Welcoming a baby in the time of coronavirus

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By GRACE C. DIEZ

For Cristina Agustin and Leslie Ong Hay-Cua, who both gave birth at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, they’re not just new moms. They are the “new normal” moms who had to take care of their newborns a little differently than the usual.

Tin Agustin & Leslie Cua (with their families): A tale of two ‘new normal’ moms and their lovely families

Motherhood isn’t the first thing that immediately comes to mind with Charles Dickens’ opening line in A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” But with the current pandemic, it seems apropos.

There is joy in motherhood, but being a mother to grown children is already a challenge in itself as parents navigate the new world we’re living in—a world of masks and face shields, of social distancing and homeschooling, and being in perpetual home quarantine. But as a mom who delivered a baby in 2020? This season is certainly one for the books!

NewsFeed 360 sat down with “new normal” moms Cristina Agustin and Leslie Cua as they share their anxiety-ridden yet very colorful experiences of having a baby in 2020 and provide insights as new moms in today’s challenging setting.

Cristina Agustin: Mom in motion

Mommy Tin appreciates how Kuya Trey & Ate Erin (right photo) stepped up when baby Adley arrived

Back in December 2019, Cristina “Tin” Agustin found out she’s pregnant. This was her third pregnancy so she was expecting the usual preparations. Like most of us, she’s heard of the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan, China back then but never really thought of it as something that would hit close to home.

It was when she was due for her fourth monthly checkup with her OB (obstetrician) in April 2020 that she started feeling the changes that have been slowly unfolding. Her OB advised her to meet her the following month instead because a COVID-19 case was reported in their area. Unexpectedly, it was then followed by the Philippine government’s lockdown and restrictions which hampered her clinic visits.

“I was entering my third trimester already and I haven’t seen her since my second trimester,” Tin says, sharing that it’s usually the phase where a lot of the important screenings happen like blood tests and ultrasound. She had to look for another OB who has a clinic outside of the hospital.

It was a dizzying prenatal experience for Tin as there was a flurry of activities and concerns amid the pandemic. At the clinic, the situation was already different. Both the healthcare staff and the patients have to be in PPEs.

“It was extra harder going to the doctor. Going to my doctor’s appointment, I had to be there exactly at the time it was set. I also opted to wait inside the car. There’s a waiting area but I didn’t want to be exposed. I will not step out if I don’t have alcohol or wet wipes. It became like a ritual and I wore gloves. I had to bring my own blanket, cover and socks to the clinic which I’ve never done before. I have to be extra careful kasi kapag nag-positive ako, magpo-positive din si baby,” the new mom narrates.

Then there’s also the costs and fees to think of. Because of the timing, the medical costs were more than three times than what they were expecting.

“The moment I hit my 36th week of pregnancy, my OB said I had to start taking COVID tests and it’s going to happen every two weeks,” she says, explaining that these procedures had to be done because she had to be categorized into either a COVID or a COVID-free expectant mom just so the hospital would be able to prepare the requirements needed for birth.

“This is something that I guess every pregnant woman would go through this pandemic. That was such a stressful thing because hindi lang ako—the whole entourage basically: my husband Joey, my OB, anesthesiologist, pedia and everyone involved. I was thinking of how much it’s going to cost and how much of a hassle it was. Kasi that time, COVID tests were new and it was at P12,000 per person,” Tin recalls.

Then there was a concern about who to leave their older kids Trey and Erin with when Tin has to be wheeled in to the hospital. Tin’s mom couldn’t go to their place and the kids can’t go anywhere because of the travel restrictions for seniors and children. Securing blood supply and donation for her caesarian delivery and surgery weren’t easy as well since there are additional processes involved during this pandemic.

It was at this point that the whole family decided to move to La Union to simplify the complex situation. It was safer and less stressful in the countryside compared to the COVID-19 situation in Metro Manila.

Baby Adley & Daddy Joey met each other on August 8, 2020

On August 8, 2020, a healthy baby boy named Adley Agustin was born. Still, even in La Union, there was a distinct change in delivering a baby.

The hospital had to provide her newborn baby with clothes to avoid the risk of contracting the virus. Even the baby mittens came from the hospital and items like bonnet had to be washed and sanitized to make sure it was safe.

“The only time we were allowed to change out of the hospital baby clothes is kapag lalabas na kami at hindi na nila kami kargo. As a mom, I prepared a new set of accepting clothes and receiving blanket that I wanted my baby to wear for pictures pero wala. It had to be from the hospital,” she laughs at the memory of her futile attempt to dress up the baby.

Tin had to keep the pandemic ritual of protecting and sanitizing especially during postnatal care where they both have to go to the pediatrician. She marveled at how the baby bag has gotten bigger now because of the PPEs, alcohol, sanitizer and cover-ups to protect her baby.

“It’s human nature to adapt. I’m glad that hospitals, doctors, clinics have adapted. Women are very resilient. It may seem overwhelming in the beginning but throughout the process, you just get the hang of it and enjoy mommyhood. My husband Joey and my kids stepped up. It was very helpful that I had a good support system at home. It became like teamwork. I have to say it could have been harder but it wasn’t and it’s all because of a great and strong support system—the people around you,” Tin smiles fondly.

For new and expectant moms, Tin has this to say: “Trust the process. At first, I was complaining about the extra things I have to do but it’s for the baby’s good and also for my benefit. It’s not really done to cause hassle but to make sure we’re really protected.”

Leslie Ong Hay-Cua: First-time mom

Mommy Les & Daddy AJ welcomed Baby Alonn to the world on February 9, 2020

When Leslie Ong Hay-Cua first found out about her pregnancy, COVID-19 was nowhere near public consciousness. At that time, she had other concerns.

Wala akong kaba noon eh. Medyo matapang ako na naisip ko na lahat ng sinasabi ng mga tao na game over daw or end of your life na [kapag may baby na]. Tapos naisip ko bakit naman? Nine-negate ko lagi in my mind and siguro hindi sa akin,” Leslie confesses. This was a brave thought for someone who isn’t really fond of kids. She even told her husband AJ that she wouldn’t mind not having children. But God had other plans and blessed the couple with a beautiful daughter they named Alonn Celeste on February 9, 2020.

Her prenatal care and delivery felt normal as COVID-19 felt so far away back then. “Hindi ako nag-worry that time kasi sinasabi nila na tropical country tayo and sabi nila na sa malamig na country lang daw iyon nabubuhay so hindi ko naiisip noon na aabot or maapektuhan tayo nang ganito,” she says.

“Even before the pandemic, sanay na ako mag-mask dahil nagkaroon ako ng almost two months na flu na dahil daw sa lower immune system kasi nga pregnant and travel nang travel at hindi nakakapagpahinga,” Leslie shares.

However, postnatal care was a different story altogether. Leslie felt the need to fiercely protect her baby, socially distance, equip herself with gears for sanitation and even had an aversion to sitting in the waiting area of the doctor’s clinic. She had to adapt because newborn baby checkups are especially critical and different since these require in-person consultations rather than teleconsult.

When the first ever ECQ (Enhanced Community Quarantine) was implemented, Leslie asked her doctor if it’s safe to go out and take the baby to the clinic. Her doctor told her that it is safe for as long as they strictly follow health and safety protocols such as masking up, setting up appointments, and disinfecting. It helped that her doctor also moved her clinic outside of the hospital to avoid chances of exposure to her patients.

At the clinic, social distancing was observed and acrylic barriers were put up for protection. This went on during regular checkups and vaccinations for the baby. Leslie says those were the adjustments done for the baby’s sake and protection. However, as a first-time mom, things have been quite overwhelming for her.

Pagdating sa sarili ko and caring for myself… (shakes her head)… na-heighten iyong BP ko and nag-postpartum depression din ako,” she shares.

Leslie and her husband AJ planned to get a stay-out helper to assist in taking care of the baby. Unfortunately, it did not pan out. It was difficult to get a helper and there were concerns about exposing the baby to people in the time of pandemic. Her parents couldn’t extend help as seniors were not allowed to travel while her Tita was also taking care of her sibling.

Minsan, nasabi ko sa Tita ko na gusto ko nandito sya kasi minsan talaga hindi ko na alam kung anong ginagawa ko. Dahil sa bahay lang, nanonood ako ng videos sa YouTube at nagbabasa [for research] tapos kausap mo friends mo na moms din. Parang maraming info na feeling mo… magagawa ko ba lahat? May feeling lang ako na na-overwhelm,” Leslie shares, saying that her baby’s changing sleep schedule was the tipping point to her emotional downward spiral. The early days of the restrictions also contributed to her many uncertainties and worries.

Nakadagdag din sa anxiety iyong pandemic talaga kasi may feeling ka naman na paano kapag naubos supply? Paano ka tatakbo? Saan ka bibili? Hindi naman ako sanay sa online shopping. Kakastart ko pa lang matutong gumamit. Paano kapag may biglang medical problem si baby na hindi ko agad maso-solusyonan with a medicine kasi hindi mabilis lumabas lang para bilhin iyon?” she wonders out loud.

And because home quarantine, especially after giving birth, is incredibly isolating and stressful, her husband AJ was deeply concerned about her postpartum depression.

Hindi kasi nya alam iyong postpartum. Akala nya kaya ako umiiyak kasi nawala iyong baby sa tyan ko and gusto ko laging kasama when baligtad. Ayaw mong makita iyong baby. Gusto mong umalis and mapalayo. Noong dumating na Tita ko to help out, mas naintindihan ng husband ko and he asked kung anong pwede nyang gawin para matanggal iyong ibang feeling ng negativity sa situation. Naghanap din ako better resources na maa-apply ko like paano i-decipher cries ng baby. Naging okay naman,” she says.

Nasabi ko na lang sa lahat ng kilala kong nanay na paano nyo ito ginawa? Saludo ako sa inyo. Nag-iba yung tingin ko sa mga nanay,” Leslie declares.

To help out fellow “pandemic moms”, Leslie shares her realizations and pieces of advice. “Take classes on how to take care of a newborn or how to take care of a baby in the first three months. Kung kaya mong makakuha ng information as much as you can na hindi ka rin mao-overwhelm, habang may time ka and hindi ka pa nadi-distract kasi nandyan na yung baby sa harap mo, habang kaya mo pang gawin dahil ikaw pa lang iniintindi mo, gawin mo na. You have to be prepared and well-informed,” Leslie says.

Startlingly, both Cristina and Leslie have a shared experience of longing for something that’s often overlooked because it was in abundance and very much available pre-COVID: physical and hands-on support from family and friends. The overwhelming task of taking care of a baby is made much more difficult with the lack of immediate available helping hands and anxiety on keeping your baby and the whole family safe from the virus.

Still, the two moms managed to cope, survive and appreciate the season they’re in. The sharing of their story comes with the hope that new and expectant moms will be able to delight in this chapter of motherhood and find the beautiful things despite the situation we’re collectively in. After all, we’re in a state of unhurried living so new moms can bask in their motherhood experience one day at a time.


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About the Writer
Grace C. Diez

Grace Diez started as an AM/FM radio traffic reporter and broadcast supervisor of Trapik.com before pursuing a 5-year career in advertising and a 9-year (and counting!) career in public relations. With 17 years of experience as a writer, her works have been published on People Asia, Metro.Style, ABS-CBN Lifestyle, Star Studio, Metro Magazine, Manila Bulletin, The Philippine Star, Working Mom, Chalk.PH, League Magazine, Sense & Style, Woman Today and Manila Standard with editors entrusting her with cover stories and CEO/celebrity profiling assignments. She loves IU, Taylor Swift, coffee, milk tea, Dr. Pepper and cookies.


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