I have to admit that when I first heard about the Covid-19 cases emerging in Italy, it felt like one more health risk to worry about. In January, I was already six months pregnant and scrupulously trying to avoid touching my face or getting sick from the flu. This new virus went onto my list of things to avoid but still felt far away.
Being pregnant during a pandemic in one of the countries that has been hit hardest by the novel coronavirus was not planned. Life rarely works out that way.
So what is it like to be pregnant in Italy during coronavirus?
It feels a bit precarious but increasingly like our new normal. There is nothing we can do to immediately change the situation and so we have simply adapted. Our number one priority, like most people around the world, is the health of our family.
Italy has put all nonessential health services on hold. There are people around the country who are waiting for surgeries and important treatments to resume. For me, my health situation has an unavoidable deadline: my due date. And so, I am still out at necessary appointments and checkups.
Italy’s health system is a mix of public (the SSN) and private. I have a private doctor, but the strict rules are the same in public and private settings. Primarily:
- I have to go to all appointments alone.
- I cannot be in a waiting room within a meter of anyone else. Most appointments are staggered to avoid patients overlapping too much.
- I have to wear a mask at all times. This is not required in Lazio for general outings but it is fairly widely practiced. It is, however, mandatory at hospitals, clinics, and doctor’s offices. This means that I will also have to wear a mask for labor and for the entire time I am in the clinic after giving birth.
- I have to wash/disinfect my hands and have my temperature taken (thermal scan) when I go to an appointment.
- Appointments are as short as possible and only scheduled when absolutely needed.
I remember my first pandemic appointment was the day after the national lockdown was officially declared. My doctor looked at me and said “things won’t be normal for a long time.” At that point, the first measures were set to expire in just a couple of weeks so I don’t think I could really grasp how much things would change.
As the weeks have worn on and the horrendous death toll has climbed, we now better understand the risk that we are all facing. For that reason, instead of pure fear, we feel immense gratitude. We are deeply grateful for a government which took such strong steps before they were the norm, and so thankful for strangers who have joined us all in this difficult and isolated time.
I am in a higher risk group, my newborn will also be potentially high risk, so thank you. Thank you for staying home.
Being home and pregnant means I face some small inconveniences that hardly feel worth mentioning. Only one person per household can do the shopping and so that task naturally falls to my husband. We also aren’t supposed to shop too often. That means that little cravings and desires for things that would make me feel less uncomfortable are often hard to satisfy. Luckily, pharmacies have stayed open, so anything I need for a medical reason has always been available.
In mid-April, some national restrictions were slightly relaxed and a few businesses like bookstores and baby clothes shops were allowed to open if social distancing was respected. Are these places really necessary during a lockdown? In a way, the baby stores are kind of necessary. We didn’t exactly see the lockdown coming from a long way off so we didn’t buy everything we absolutely needed two months before my expected due date. We don’t have things like newborn socks or other little bits that didn’t feel urgent 6 weeks ago but are very much something we expected we would be able to take care of in the last couple of months.
Overall, though, being pregnant in a pandemic is still a lucky position to be in. We are worried for the state of the world, but we are also excited and so happy that a little one will be joining us soon. The baby is the source of a lot of hope for the future, as well. I have been pretty straightforward about asking that friends and family focus on the positives along with us. We understand where the concern comes from, but the thing we crave most is happiness. This is still an incredible moment in our lives and we don’t want to forget that or have to defend it.
We are doubly lucky because not only are we waiting for a much-loved baby, we are also the parents of a little boy who brings us pure joy. While he still asks if the playground is open or if he can go get a cornetto, Giacomo has weathered the coronavirus storm in stride. With a few exceptions to roam around the empty courtyard, he hasn’t been allowed out of the house in over 40 days.
He sees friends and family only on video calls now and can’t go to his daycare, but he remains a happy little chatterbox who likes to make a joke and then ask “is it funny? is it silly?”
He used to come with us to many of the private doctor’s appointments during this pregnancy, but that is obviously a thing of the past. The bigger challenge now is that one of us has to be with him at all times. This is fine to do 99% of the time, but there is one big event that both parents would like to be at – the birth. Some regions, like Tuscany, have completely banned anyone from joining for the birth. However, in Rome, these rules vary by hospital and (as of right now) ours allows very limited time for the partner to be there.
This means we have the difficult task of finding childcare in a full lockdown. Of having to constantly weigh risks of potential exposure to ourselves and others in asking someone from outside of our small family unit to watch him for a couple of hours at some point in the near future. We hope this will be possible. We know it is a lot to ask of our generous friends. We appreciate our community so much at this moment.
There won’t be any visits to plan for, however. No one can come to the hospital while I am there. This means that I have become a little obsessed with perfecting my hospital bag. I have learned a little bit from giving birth in Italy once, but it still feels different this time. Knowing that no one can bring anything to me if I forget it, and understanding that I won’t have the comfort of familiar faces around after delivery has made me want to be sure that I pack all the things I need but also the things I will want. I will have to get the bag to the hospital myself, so the desire to overpack is being hemmed in by the knowledge that I will have to manage the suitcase while in labor.
These are strange, expectant times.
I need to go check my hospital list again. And do laundry. There is always so much laundry.
If you are interested, here is what it is usually like to travel and eat in Italy while pregnant. Carbonara, I’m coming for you.
Photo by Alicia Petresc on Unsplash.