Pregnant in a Pandemic: My Journey so Far

Pregnant in a Pandemic: My Journey so Far | Kimberly Hetherington

At the time I finish editing this nine-month long article it’s November 2021. My baby will arrive any day now. Our fridge is stocked, hospital bags are packed, and our apartment is as ready as it can be to welcome a fresh new human. I began writing this as soon as I found out I was pregnant and continued until now. It’s followed me along my journey like a compassionate and curious friend always asking how everything was going. I wanted to keep record of my pregnancy as a sort of keepsake to remember this transformational period of my life. It holds the excitement, fears, pains, and incessant heartburn that followed me during my very first pregnancy in a global pandemic.

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It’s March 2021 and we are four days into our Honeymoon. I wait anxiously in the bathroom of our hotel in Brisbane as a pregnancy test lays flat on the counter. My heart is pounding so loudly I can hear it.

As I wait for the results, I feel a bundle of emotions that I’ve never felt together before: excitement, anticipation, fear. Nothing has ever made me so fluttery in my whole life. I think it’s because a part of me already knows.

Finally, the test is done, and I check the results. Two strong lines appear: I’m pregnant. ‘I’m pregnant,’ I whisper to myself. ‘Holy sh*t.’

We planned and wanted this, but now that it’s happened, I’m terrified. Am I ready to become a mother? I wait a few more minutes in the bathroom alone, balancing in this moment of time. I walk out of the bathroom to tell my husband. He’s lying on the bed watching YouTube videos, completely unaware. “You’re going to be a dad,” I tell him. He looks up at me and his face goes from confusion to excitement as he jumps up from the bed to give me the gentlest hug, as if I’ve suddenly become fragile. We sit on the bed laughing, crying, and trembling.

It’s a strange sensation knowing that there are little cells dividing and multiplying at extraordinary speeds inside of me. Human life is being made as we sit there; silently and ever so intelligently building itself together, one cell at a time. I’m aware of the risks in the first three months, so we decide we won’t tell anyone, for now.

That night we have dinner plans with some friends. My husband and I are so giddy, we try our best to resist the urge to scream: ‘WE’RE HAVING A BABY!’ Soon after we arrive my friend takes out four wine glasses for all of us. “Oh! No wine for me,” I tell her as I push away the wine glass, certain she has now become suspicious. “It’s just… I’ve had so much alcohol these past few days, I just need a break.” This isn’t entirely a lie. I was on my honeymoon after all, I wasn’t expecting to be pregnant yet.

We spend the next two days on beautiful Moreton Island. There is no WIFI on the island which was a blessing in disguise. Not having access to Google was precious for my anxious brain wanting to know the answer to every single question that popped into my head. It forced me to be present to the ocean and the birds. By the time we arrived back home in Sydney I had accumulated so many questions I was relieved to speak with my doctor. For someone who has zero knowledge of pregnancy and/or babies, I was utterly overwhelmed by the amount of information she gave me. There were tons of pamphlets and flyers and numbers to call, I tried taking notes the way I did in university with a professor who spoke too fast and ended up with cryptic, undecipherable messages. Many of the questions I came there with were forgotten completely. Except one: Should I get the COVID vaccine? My doctor assured me that for now, it’s best to wait until after I give birth. This comes as a relief. With all the controversy surrounding the vaccine, I’d much prefer to wait it out. Plus, at this time Australia was doing quite well managing the pandemic compared to the rest of the world. It seemed like everyone else was still in lockdown while we lived in our own bubble of safety and normality. Bars, clubs, shopping centres were open. No restrictions, no lockdowns. My fears of getting COVID were minimal.

I left that doctor’s appointment feeling a new sense of purpose and responsibility. In spiritual circles it’s believed that babies choose their mother. It’s a comforting thought and makes me feel a profound sense of duty knowing that perhaps this little human chose me, and I don’t want to let them down. I’m committed to doing everything I can to ensure this baby’s home is nurtured in every way possible. I envision a delightful and joyful pregnancy only eating organic whole foods and meditating in nature; fully embracing this graceful feminine strength.

First Trimester

A few days later I wake up feeling extremely hungover. It’s disorienting because I clearly haven’t been drinking. ‘Why on earth do I feel so terrible?’ It doesn’t take long before it clicks. Morning sickness. I thought morning sickness was something that happened in the morning and gradually eased by precisely 11:00 am. Well, apparently not. For me, it was an all-day feeling of nausea and headaches with no end in sight. The derailment of my day was infuriating. Almost everything I smelt made me sick, particularly vegetables. Specifically, asparagus. A friend had been staying in our house while we were on our Honeymoon and left a jar of pickled asparagus in the cupboard. Anytime I opened the cupboard and caught sight of that asparagus I gagged and slammed the cupboard shut.

Day by day this horrible pseudo hangover lingered. Nothing helped to take it away. The days, then weeks, became bleak. I began feeling depressed. I hated not having control over my own body. The only things I managed to eat were things like plain crackers, salted chips, and toast. For the first time in my entire adult life, I didn’t even crave, desire, or consider the thought of eating chocolate. This is not like me at all. Chocolate always makes me feel better. It was unbelievable to stare at my chocolate stash in the fridge and not even want a nibble of it. I felt like I was possessed by some chocolate hating monster. Not only did I feel physically sick, but I also felt incredibly guilty that I wasn’t eating healthier. So much for eating organic veggies at every meal, even the thought of anything remotely healthy made me want to vomit.

Around this time, I was luckily (or unluckily) unemployed. I had lost my job at the end of 2020 due to a company restructure and took it as a sign from the universe that it was time to create my own art therapy business. I told myself that if business was slower than expected I’d just find a part-time job. But by February I was pregnant, and I deeply underestimated the work involved in starting my own business. The “morning” sickness also made it hard for me to look for part-time work. I devoted the little energy I had towards building my business and felt increasingly ashamed for not doing more. I became obsessed with being ‘productive’ and making money. I felt like I failure that I was doing neither. Sure, I was growing life, but that didn’t feel like enough. I needed to be busy and have steady paycheque. Who was I to have the luxury of starting my own business at a time like this?

I messaged a friend who recently had twins and had morning sickness. “What can I do to make myself feel better?” I begged. “Don’t fight your body,” she said simply, “Give up the resistance and listen to what your body needs.” It was the most compassionate thing I’d heard. I preach a lot about self-compassion, yet I was doing the exact opposite to myself. Now it was my turn to walk the walk. My body was trying to adjust to the surge of hormones that create and sustain human life. Yet here I was demanding that it do more to fit into society’s idea of productivity. So, after weeks of fighting, I finally allowed myself to do whatever my body wanted. It wasn’t easy to let go of all the ‘should’s’ but it helped simmer the guilt that inevitably crept in again, and again…. and again. Turns out it’s a whole lot easier telling other people to be kind to themselves than it is to actually do it.

Second Trimester

A week or two before the start of the second trimester, I woke up one morning not feeling immediately nauseous. It happened so suddenly that I wondered if something was wrong. I called a nurse to make sure everything was ok. “Don’t worry, nothing is wrong,” she said calmly, “In fact, it’s a time to rejoice!” It had been so long since I felt normal, it was hard to know what to do with all this newfound freedom. I decided to go on a walk to my local waterfall. I was completely overwhelmed by the vividness of nature. It reminded me of that feeling when you’ve been on a long flight and land in a new country in the morning and your eyes try to adjust to the bright light and new environment. It felt so magical and surreal. On the walk back home, I wondered what else I could do to rejoice on this wonderful morning sickness-free day. But the moment I entered my apartment, I was hit by a wave of exhaustion. It was the kind of tiredness I felt when I was first diagnosed with hypothyroidism. All I could manage to do was crawl into bed and take a nap. On the plus side, my body began to tolerate more food beyond toast and chips. I started with bowls of fruit and then began to re-introduce vegetables. Not asparagus though, I might never be able to eat asparagus ever again in my entire life.

At my next doctor’s appointment my GP asks about my mental health. She tells me that any pre-existing mental health conditions tend to become exasperated during pregnancy due to the influx of hormones. Oh, great. It’s like pregnancy is a series of challenges and obstacles that act as a sort of initiation into motherhood. I also learn about the biochemistry of emotions. Whatever I feel emotionally is literally ‘feeding’ that emotion to my unborn baby. Of course, this only adds to the pressure and anxiety to only ‘feed’ my unborn baby joy and peace. But the pressure of trying to be happy all the time ironically makes me feel worse.

When I told my GP that I was experiencing larger than normal volumes of anxiety she put me on a waitlist to see a psychologist at Gidget House. The first meeting with a psychologist changed my entire month for the better. It felt like the sun parted through the metaphorical clouds. Ever since the start of my pregnancy I felt like I’d been caged by harsh self-judgement and worst-case scenario thoughts. Speaking to a therapist changed everything. It gave me space to breathe again. It also gave me the courage to face and feel the natural concerns and fears I had without having to sugar-coat anything or force negative thoughts away.

Within a few days everything began to feel better. I understood why the second trimester is referred to as the ‘best trimester.’ My energy and appetite came back, and I felt overwhelmed in gratitude for being pregnant. Even a bit of weight gain didn’t cause the anxiety I imagined it would. A little baby bump formed making it feel real. Up until this point in my pregnancy it felt more like a concept rather than a reality. It was hard to connect to the little being growing in my belly at each ultrasound. I was informed that my placenta was anterior which meant it takes a bit longer to feel movements. At exactly 20 weeks and 5 days, I felt the very first kick. I was laying in my bed doing a morning meditation and felt the slightest movement. I squealed at my husband to come feel it but as soon as he had his hand on my belly it stopped. Later that evening he was determined to feel it, so we lay together in bed with our eyes closed waiting for the baby to kick. There was nothing. Eventually my husband grew impatient and asked “Well, are you there or what?!” and there was a big kick in response. We both laughed.

The second trimester also introduced the more traditional symptoms of pregnancy: a heightened since of smell, heartburn, and lower back pain. The heightened sense of smell is a great, horrible thing. Passing by my local flower shop is so delightful it makes me weak in the knees. But then I’ll pass by someone with a certain body odour or catch a whiff of something strange in the hall of my apartment and the smell brings tears to my eyes. Heartburn was new to me; I’d never experienced it before. I thought it was chest/heart pain, so it took a while to understand that this constant indigestion and the feeling of food in the back of my throat was heartburn. The lower back pain was also very new to me. I’ve always had backaches, but this was more of a sharp electrical current that took over my entire body.

While I began to feel better emotionally and physically, the Delta variant began to ravage the state. By the end of June 2021, we entered into what initially appeared to be a brief lockdown. Our babymoon plans were halted, as were my birthday celebrations. With the new restrictions, my husband was no longer allowed to join me for my antenatal appointments at the hospital. However, he was graciously allowed to be Face-timed in. So, I went in alone, geared up with a fresh mask and instantly foggy glasses, to sit down with my masked midwife and prop my husband up in the tissue box in the corner of the room so he could be a part of it.

Unfortunately, the lockdown continued as cases continued to grow. My GP and my midwife both warned me that getting the virus during pregnancy could be fatal for me, the baby, or both. The COVID vaccine went from being something pregnant women were encouraged to have after birth (at least in Australia), to an urgent vaccine that must be taken as soon as possible. With data from millions of people from the US and the UK who were part of initial clinical trials of the vaccine, it was ultimately deemed safe for pregnant women. At my next antenatal appointment my midwife handed me an official government document about the Pfizer vaccination. “It’s important that you make an informed choice,” she told me. The document encouraged pregnant women to take Pfizer, but I wasn’t completely convinced. It caused me extreme distress to have to make this decision. I don’t even take Panadol when I have a pounding headache, let alone a vaccine that was created in a hurry. I always opt for natural remedies and truly believe in holistic health. I exercise regularly, I eat organic when possible, and use primarily natural products to avoid chemicals. At the same time, I believe strongly in modern medicine and recognise the importance that vaccines have played in saving millions of lives over the course of human history. My health is always something I’ve taken seriously, even more so now that I’m in charge of a human being who is still forming and developing inside of me. I spent the next few weeks analysing and researching whatever I could find on the internet, trying my best to avoid the sensationalised content exploding on social media. I listened to friends who are on both sides of the ‘debate’ and tried my best to come up with a decision that felt safest for me and my baby.

As the weeks went by and the cases of COVID grew to 1,000 per day I limited what I read on the internet, created boundaries with well-meaning friends, and sought advice only from those who work either in healthcare or have a medical background. It was overwhelming and stressful; I genuinely didn’t know what to do. I confided in a friend, who is also a scientist and a mother. I asked her what her thoughts were and instead of telling me what to do she simply said, “At the end of the day, all you can do is just try your best to make a decision with all the information you have now. This is just part of being a mum.” Unfortunately, there is no crystal ball. There is no ‘right’ answer. The information I have leads me to believe that getting the vaccine is the safest thing to do. After-all, I did get my whooping cough and flu vaccine without this much agony. Both of which have been proven to be safe, how could this one be that different? A few weeks later I get my first dose of Pfizer. For the time being, I lay the endless and torturous debate of whether to vaccinate to rest. After getting the second dose of the vaccine I felt tired and my arm was sore, but overall, I felt and continue to feel fine.

Third Trimester

The weird thing about being in lockdown is that life doesn’t feel like it moves forward. When every day looks and feels like the last, time warps and bends in on itself. It feels like I’m in a perpetual state of pregnancy and that nothing, including the baby is growing. But suddenly we are in September and the first day of spring brings warmth and visible change. The leaves begin to burst out of tiny buds and cover the trees in speckles of green. Flowers begin to bloom, and I’m reminded that my body is following the seasons too. My baby is growing alongside nature like a flower bud ready to blossom.

At 28 weeks I take a glucose tolerance test to check for gestational diabetes. For whatever reason this test was something I read a lot of pregnant women complain about, so I was anxious in the lead up to it. I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to getting my blood taken so I was worried about having 3 blood tests back to back. The sugary drink wasn’t that bad and if anything, it helped stave off the hunger I’d felt from fasting. During the second blood draw I jumped just as she had the needle in my arm, so she missed and had to “fish for my vein” which made me extremely faint. By the end my arm was bruised but I felt fine, just a little more tired than usual. Overall, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I was expecting.

At 31 weeks pregnant we begin our birth and parenting course and the information we get from an experienced midwife puts a lot of my fears at ease. Beyond my little pregnancy bubble, life begins to return to some semblance of normal as the state reaches its 70% double vaccination target. There’s a feeling of palpable relaxation from everyone around me. It’s as if we’ve survived a war. I’ve never seen more picnics and small gatherings in my local park ever before. Being locked up at a home for so long is a stark reminder of the importance of human interaction. It’s heartwarming to see groups of people gathered on camping chairs needing nothing more than each other’s company. The ability to socialise with more than one person is a welcomed change to my routine. Especially not having to constantly wonder what the rules are and whether I’d get fined for breaking a rule I was unaware of.

Despite the newfound freedoms, my life remains relatively the same. The third trimester feels like the first in many ways. My appetite is not as strong nor as healthy (homemade Egg McMuffin and freshly baked cookies are my go-to), heartburn has returned with a vengeance, and I feel exhausted. The only difference is the obvious baby bump and intense lower back pain which only got worse. I booked an appointment with a physiotherapist, but it didn’t make much of a difference. The pain was excruciating and began impacting my sleep. Out of desperation I decided to see a chiropractor. Despite what I’d seen in movies with chiropractors dangerously snapping necks and popping backs, she was very gentle and explained that my pelvis was slanted by only a millimetre. She did something that gave me almost instantaneous relief. Within a few days the pain completely went away. While I still have dull aches, I am no longer limping and wincing or waking up in pain. I can go about my normal routine, just at a much slower pace. I spend more time resting and taking naps, more than I have ever done in my entire life. As crazy as it sounds, rest and relaxation has been something that I needed to learn. I have a fixation with being productive that even my downtime must be constructive to my overall development. Pregnancy has reminded me that rest is not lazy, but necessary. It’s demonstrated how intelligent and powerful my body truly is. I didn’t need to pass a complicated test to grow a human being, my body knew what to do at exactly the right time. The past 9 months have given me a whole new level of respect for my body.

So, here we are, the supposed final week of pregnancy. In some ways it’s hard to believe we’re finally here, waiting to meet this little human. I spend my days drinking raspberry tea, going on morning walks, eating dates, meditating, napping, and watching Netflix. These are all the things I’m told to do to ensure this baby comes “on time” even though, according to my midwife, the chance of the baby being born on their delivery date is as low as 4-5%. It’s crazy to think that one of the most transformational experiences of my life has zero certainty. There is no specific date or time for when this baby will arrive, all I get is a rough estimate based on averages. Then again, any transformational experience I’ve ever gone through in my life didn’t come with a warning or set of instructions. The biggest moments of life tend to happen spontaneously, forcing me to figure it out on the spot. At least I had a 9 months heads up to prepare mentally and emotionally. But it was also 9 months of overthinking and worrying. Pregnancy has taught me to let go of the illusion of control and trust that my body knows what to do. Preparing for birth is not an intellectual problem to solve, but a physical experience to be felt.

My mantra is to let go, trust, and remember my own innate primal strength. Even though I’m terrified of what’s to come, both in birth and becoming a mother, I’m also excited as hell. Both feelings are tangled up tightly inside of me. I still have work I want to do on myself, there are many wounds yet to heal. For so long I believed I needed to heal myself fully before having children. But I realised that if I do then I’ll never have the chance to become a mum. Healing is an ongoing journey and I don’t know if you ever ‘arrive’. While there are still wounds to tend to and habits to break, I’ve come a long way. I’m trying every day to be the best version of myself I can be. I may not be perfect but I’m willing to learn, to change, to adapt. I’m willing to grow alongside this baby, to keep my mind open to all the challenges and lessons that are no doubt waiting for me.

As I type this, I need to take regular breaks to stand and stretch otherwise I get kicked incessantly in my right ribcage. I’m being reminded to sit up straight. This baby needs more space, and I need to take a deep breath. I put my hand on my stomach and can feel those little feet, only a small bit of skin like a wall between us. Soon I’ll be able to hold those pesky feet in the palms of my hands, closely examining each and every wrinkle and fold. I cannot wait to meet this baby. This little human who I got to see grow on hazy ultrasound videos month after month. The love I feel is unlike any love I’ve ever felt before. It’s a new type of love but also ancient. It’s protective and precise. It’s the kind of love that comes from a part of me that’s so foreign I still don’t even recognise it. It’s from a part of me that’s still developing, also waiting to be born. Soon this baby will be in my arms and this waiting period will be just a blip on the timescale of our lives. A small moment before a lifetime with a person I couldn’t imagine life without.

3 Comments

  1. Congratulations Kimberly ….warm flutter feelings in my heart to read of your journey
    Pure joy
    Best wishes Kimberly your a beautiful woman you’ll be a beautiful mother xx

  2. Oh Kimberly how much I loved reading this. You are so in tune with your mind and body. I was never like that but being pregnant definitely puts your mind in places you never realized. A magical thing. It truly is an amazing process with this growth inside of you. I know every mom will say that unless you have had a child you cannot understand the love a mother feels. I can’t wait to hear about the birth of your child but even more meeting him or her. Good luck with everything. Love you.

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