Editor’s note: This story is part of an occasional series called “Behind the Mask.” The coronavirus pandemic has upended life as we know it — our workplace, home and play. Yet life must be lived, even through social distancing. Each piece of “Behind the Mask” will explore how people in our community are adapting to their new life post-pandemic. Have a story to share? Email [email protected]
Maria Payan, 27, first-time mother and recent Fresno State interior design graduate, thought she had it all planned when she and her husband decided to start a family.
“Our main goal was for me to finish college before having kids,” she said. “So we planned accordingly, so I would be having our baby right after I graduated.”
After three months of negative test results, Payan began to lose hope that her pregnancy would happen on their timeline. On Jan. 4, 2020, as she got ready for her job at a local jewelry shop, she decided to take yet another pregnancy test, just in case. To her surprise, the test showed a faint line. Unsure if it was truly a positive result, Payan bought a digital pregnancy test on her way to work that morning and got the reassuring positive she had long hoped for.
“The first thing I could remember was thinking ‘finally’ because it felt like forever trying to get pregnant,” she said. “I cried when I gave the news to my husband.”
Payan’s pregnancy started out typically, with her first doctor’s appointment and the excitement of sharing the news with friends and family.
Two months after their positive test result, their pregnancy experience changed drastically due to COVID-19. Payan and her husband began their quarantine in early March. Afraid for her health and the baby’s, Payan had to make the sacrifice of not being around their family while her pregnancy belly began to grow. Her husband works swing shifts at a fruit filling production company and is gone for the majority of the day, leaving her alone at home.
“My days pregnant were spent alone with my cats,” Payan said. “It had a negative impact on me. I didn’t think I would spend my first pregnancy like this at all.”
The hardest part, she said, was not being around her parents while her stomach grew. She would occasionally visit her mother’s house, but always from a distance, outside, to protect everyone’s health.
“[But] It was not the same,” Payan said.
At 27, she was smack in the middle of the age group, 25-29 years old, for cases of recorded COVID-19 in pregnant women. Hispanic/Latino pregnant women were the highest ethnic group infected in the U.S., according to the CDC.
The first major change to Payan’s pregnancy came when her clinic told her that her husband would no longer be allowed at her visits to monitor the pregnancy. As a result, he never got to see a live ultrasound. As the number of those infected with COVID-19 continued to rise, her doctor’s office eventually moved her appointments to phone consultations only. This meant she was not getting monthly ultrasounds or in-person updates on her baby’s growth and development.
“It’s my first pregnancy, so I was worried that they weren’t checking the baby’s heartbeat, growth, and all of that,” she said.
In late March, Payan’s employer of five years put all employees on temporary leave.
“I thought that it would take a few weeks for them to call me back and for things to start getting back to normal,” she said.
By April, the company began calling employees back to work, but Payan was not one of them. Instead, she received a letter that her position had been terminated indefinitely due to loss of business.
“I was counting on working during my pregnancy to save money before the baby came,” Payan said. “I didn’t know what to do next.”
Payan is a DACA recipient and was unsure if she qualified for California’s unemployment benefits
“I spoke to a lawyer and was assured that receiving unemployment benefits is completely OK for DACA recipients,” she said. “I’m thankful I was able to receive unemployment because there would’ve been no way we could’ve prepared for the arrival of our baby.”
School and her senior thesis were now the only things that offered Payan a distraction from the stress of her pregnancy and reduced income.
“My senior thesis was then postponed for what we thought was going to be a couple of weeks, then to the summer, and then completely canceled, along with graduation,” she said.
Payan’s goal had been to start applying for jobs right after graduation, but because of the shutdown, she found it impossible to find job openings within her major.
The pandemic also threatened her husband’s income. His hours became inconsistent, sometimes resulting in up to 25% loss in his earnings.
In late March, Payan and her husband found out they were having a baby girl. The couple had had plans to host a gender reveal party but decided to cancel it due to concerns about the virus. Instead, they revealed their gender through Instagram Live by popping a balloon that rained pink confetti. Their friends and family celebrated with them through a screen.
“Organizing the nursery helps me remain the calmest,” Payan said. “It feels like the only thing I get to have control of.”
She was looking forward to classes on newborn care, breastfeeding, and labor 101, but her hospital moved all the birthing classes online.
“I’m a person that learns best with proper examples,” she said.
Dr. Adanna Ikedilo, an Obstetrician/gynecologist in Fresno, said it was hard to witness patients taking prenatal visits alone and losing the opportunity to get support from their partners and necessary education.
“At a time when they should be surrounded by love and support from friends and family, they are isolated,” Ikedilo said, adding that because of the high rate of exposure to the virus, hospital staff also take time off when symptoms show up.
“That means for those of us that are able to continue working, our workload has expanded 10 times over,” she said.
Payan’s biggest struggle throughout her pregnancy was her mental health. She feared that her husband would develop symptoms in their last weeks of pregnancy and would not be present for the birth of their baby. She also feared for her own health and putting her daughter at risk of the virus. According to the CDC, it is unknown if the virus can be transmitted to the fetus during pregnancy or delivery.
Just after midnight on Sept. 21, Payan went into Kaiser Permanente with contractions. She delivered her daughter via c-section at 6:20 p.m. that evening because of the size of her baby.
Payan said the hardest part was not having her mother in the room. New hospital rules insist that only one person, instead of three, is allowed in the delivery room. Her husband would be the one accompanying her.
“It was really worrisome for [my family] not being able to be there with us and not getting updates as much,” she said.
After surgery, Payan lost a lot of blood (postpartum hemorrhage) and received blood transfusion. Just two days after being discharged, she developed high blood pressure and had to return to the emergency room.
Payan said the hospital waiting area has been rearranged to create space between patients.
“They have really uncomfortable folding chairs,” she said. “I was in pain and nobody could go in to wait with me.”
Payan is now recovering back home with her husband and healthy beautiful daughter. Her plans for a job remain unknown; for now, she will focus on being with her baby.
“The pandemic definitely changed my whole pregnancy experience,” Payan said. “Staying home during my whole pregnancy was hard, but I want to believe that is what kept me safe during this time.”