Mariela Briceño remembers September 17, 2020, when she looked down from the windows of the maternity ward, on the fifth floor of La Anexión Hospital in Nicoya, and could see people dressed like astronauts carrying people who had died from the coronavirus. She and other mothers with their children in their arms peered out the windows to observe them. Above, newborn lives and the promise of a better future, and below, the presence of death as a reminder of the times we are going through.
“Just after giving birth, imagine, everything hurts and the baby cries and you’re stressed, tired, worn out. And that fear, that fright. What you wanted was to be released as soon as the baby was born. But you had to sleep there, spend the night there.”
A few hours earlier, she had walked across the parking lot with her husband to the point where he could no longer accompany her. Neither he nor any other companion was allowed to enter. The next morning, the three of them met right there. In that parking lot, her husband met Alma and they went home together.
During 2020, there were 5,029 births in Guanacaste. Many mothers probably had to face scenarios very similar to Mariela’s. Although photos of “pandemic babies” —as some moms call them— and virtual or drive-by baby showers flooded social networks, there were 501 fewer births in the province compared to the previous year. Nationwide, the phenomenon was the same: the largest drop in the birth rate in decades.
The Voice decided to talk with five women to find out what it means to be a mother during a pandemic and what motivates them to keep going in the midst of the crisis.
Mariela and Alma
I found out that I was pregnant at the end of January in 2020. We’d already heard news of the virus but in China. It hadn’t arrived here yet, so it was something that we paid attention to but we didn’t think it would get here, much less so quickly. That virus deprived us of many things. There are many relatives who didn’t even see me pregnant. What I did was wait here at home during almost the entire labor to be in the hospital as little as possible. So when I got to the hospital, Almita was just about to be born. I was very afraid that I would get the virus while pregnant, that I’d have to leave here and leave my other baby alone. I’m going to tell you what I experienced not only during pregnancy, but also what is happening in the world. Sometimes I start to think and I wonder, are we going to have to continue with a mask for the rest of our lives? Because the virus behaves so strangely and mutates in such a weird way, and I say, could it be that after this, one thing after another will come?
Glenda and Cameron
I got pregnant in November. I was four or five months along when the virus started, and we thought we were far away from everything. When Cam was born, we were on orange alert. The father and I went to the hospital. They didn’t let him go past the emergency room. I had to have Cam alone, totally alone. They didn’t let anyone come in. Neither my mother nor him, who had prepared by taking a course. No one. But I had a very good experience because there was someone, a young woman came and she was like my mother at that time. She held my hands and gave me a lot of emotional support. She started treating me with a lot of affection. She took me to bathe, gave me massages, taught me how to relax, how to breathe. Even though there was no one from my family, she helped me a lot, because that was the moment when I felt like someone was with me and I was able to have her. Cameron is the person who gives me strength to keep going, regardless of how the situation is outside, if people are being careful or not. I know that I go back home and my baby is at my house and is healthy and safe, and that’s what gives me the strength to face everything that is on the outside. Both economically and healthwise, she is the one who gives me the strength to remain confident that everything is going to be fine.
Jessica and Evans
[Working as a pharmaceutical technician for the Social Security] Fund is where [I’ve] lived with COVID the most, have had to fight relatively. I’m not on the front line of care like nurses and doctors, but you’re always there keeping tabs on who leaves, who doesn’t leave, who has died, who hasn’t died. I had high blood pressure, so I was hospitalized frequently. Every weekend, I went to the hospital. I’d be admitted on Fridays and they’d release me on Mondays. I was supposed to go to the hospital 15 days beforehand and I didn’t go because there was COVID, and a gynecologist told me, “You give birth with or without COVID. Do you think the baby is going to wait for COVID to go away?” Fortunately, when I went in, there weren’t any more cases. You don’t even worry about yourself; you worry about him. But right now, at this moment, I feel more fear than I have since the pandemic began. It motivates me that with my work, I contribute to improving people’s health. When someone from COVID leaves, I feel butterflies in my stomach and I say “someone left.” And in part, my son— who I know I have to be very careful for him— it’s not that he gives me strength, but he’s the pillar of why I have to be well so that he is well.
Maria Fernanda, Evolet, Paulete and Emilano
I feel that my son was a wake up call. If it hadn’t been for him, I think I’d still be with the father of my children. When I got pregnant, I said “I don’t want this for my son.” Of my three pregnancies, this is the one that I have enjoyed the most because I have been alone. I’m not the sort to talk to them too much when they’re in the belly, just like “good morning,” “good night,” “that hurts,” “get comfortable.” Sometimes, the whole day passes, and it isn’t until nighttime, “oh, my love, now, all day I’ve neglected you.” So I’ve been explaining those beautiful things to him. I’m going to tell him how the experience was completely. Where I conceived him, how it was, because they always ask, “Where was I born? How was I born, Mom? Where am I from?” So I imagine he’s going to ask all those questions. And I’ll tell him that his mother chose his name, and that it was also very difficult, that mom had to be very careful because she was afraid of COVID. I even imagine him paying attention with bright eyes.
Enilda and Marcus
At first, it was very intense because they closed everything, you couldn’t do anything. Then I even started to feel bad emotionally, sad. But no, I couldn’t be like that because I had to be responsible for my son. I had always wanted to have a second child, but I never imagined that it would happen in this situation, because I was struggling first to provide for Paul and the second one was coming now. I said “But what am I going to do now? I’m going to have double the responsibility. How am I going to face all of this? How am I going to get ahead? I’m trying to raise my oldest son and another one’s coming that needs more from me.” I thought about that every night when I was pregnant. The only thing left for me to do was ask God. So I had to gather strength from where I didn’t have any. Until almost at the end, about seven months along, I was finally calming down. In other words, reality was sinking in, so to speak. I began to realize that this was going to continue, that “soon now the COVID is going to go away” wasn’t the case. Let’s say I started to change my mentality finally. Before the baby was born, I finally had my feet on the ground, I woke up and calmed myself down. But that day, I was very scared. I got up very early. I went outside to pray. A very beautiful pink sunrise happened. Seeing other moms in the hospital also gave me strength, because we were all in the same situation. I feel that it’s better to have less work but more time with the family, to be healthy to be with my children and not in a bed suffocating. This has opened my mind a lot. May he always have this, that what we experienced brought us closer together and that this continues going forward, not to waste time and to experience the little things with all your heart. That’s what I want them to remember.
Editor’s note: This article was written by photojournalist Cesar Arroyo Castro using the story told by the women interviewed as a reference. What they said was only modified for style issues.