Like hundreds of thousands of people across the country right now, I’m pregnant. I’m 26-weeks along, and due in July.
A global pandemic is not the ideal time to start a family. I should be building my registry, planning my baby shower, signing up for birthing classes. Instead I’m grasping at any information I can, exchanging articles with other pregnant women as we all try to figure out just how worried we should be. Forget the baby shower; I don’t know when — or even if — my mother, who lives four states away, will be able to meet my newborn son. My husband is no longer allowed to come to my doctor’s appointments, and it’s possible he’ll be barred from being with me when I give birth in the hospital.
Some of this, yes, is part of the uncertainty of parenthood — we can’t control the world we bring our children into, and deciding to start a family means giving up on the idea of “plans.” And any global health crisis will always bring with it uncertainty, fear, and adjustment.
But as I watch the US skyrocket past the rest of the world in COVID-19 cases, as governors across the country plead for ventilators and supplies, as the number of deaths in New York City surpasses those in China, and as testing across the country is scarce to nonexistent, I know this isn’t just some natural disaster. This is the result of an administration that has led with ineptitude and undermined our health care system and security net at every turn. And now, the Trump administration is putting the lives of me and my baby at risk.
Instead of leading the country in a no-nonsense disaster response, Trump has fallen back on grandstanding, making things up, spewing insults and political attacks, encouraging people to protest shelter-in-place orders, and trying to scapegoat immigrants. His administration is still supporting the lawsuit to dismantle the Affordable Care Act — what millions of Americans rely on for health insurance — in the midst of a pandemic. He — and Congress, and state politicians — are jumping at the opportunity of this public health disaster to insert anti-abortion provisions into the coronavirus relief packages, and using it as an excuse to impose an outright ban abortion in states — health care that people still need, and that can’t wait months or often even a few weeks.
The Trump administration has eschewed science and medicine, and is now having him give nonsense press conferences that the few medical experts left in our government have to follow up and correct. Instead of taking responsibility, he’s issuing nonsensical threats to disband Congress. His administration is keeping states from accessing badly needed medical supplies. The president is ignoring medical advice and pushing to get everyone being back at work as soon as possible, as testing across the country is widely unavailable and we’re seeing spikes in new cases crop up across the country. This is far beyond an aw-shucks fumbling of the facts — this is the kind of leadership that will get us killed.
Meanwhile, I, like many pregnant women, am worst-case scenario planning. I take my temperature regularly, am trying to avoid any contact with the outside world, and my husband has taken to disinfecting any packages or deliveries we get with Clorox before they come into the apartment. I’m Googling YouTube videos of how to deliver a baby yourself, just in case the hospitals are overrun.
The pregnancy forums I’m on are flooded with women who are pregnant and who, along with 22 million other Americans, lost their jobs and now have to face giving birth in a pandemic without health insurance or any hope of financial stability. There are also those people who are pregnant and whose bosses are still making them go into work, even though their jobs are non-essential — forcing them to calculate which is more risky: having coronavirus while pregnant or going without a pay cheque for the foreseeable future. There are low wage earners — grocery store cashiers, warehouse workers, cleaning staff — doing essential jobs who don’t even have the choice to stay home. There are posts from women who are pregnant, sick, and desperate for a remedy to bring down the high fever they’ve had for days. But they’re scared that going to an overrun emergency room will be even more dangerous than weathering COVID-19 at home.
The one bright spot is how Americans have come together to support each other. People across the country are stepping up to make needed medical donations, and figure out a way to support their elderly or vulnerable neighbours who can’t leave their homes. We’re raising money for the restaurant and temporary and gig workers who have no hope of a steady income while cities go into lockdown.
But within that network of support is a gaping hole where our federal government should be. The lack of competent leadership in all this is palpable. States are banding together to help each other because the Trump administration refuses to help them. I, like much of America, have taken to live-streaming videos of Andrew Cuomo’s press conferences — just to feel like somewhere we have someone who’s taking charge. The other day I saw that meme of Obama telling everyone to chill out, because he’s got this, and I burst into tears.
Because beyond whether she’ll meet my son, I don’t know whether my mother, who’s 73, a cancer survivor, has lung complications, and lives in New York City in the epicentre of the outbreak, is going to survive. My close friend works as a nurse in a hospital where another nurse just died. Just this morning she showed me a picture of the one mask she has to protect herself; she needs to re-use over and over again because they don’t have protective gear to spare. I offered to send her a mask my husband had bought for me just in case — she told me it was likely more important that I, as a pregnant woman, keep it for myself.
These are not the kinds of choices we should have to make. But these are the choices we as a country have been forced to make, because of the Trump administration. Our president has done worse than abandon us — he’s actually taken action after action to make our situation worse. And so we’re left on our own, trying to figure out how to survive. And me? I’m wondering just what kind of world I’m bringing my baby into.
Erica Sackin is the Senior Director of Communications for Planned Parenthood Action Fund. She lives in Washington, D.C. with her husband and dog.