Following is an interview between Oak Leaf staff writer Griffin Schouten and her friend and fellow student Isabella Riddell, 22, about Isabella’s pregnancy experience during the COVID-19 pandemic. Answers were edited for length and clarity.
I grew up around the block from Isabella or “Izzy,” as I call her. Our parents still live in the same homes, and when we’re home for the summer, it’s like we’re growing up again. Izzy is 23 weeks pregnant. At 22, she is having a baby girl with her boyfriend Daniel. While she had spent months planning for the challenges that come from being a young mom, Izzy never anticipated the struggle of having her child during a global pandemic.
When did you find out you were pregnant?
I found out the earliest I possibly could, so around four weeks. It was November, the week of the UC application deadline.
How many weeks are you?
I am 23 weeks to the day.
How has COVID-19 affected your pregnancy?
I had gotten really sick at the end of January, and it lasted until the later weeks of February. I had two hospital visits and three urgent appointments with a doctor. Each visit began with questions about recent travel out of the country or exposure to someone that has the virus.
As the reality of the situation set, in recent weeks, my anxieties shifted from being upset at the limitations to feeling very unprepared with the “new normal” being suddenly implemented. Our 20-week appointment was short and impersonal. We were not told the gender, and the ultrasound technician was quick to grab measurements and let us go. Following that, my boyfriend was not allowed at my most recent prenatal appointment, where we met our midwife who will be helping us give birth. We have been advised that since there will be a collective change to public gatherings, to be prepared for the four classes we have scheduled for June to be cancelled. Of course there are outside sources that we can utilize, but these classes are fundamental in building our confidence with the upcoming step into parenthood, where we learn about and prepare for labor, birth, breastfeeding, baby care and essential safety such as infant CPR. The most recent news from our doctor is to prepare for the worst case scenario of giving birth alone. Not only is my boyfriend my source of peace and consolation, but being there during the birth has been something he has been looking forward to, so this is our biggest concern.
How have the stressors from COVID-19 affected you in general?
Construction is listed as an emergency service, which leaves Daniel having to enter the homes of various other families five days a week. We both have worries of whether those who he works alongside and for are taking precautions. He began working for this company in recent months, so he is not insured for another month. Our house is filled with pre-existing conditions.
How have you been coping with the stress of being a young mom during this crazy time?
I have a skeletal outline of a routine I do every day in order to feel fulfilled. The only priorities that I set for myself are to follow a guided meditation once Daniel leaves for work around 6 a.m. and write two intentions for that day in my notes. I like to call them intentions because I do not feel bad if I don’t complete a task.
Sheltering-in-place has helped me move away from the idea that “productivity is key” that has been cemented into our generation. Making myself a decent meal and stretching for 12 minutes is counted as a task that can make me feel fulfilled, whereas before quarantine, I wouldn’t have felt complete unless I had gone to class for four hours then head over to work six to eight hours following. I’m still taking city classes online, though.
Have you been going outdoors much?
Not at all. My boyfriend and my dad have been going to great lengths to make me feel as at-home as possible. Daniel does all of our grocery shopping. Our new thing is to make food and park our car somewhere nice to share the meal. We have done this almost every day the last week, since the weather has been gloomy and wet. They don’t want me to even touch a park bench.
How do you stay informed about the virus and precautions you have to take?
My dad keeps me up to speed with updates daily. I am usually glued to my phone, as most others since it’s primary season, but have tried to take a break from all things political and newsworthy for the sake of my mental health. I watch Bernie’s livestreams because I trust him more than others who hold power, and he inspires hope in me. Besides that, I stay updated through emails from my doctor.
Do you feel like you’ve been compensated fairly during this time by the government? Like how do you feel the trillion dollar spending budget has affected/helped/not done enough to support you?
Not at all. I have felt no effect of the bailout, and it seems awfully short-lived and counterproductive. There are flaws in the basic order of operations that even I can point out, with no formal economic experience. In order to not expose yourself, you must stay indoors, but in order to stay indoors, you must have the means to stock up on food and toiletries that will last you over a month. Most households can hardly afford groceries after rent.
Many, many households live paycheck to paycheck, including my own, including the landlords still requiring rent be paid, including the small business owners that have laid off their employees, and including the medical professionals and grocery clerks that can’t capitalize off being some of the most important workers in this time. It’s astounding that the poorest people can cause a crack in capitalism when they cannot gather the means to spend, but they’re not compensated fairly or given any safety net.
I could not imagine this happening while having a newborn, and I worry about how unprepared I am for what is to come in the future.
How has the pandemic taken a toll on your mental health?
My mental health has taken a dip in this new reality, but I have found solace in community while utilizing social media and other forms of less personal communication like podcasts and Youtube videos. Everyone is sharing this experience and allowing their narratives to be heard through unfiltered live streams, comedy on Twitter or shared memories on Instagram. This is the first time where being online has benefited my mental health, which I never would have thought to happen.
Do you feel safe when you go to your doctor’s office?
Yes, for the most part. I am hit with a spritz of hand sanitizer upon entrance and asked to show proof of my appointment or prescription refill and given a sticker. There is only one entrance, all others are closed off to refrain from anyone coming in without this. There were no masks left during my last appointment. The rest of my appointments will be held over the phone until further notice. Thankfully we feel kicks, which makes up for not getting to hear the baby’s heartbeat for however long.