ARG2020 Ch 3 - Giving Birth During a Pandemic and Lockdown in Argentina

Wow, that title sure is a mouthful, huh? With good reason, as I believe you will see. This installment isn’t anywhere near as long as the previous few. My apologies for the delay; I find that I write one of these and then it sits for 2-3 weeks before I find a chance to proofread and publish.

Greetings friends! On the “right now” front, life is good. We find ourselves in a similar state of uncertainty that we experienced a year ago, when the following story takes place. We are currently tip-toe-ing a line of packing our bags and moving to the Big Island of Hawaii like, soon, or taking a deep breath and settling into the southern California suburbs for the rest of the year. (It’s tough to live our values here, but that’s another topic of conversation.) Either way, we’ve decided to spend June in Hawaii so if you’ll be on the islands, let me know!

Without further ado, here’s what happened to us in the final month leading to the birth of Aquiles Ananda. Oh and yes, there’s a video at the end of this featuring the little baby shower we threw and what I was able to capture in the hospital during the birth.

Giving Birth During a Pandemic and Lockdown in Argentina

New Beginnings

After my last hurrah in Chile, come March we grounded into a new house—a duplex, rather—on a quiet, shady block in a residential part of Cordoba. We found it on Airbnb and struck a deal with the owner for 2 months at a discount.

It was a tranquil location. I could walk to a corner store to buy pretty much all that we needed, even though the fruits and vegetables were a little on the expensive side. There was a busy boulevard with all kinds of shops and restaurants a few blocks away. This was all a plus because we had no car save the little one Lau’s aunt and uncle loaned us when we needed some assistance. There weren’t any parks very close by, which was a bummer.

Our block, like most in middle-class neighborhoods with no private entrances, had private security that spent the night in a little box the size of a phone booth, paid for by a type of homeowner’s association. I never felt unsafe living there but based on the way houses are built, to keep eyes and their owners off of properties at the expense of all aesthetic, apparently the locals did.

This was early March so Covid-19 stuff was starting to be a bit more frequent in the news. In those days no one seemed to know anything about the virus and so I joined the many preppers out there in stocking up on enough rice and vegetables to keep us going for a while in case of any shortages. We chopped things like carrots, bell peppers, broccoli, and potatoes and kept them in Ziploc bags in the freezer. I had an emergency 20 gallons of water in the yard, plus about a dozen pounds of rice.

Regardless, things were still calm by the middle of the month and the baby shower put on by Lau’s aunts and close friends was the last big social event in which we would partake while in Argentina. There’s a video at the end of all this.

Health and diet

Meanwhile, I had been indulging in a new level of gluten-free pastry goodness that I had previously never experienced in my life. I’d done my time with things like cigarettes, but refined sugar had never been a proper vice of mine despite my lifelong sweet tooth (honey, dates, agave, maple syrup all take care of me with much less crash). Here in the faux-Italian celiac’s paradise of Argentina, however, one would be hard-pressed to find something indulgent yet created with mindful sweeteners. I fell victim to this taste of Europe.

Another downside to the sugar headaches and crashes was the belly I was putting on. The Coronas didn’t help. Neither did the pizza, which came from an Italian restaurant down the street which actually had a separate kitchen for their gluten-free pizzas and pastas. This place truly was a haven for anyone with gluten issues. They take it very seriously, unlike most places I have known in the States.

I kept excusing my rabid binge eating on the pregnancy. Stress and managing it, all that. It became a running joke among Lau’s family, the quantity I would eat, especially of dessert. In any case, it wasn’t too deep into March before I started looking into a new form of exercise to take up. I’d always loved yoga but the past year had demonstrated to me how important strength training was for the health of my back and spine. If I didn’t start taking action soon, this belly would only augment in size once the baby arrived. Without anywhere to go for inspiration, I sought out new Instagram accounts. It wouldn’t be long before the global lockdown would inspire thousands of teachers out there to start their own online courses, and I’d get sucked into one. More on that in the next chapter.

Lockdown and my parents mom no one coming to visit.

I was almost out of liquid, water-soluble CBD. It didn’t matter if I was nauseous from a taxi ride or aching in the head from a piece of cake; this stuff was pure gold for my well-being. I had been consuming it quite frivolously over the weeks, knowing that when my parents showed up for the birth of our child that they would be bringing more.

On top of the little bottles of liquid ambrosia, they would also be bringing clothes, some camera parts I had forgotten, external hard drives, cashew butter, and more essentials. Not to mention, her and my dad’s presence would be a bolster of comfort and support in a foreign country during an important experience for both of us.

Of course, it wasn’t yet a possibility that at least one of them wouldn’t come. Back when Covid-19 still seemed to be a threat for the majority of healthy people that get a bit of exercise and sunlight, we worried it wouldn’t be worth the risk for both of them to come, so it turned into only my mother coming. They were both so excited to be grandparents, it was really a heartbreak all around to leave one of them behind.

But it would end up not mattering. We heard an announcement that all inbound flights would be stopped as of Sunday—the same day they were supposed to arrive. So on Thursday night we changed my mom’s flight to arrive on Saturday instead of Sunday. It ended up not making a difference; literally once my mom’s plane was in the air from Miami, Argentina officially closed its borders. All non-Argentine passengers were sent back to the terminal and back onto the same, re-fueled, plane back to Miami.

Meanwhile that morning, Lau and I had been all over Cordoba trying to get to the bottom of what was going on. The American Airlines agency didn’t know of anything amiss; the flight had taken off and was due for arrival any minute now.

On our way to the airport, my mom called from Immigrations. “They’re putting all the Americans to the side, not letting us path. Some people are saying they won’t let us in.”

Incredulous, we parked the care and sprint into the check-in counter. Even the attendants working at the airport information booth don’t know what’s going on behind the big wall separating Argentina from an international border. Eventually, an AA employee gets a call from the Terminal and relays to us exactly what my mom had said: they will not be allowed to pass.

“Well surely we can at least take her baggage?” I asked with a faint trace of irony, all hope lost. Of course that wouldn’t be a possibility.

There were a lot of tears that morning. What had comforted us for so long as some kind of safety net—to have my folks nearby to help us in these early weeks of first-time parenthood—was suddenly whipped out from under us. Not to mention the goods.

I suddenly felt very isolated.

The Birth

I am not going to get too personal in this section.

It felt like two or three days of intense contractions before they were finally far enough apart to go to the hospital. I had no idea what the pain was like, what Lau was experiencing, and no matter how hard I tried to support her, do everything for her, even try to carry her, I knew it could never neutralize the amount of work she was doing to just breathe.

Lau’s aunt dropped us off—no one else was allowed in the hospital. After some ridiculous paperwork formalities, we rushed into the birthing sector only to find that her cervix wasn’t dilated enough for the nurses to really care, so they stuck us in a room with no chairs or couches, only a birthing bed.

Luckily for me we’d brought a ball for her to do her movement exercises and practice on, so I had somewhere to sit. But it was late and it would be a long night of having nowhere to relax my body.

I’m not sure how to recount this night exactly, but it culminated in what to us turned out to be a system that wants to rush the baby out of you. Among some other acts that felt questionable and disrespectful, the nurse did some illegal pushing down on her stomach to push Aquiles out faster. I had to tell him to stop after Lau vocalized that she didn’t think that was helping (he didn’t listen to her when she said it). We think that this eventually lead to his head being crooked and the doctor having to use forceps to pull him out.

Judging by Lau’s screams, by that moment I figured she was dying, so I had no idea how to make heads or tails of the whole situation. We had been working with a really lovely doula for the past two and a half months, but she hadn’t been allowed in. Her role had been to keep the environment as low-stress as possible so Lau and I could focus on bringing this baby into the world.

Suffice to say, it was a rough morning after a long night. We’d arrived at midnight and the baby was born just short of 2pm the next day. There was blood everywhere, Lau had been cut open and sewn closed, and I couldn’t begin to even fathom what the infant must be feeling. I mean, coming from womb to planet has gotta be traumatizing enough as it is, but with all that was going on in that hospital room, I was less than proud about the immediate environment I’d brought him into. I certainly would not have imagined this scenario nine months before when we thought about giving birth to a child.

But what could I have done? It’s something I ponder frequently, and have learned not to judge myself for. We were (and are) doing the best we can for the kid… there’s not much more we can control, as Argentina’s lockdown will demonstrate to us in short order.

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Jordan Urbs

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