When most businesses closed their doors and millions of people stayed home across the country, Julia Guzman, an essential worker at Smith’s Food and Drug, had trouble stomaching food.
“I just started feeling sick, and I was like, ‘Oh my god! What does this mean?’”
Terrified that she’d contracted the novel coronavirus, she set up a Zoom appointment with her doctor. Initially he thought she had a stomach virus, but as days went by with no signs of improvement, he asked to see her in his office.
Following her appointment, Guzman missed a call from her doctor asking her to call back as soon as she could. The next morning he told Guzman she was pregnant.
“I was like, ‘You’re insane,’” she said. “I had been told a long time ago that it’d be really difficult to get pregnant and that I would need my doctor’s help to do so.”
Skeptical of his results, Guzman went into the office for an ultrasound. As she and her doctor looked on the monitor, he paused and pointed out the embryo.
Crying tears of disbelief and joy, Guzman called her husband — who has three children from an earlier marriage — and told him they had a miracle baby on the way.
Once the news of their new baby settled in, Guzman faced a new challenge: pregnancy during a global pandemic. For her that meant she went into every appointment alone.
“It feels a little cold,” Guzman said. “It feels like you celebrate a moment all alone, you know, makes me want to cry.”
For Guzman’s first few appointments her husband listened in over a phone call. But by her third ultrasound appointment she wanted to share more of the experience with him, so she tried a video call. But the poor connection disrupted his ability to see the monitor of their growing baby girl.
“It was a happy moment, you know, seeing the baby, hearing the baby, but I couldn’t share it with him or be in the moment with him, so I was lonely,” she said.
Once the stay-at-home order lifted in Teton County the couple could go to appointments together, but the pandemic posed other challenges.
Guzman left her job at Smith’s to work at Teton County’s department of motor vehicles, but she hasn’t ben employed long enough at the DMV to qualify for paid sick leave. So with about a month left before her due date she’s still driving to work from Thayne every weekday, working at the DMV and hoping she can continue to work until the day she gives birth.
“Unfortunately, I can’t really afford not to work at this moment,” she said. “So, you know, right after I give birth —maybe three and a half weeks — but if I can walk I’m coming back.”
Guzman was not the only one to switch jobs. Her husband spent the first couple of weeks of the pandemic unemployed, and when he found work at a local grocery store he didn’t enjoy his job. He decided to leave to work for a finish carpentry company closer to their home, but Guzman said it has been difficult figuring out how to pay for all her past and upcoming medical bills as they approach the big day.
Looking ahead, Guzman said she’s decided to pay her sister-in-law for child care once she goes back to work, to keep her newborn safe.
Similarly to Guzman, Nida Risto an interior designer in Jackson, felt fearful and lonely once the pandemic hit. In February, at six months pregnant, Risto decided to leave her job and open her own business.
“I knew that if I were to apply for other jobs at six months pregnant, probably I wouldn’t get hired,” Risto said.
So she took matters into her own hands to become her own boss. However, less than a month into her new business, the shutdown began and Risto’s immediate family waited in Europe for the travel ban to lift.
“So, the entire pregnancy I didn’t really have — besides my husband — I had nobody else close to me,” she said.
While Risto prepared for her due date, she spent most of her days trying to network virtually, reading the 13 books piled on her nightstand and preparing for a natural birth with her husband.
On May 24, Risto was taking a nap when she heard a gurgle in her tummy. She stood up and her water broke. Not expecting the baby early, she felt her excitement, fear and joy hit all at once.
For Risto natural birth was extremely important to not only understand what it felt like but also to feel close with her mother, who died from cancer three years ago.
“I wanted to connect with her and see what she had been through to give birth to me,” she said. In a room with her husband, Risto gave birth to a healthy baby boy named Agon the next day.
For Risto, the hardest days were ahead. After giving birth she experienced incredible pain throughout her body. She couldn’t sit, and she had trouble sleeping.
“After I gave birth I felt so isolated,” she said. “The first three months were very, very hard. Quite frankly, I do not know how any human being can make a woman go back to work after six weeks. It’s inhumane.”
According to Risto, unlike normal times, she didn’t feel comfortable having friends over, her parents-in-law were still stuck in Europe, and her husband worked during the day. At one point she was barely eating. She’d eat what her husband made for breakfast and then nothing until he came home for dinner.
It took about three months for Risto to start feeling herself again. Her in-laws finally arrived from Europe to help with child care, she started understanding Agon’s needs more, and she found an office space where she could separate home and work.
“Just being able to go to the office and actually concentrate and get work done and know that my baby’s in good hands, that has really helped,” she said.
For both Guzman and Risto, despite being unable to have all their friends and family around them, the people who are there mean everything. Both women sang the praises of health care workers, community members and their husbands.
According to Dr. Maura Lofaro of Gros Ventre OB/GYN, the health and safety of others has been her highest priority throughout her entire career.
“Everyone that comes into the hospital to have a baby gets a COVID test. So, they wear masks and we wear masks,” she said. “Even if they are COVID negative, we request that they still wear masks when other people are in the room with them.”
While having only one person in the delivery room is difficult for some, Lofaro said her patients have been very understanding given current circumstances.
“I think that our patients really understand what’s at stake in terms of their health, the health of their family, the health of their medical providers and all of the staff that works in the hospital,” Lofaro said.
Despite the additional challenges the pandemic poses for new and expecting mothers, Guzman said women in the community uplift her.
“I don’t know, if it’s like, once you’ve been pregnant when you see another pregnant woman, you’re automatically friends or something, but a lot of other women have reached out to me to say, ‘Hey, like, if you need anything, let me know,’” Guzman said.
Echoing the same feelings, Risto said she didn’t expect any help as she transitioned to opening her own business. Especially as a first-generation immigrant without family connections in Jackson, Risto felt surprised and grateful to her friends and past co-workers for recommending her work to others.
And despite being unable to have close friends and family nearby, Guzman and Risto look at their husbands as their rock.
“With my husband I just melt, and I feel so safe,” Guzman said. “He keeps me together right now.”
Risto agreed, looking back at all the long afternoon walks she took with her husband, talking through all her anxieties and knowing that he’d always be by her side.
While outside support was an integral part of her journey and healing, Risto said that being a woman is the biggest gift of all.
“I’m done with the era of women being treated like they’re the weaker sex,” Risto said. “No man that I know, no man — and I’ve known some strong men in my life — would be able to go through childbirth.”
While this was the hardest year of her life, Risto said it’s also been the most empowering time in her life, showing her the truth of her capabilities.
“I can be a mother. I can be a business owner. And I can be successful at both.”