
As the shock of the pandemic spreading across the globe sank in, my maternity plans unraveled.
There is guilt in mourning the loss of traditional milestones of pregnancy, when so many people are losing more important pieces of their lives. And there is also great fear of catching a mysterious virus while a tiny human is growing inside me, blissfully unaware of what is unfolding outside. Doctor appointments that were previously joyful became stressful and anxiety-inducing, with staff’s head-to-toe protective gear lending the experience the warmth of a space shuttle.
As each day in quarantine passed, more and more of my plans disappeared. My family’s visits to come see the baby were cancelled, impossible due to U.S. travel bans. My husband was unable to be a part of his daughter’s last sonogram. I broke when I learned women in New York were at one point giving birth alone, with no support partner. My own hospital implemented a policy of no partners if either one of us showed symptoms, and I became terrified of getting sick and having to give birth without my husband.
Giving birth for the first time is already an exercise in uncertainty. You have no control over when your baby decides they are ready. No roadmap of how birth will go or what it will feel like. Now there was the added stress of keeping our household virus free so my husband could see his daughter’s first moments of life, and I could bring her into the world without a mask covering my face.
I’m so thankful to my medical team — the doctors, midwives and nurses who have done the best they can in these extraordinary circumstances. Everyone has continued working, taking extra precautions to stay healthy so they can keep their patients cared for and on track. This has meant holding some appointments over the phone, or with one patient at a time allowed in the sonogram doctor’s office, or with marks on the floor and seats indicating how close we can get to the other expectant mothers in masks.
I’m so thankful to my medical team — the doctors, midwives and nurses who have done the best they can in these extraordinary circumstances.
As my days before motherhood tick down, I’m also preparing to spend at least the first few months of my baby’s life without the expected support network. My family remains unable to enter the country for now, and we are still unclear how long it will be before my husband’s family in France will get to see her. Many doctors are recommending anywhere from four to eight weeks with zero visitors because fevers pose such a big risk to newborns. The plan to have family helping me navigate early motherhood and assisting with basics like food, cleaning and allowing me to shower has been scrapped.
In the most difficult moments, I remind myself that my baby has no clue what’s going on and probably appreciates the extra brownies and ice cream that I’ve been stress eating in confinement. Her early life will still be full of love, just limited to touch from mommy and daddy. In the first days of confinement here, a friend explained to me that having a newborn basically puts you in lockdown anyhow, but I hope the situation improves before she gets big enough to start wondering if everyone but her parents have masks for faces.
Her early life will still be full of love, just limited to touch from mommy and daddy.
One day far into the future we will tell our daughter all about this unprecedented world health crisis that she was born in the middle of – the fear, anxiety, boredom, and anticipation. Until then, I’ll shelter her especially carefully. As much as I am able, I won’t let the coronavirus impact the early life she deserves. Armed with masks, gloves, wipes, and motherly love, I plan to let her early days of life unfold free from the madness surrounding her tiny world.