A month ago, my mind was filled with the normal concerns of a first-time mom anticipating birth. What did I need to buy for the baby? What should I take to the hospital, and how would I get there? Who would be available from our family to help me after the birth, and when should they arrive? Then we all became aware of COVID-19, and I realized the remaining weeks of my pregnancy would be far from normal.
I live in New York City, currently the hotspot of COVID-19 in the United States. I’m five weeks away from my due date, and my expectations for what my baby’s birth will look like are being stripped away, one at a time.
First, my hospital tour was canceled, followed by my birthing class. For a while we were afraid my husband wouldn’t be allowed to be present at the birth. (This is no longer an issue now that the New York Health Department mandated that every pregnant woman must be allowed a support person while in labor.) I’ve given up on our original plan to have family members travel hundreds of miles to help us after the birth, and we may even need to avoid local friends, if the epidemic is still going strong.
As I watch the hospitals fill to capacity, I wonder whether there will be room for me and my baby. Behind these questions is the bigger one of what to do if I or my husband catches the virus. All told, this is not the ideal time to give birth!
Five weeks from my due date, my expectations for what my baby’s birth will look like are being stripped away, one at a time.
In spite of these concerns and disappointments, there is great peace available to those of us expecting babies in 2020. Whether you live in a rural community or an urban center, are expecting your first baby or your fifth, here are four suggestions for how to cope with the uncertainties, along with two reasons for maintaining hope in God.
Four Tips for Coping
1. Pray Through Your Fears with Others
Over the past week, I’ve spent far more time talking about the possible disasters ahead than I’ve spent praying about them. But when I’m not praying, I’m not availing myself of the means God has given me to dispel my anxieties. Do I want peace that passes understanding? Then I should follow the command of Philippians 4:6 to bring my requests before God with thanksgiving. Do I want God to sustain me through uncertainties? Then I should cast my cares on the Lord, in obedience to Psalm 55:22.
Casting our cares on the Lord is not something we do just once. We need to do it as many times a day as the anxiety strikes, and I recommend doing it with someone else when you can. Expectant couples should pray together. And while we may not be able to gather with our church families right now, your sisters in Christ are just a phone call away. If someone sends you a text message saying that they are praying for you, consider asking them if they have a few minutes to pray with you over the phone.
2. Trust Your Providers and Pray for Them
Last week (before the health department updated its guidelines), I sat across from one of my doctors after a routine ultrasound and questioned him about whether my husband would be allowed by my side during labor. I was ready to mount an argument, but the look in his eyes, behind his protective mask, stopped me. I could hear in his voice the weight of responsibility he felt. “I don’t know,” he said, “we talk about it every day. We want to do what is best.”
The seriousness with which he took the decision made me realize that he and other medical decision makers are making difficult choices to protect us, their patients. Health-care providers are trying to keep patients with COVID-19 alive and patients without it from getting sick.
I’m going to pray that my medical providers will make wise decisions, even if they don’t match my pre-coronavirus expectations.
3. Don’t Spend All Day on the Internet
There’s good evidence that extended time on social media and news sites increases anxiety and despair.
Limiting online immersion is sound practice for any time, but it’s especially relevant if you’re pregnant and anxious. Somehow, it seems if we can just find enough data, we will be able to set our hearts and minds at rest. False. You may find good news, but you will also find plenty of ominous news. We must accept that no one knows the future, no one knows exactly how COVID-19 affects pregnant women and babies, and no one knows what the situation will be the day you go into labor.
Somehow it seems if we can just find enough data, we will be able to set our hearts and minds at rest. False.
Instead of refreshing news sites and googling medical studies, go for a walk in the sunshine while listening to songs of comfort. Pray a psalm. Read a novel. Cook a meal. Embrace the finitude of your knowledge, and do your best to live in the present.
4. Commit Your Child to God
Now is an excellent time to start bulking up your trust muscle through prayer and Bible study, because you’re going to need that muscle through the rest of your child’s life. It’s easy to assume that if God will just get us and our children safely through this scary time, we will never worry again. But like the people of Israel who doubted God right after they passed through the Red Sea, we are going to face non-COVID anxiety just as soon as our babies get their first rash or bump on the head.
There is no better time than now to get into the habit of praying for your baby in the light of God’s promise-filled Word.
Two Grounds for Hoping
1. God Is the Author of Maternal Instincts
You may feel like God doesn’t care about your baby as intensely as you do, but in fact your fervent care for your child is a lesser version of the love God has for his people. The prophet Isaiah asks:
Can a woman forget her nursing child,
that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you. (Isa. 49:15)
Just as a good mother would never forget her baby, God will not forget you. Take comfort that God gave you instincts to protect your baby that echo his own commitment to care for his people.
2. God Is as Sovereign as Ever Before
Oh, to have given birth in the serene days of 2019! Yet when we look back to what may have been a safer time, we forget that in every era, we live under the watchful providence of God.
Birth has always been dangerous. If you’ve spent any time studying history, you know that most women throughout time couldn’t count on surviving childbirth. Even today, maternal death rates are high in many parts of the world. The Book of Common Prayer includes a prayer for women returning to church after a safe delivery, thanking God for preservation through “the great danger of childbirth.”
Just as a good mother would never forget her baby, God will not forget you.
And birth has always been safe in the sense that God will protect us from any harm that is not part of his sovereign plan. He protected Israelite babies from Pharaoh’s murderous edict through the righteous acts of Hebrew midwives (Ex. 1:15–22). He protected Moses from the crocodiles of the Nile (Ex. 2). He protected Mary from fatal preeclampsia and postnatal infection, and any number of things that could have taken her life, or the Messiah’s.
I don’t know what God has planned for my life or my baby’s. But I cling to the tried and true words of Romans 8 that “for those who love God all things work together for good” and that “neither death nor life . . . nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (vv. 28, 38–39). I don’t know what the next five weeks or five months hold, but I believe, as Adoniram Judson wrote, “The prospects are as bright as the promises of God.”