When you're pregnant with your first baby, you're keenly aware that nothing is – and probably will never again be – "normal". But when it happens during a pandemic, any notions of normality become as elusive as the microscopic coronavirus itself.
And yet, despite spending most of my pregnancy hiding indoors in Dubai as Covid-19 radically altered the way societies function all over the world, I was fortunate that it was fairly smooth sailing for me. I felt – and still feel – lucky that we are in the UAE, safer than we would have been in many other places.
I worked from home, no longer had to commute to Abu Dhabi while heavily pregnant, spent plenty of time with my husband before we became three, and tucked into far more home-cooked meals than I’d had in years.
From the third trimester through to the text-book hospital birth (which, thankfully, both my husband and doula were allowed to attend), there were very few dramas going on in my little bubble.
Even my elderly parents, who are based in the UK, were able to make it out to the UAE 10 days after their first grandchild was born in July.
Now, however, it is a different story.
It all started a couple of weeks ago, when my husband got a tickle in his throat. After taking a routine PCR test in order to travel for work to Saudi Arabia, it turned out he had Covid-19.
The thing is, my parents came back for Christmas, just before new travel restrictions were introduced, and we extended their visa – rather ironically – to keep them safe from the UK variant. After doing a test, we realised my dad has it, too.
Not only have we now exposed my 74-year-old mother and 78-year-old father to the virus, but also my 6-month-old daughter, who mere days ago came down with a scorching fever.
While my mother and I previously tested negative, another quick trip to the Festival City HealthHub fast-track screening centre revealed Mum also has it.
I’m the only one left standing (and wondering when it's going to hit me, or whether or not I’ve already had it and didn’t realise).
Thankfully, no one is bedridden, and our paediatrician assures us that babies bounce back much quicker than adults, but it’s hard not to worry and feel guilty.
How strange this virus is has become painfully apparent, too, as everyone around me has experienced extremely different symptoms.
My dad, who has an underlying heart condition, has felt nothing. Among the others we’ve had sore throats, headaches, coughs, the loss of smell and taste, and general malaise. My daughter is the only one who’s had a fever, which, thanks to a spot of baby-friendly Nurofen, has already mostly subsided. She’s also had a little cough, been fairly lethargic, whimpers often and keeps spitting out her milk.
The worst part is not always knowing what she feels. There are ways to tell when she’s tired or has a tummy ache, but can she taste or smell anything? Does she know she’s sick? She’s usually such a smiley baby, but her sad little face these past few days has been heartbreaking.
There have been sleepless nights and plenty of tears (mostly from baby and me, the one healthy resident in the house), concerns over childcare as we've put our trusty nanny on paid leave. Cancelled flights and incoming mandatory hotel quarantine in the UK has only added another layer of worry.
It's unsettling to know the thing you've been living in fear of for nearly a year has finally found a way to infect your loved ones, and there's no way of knowing what's coming or what you can do about it.
But we have also found silver linings to the situation.
For one, the people I love most will now have a little immunity, and my parents have been able to access medical care here far quicker than they might have done in the UK, as the NHS strains under the weight of cases. We got a video consult with a cardiologist for my dad within four hours of calling the hospital here.
I don’t know if this story has a happy ending yet, and we are clueless as to how Covid-19 managed to sneak into our house, but it’s certainly been a wake-up call. It’s not as though we felt immune to the situation; we’ve diligently donned our masks and sanitised every time we touched something on the odd supermarket trip and doctor’s appointment. We weren’t exactly living the high life, but perhaps we were guilty of feeling too safe.
That’s the thing with this virus – it’s unpredictable. And while a spot of unpredictability may have been OK in my “normal”, pre-Covid, pre-pregnancy, pre-baby life, that’s most definitely not the case as a first-time mum living through a pandemic.