It’s only been two months, but it feels like the world I was in when I first found out I was pregnant with my second baby is completely different from the world I am in now. In January 2020 B.C. (Before COVID), my husband and I could step out and celebrate our growing family in any restaurant of our choice. My parents could come to our house and my Mom could yell at me in person not to go up and down the stairs too much. I know I can see my doctor anytime anything felt wrong, and the hospital that’s been my family’s go-to would always be there to welcome me with piano music at the lobby and the rhythmic — never chaotic — movement of patients and doctors. In January 2020 BC, I was reasonably certain of how the next few months would look: me, still going to work daily but with perhaps a more temperate schedule, some weekend excursions, regular doctor’s check-ups and ultrasounds to monitor my growing belly, perhaps a couple of baby showers, and a worry-free childbirth in one of the best hospitals in the city.
March 2020 AC (After COVID) and that image has been razed to the ground. On March 17 — incidentally the same day I turned 40 — the government put the entire Metro Manila under Enhanced Community Quarantine. Everyone save for frontliners were asked to work from home, malls and restaurants shut down, public transportation stopped running, cars were disallowed on the street for all but the most essential of movement. All to halt the spread of COVID-19 and flatten the curve. I know that I am luckier than most: quarantine, for me, means staying at home in a relatively-comfortable flat, with the capacity to work from my laptop, and with the reasonable certainty that my family and I would not go hungry.
But this quarantine period, as well as this pervasive threat of COVID, brings its own set of difficulties for a pregnant woman. I am anxious everyday. I realize now that I have not completely gotten over the trauma of my miscarriage in 2017, and some days I wake up in cold sweat scaring myself with the thought that my baby has died inside of me. In Life BC, I knew that I could step into an ultrasound facility whenever I wanted, swipe my credit card, and I could see my baby right in front of my eyes. Bit alien and jelly-like in form, yes, but still my baby. And still moving and breathing. Now, I don’t know when my next appointment will be, when I can go to an ultrasound next, or if I can actually go to an ultrasound at all before giving birth. I bought a homemade doppler from someone selling her old one on Carousell, and freaked myself out further because I could not hear the heartbeat (my OB-gyn friend told me not to worry, the baby is still too small at 14 weeks for an untrained hand like mine to find the heartbeat quickly). I watch the news and see footage of hospitals in Italy completely overrun by COVID patients, like World War 2. I wonder how it would be like here in September and worry about where I would give birth if we escalate to Italy-levels.
A fellow mom reassured me that all will be fine and that it’s no different from 50 years ago, when you don’t really get ultrasounds and you only find out the sex of the baby when you give birth, yet everything still works out in the end. But I don’t want it to be 50 years ago — I want it to be 2020, where you can get an ultrasound right before a movie, and see the results on your mobile phone an hour after; or when a drop of blood from your finger can check your child for 35 different genetic disorders, and then some. Or rather, I want it to be 2019, where life is normal and death via respiratory droplets is not a shadow casting itself on literally every aspect of daily life.
My son, he is two. And he smells of cupcakes and promise. Like many two-year-olds, nothing fazes him. One night, however, he and his dad were tinkering with a camera app on his dad’s phone. It was a camera app that distorts your features and morphs you into a monster or a dinosaur or whatever. I guess it was a particularly scary distortion, because he suddenly cried out and hugged both of us. It was the first time I saw my brave little tarzan really scared of anything. I whispered softly, “are you scared, love?” He looked at me with big, watery eyes and then after a few seconds suddenly sat up and pursed his lips. “Not scared!” he yelled. “What did you say, love?” I asked again. “Not scared, not scared, NOT SCARED!” he repeated over and over.
And in that snippet of a moment, I got just the image I needed to tide me through my fears. It was my son — so innocent, so pure — deciding that his conviction was bigger than his fear. That he can talk down to whatever it is that makes his afraid.
And as he does, so I must do.
To a virus so virulent it can kill thousands and ground modern human movement to a halt, to a government that uses a public health emergency to silence its enemies and consolidate its powers, to a present so uncertain and a future even more so: we say, in the stillness of our hearts, or together as a community, we are “not scared, not scared, NOT SCARED.”