In June, my husband and I traveled to Chicago to spend time with my family, which was throwing a baby shower for us. While there, my dad and his partner both brought up the threat of Zika in Miami. I assured them I wasn’t worried.
My obstetrician hadn’t even mentioned it, and all of the cases in Florida at that point were travel related. He begged me to consider moving back to the Midwest to have the baby. He told me he knew someone whose pregnant daughter had moved away from South Carolina because of Zika concerns, and I laughed.
The absurdity of my dad’s request was punctuated by the terrifying German mosquito trap he put in our luggage for the trip back to Florida. Designed to eliminate mosquitoes in a one-acre radius, it came with a 13-page instruction manual and would supposedly require us to buy a motorcycle battery and a CO2 tank to power it. I knew I would never set it up, and I would never leave Miami.
But the day the first locally contracted Zika cases were announced, I shut myself inside our home and cried on and off for hours. We live just north of Wynwood, and my husband’s office is inside the Department of Health’s zone of local infections. When he came home that night, my husband sat down on the dining room floor, set up the trap, and then installed it in our backyard.
As the number of Zika cases increased, so did my anxiety. After spending five days cooped up in my house, I got a text from my husband saying, “We should talk seriously about leaving Miami.”
I was shocked that he would even consider leaving. I started making a list of all the logistical tasks we would need to complete in order to leave our home for three months — arrange for house sitters, finish readying the nursery, find a new doctor, and so on. The list was long and the tasks weren’t easy, and I did not want to go.
On the way to our regularly scheduled prenatal appointment that afternoon, we vocalized a list of pros and cons — reasons to stay in Miami and reasons to leave. Talking it out, it became clear to both of us that our reasons for staying were all motivated by convenience, while our reasons for leaving were driven by ensuring the health and safety of our unborn daughter.
By the end of the conversation, it was like a switch had been flipped. Three days later, our car was packed, and we drove 20 hours up to my mother’s house.
In my conversations with expectant friends and friends who are trying to get pregnant, there is an overwhelming feeling of fear. One friend in her second trimester with twins says that she’s avoiding the outdoors until she gives birth. Another friend who has been trying to get pregnant is fearful because both she and her husband work in the area where Zika is being transmitted, and there isn’t much they can do to escape that.
I have talked to several women who wished they had the job flexibility to be able to leave Miami and are feeling trapped. At my last OB-GYN appointment in Miami, I spoke with an expectant couple in the waiting room who was trying to figure out how they could manage a cross-country move with their job duties and a one-year-old.
Now in the suburbs of Chicago, I’m spending most of my days on the phone, still crying. As it turns out, it is very difficult to find a doctor willing to provide prenatal care when you’re already 33 weeks pregnant.
I have had prenatal care in Miami since week six, but none of that matters. Some obstetricians here simply refused me immediately over the phone; others have called to cancel initial appointments because the doctor looked over my file and realized I was coming from the affected zip code in Miami — in other words, ground zero for Zika. This was not the image I’d ever projected for myself as a pregnant woman, and it’s hard not to feel let down by the healthcare system, the government, and the city of Miami.
There is a chance that Zika will be contained, that it will turn out to be much less of a threat to Miami than initially anticipated. But what can’t be denied is the fact that there just isn’t enough information right now. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention doesn’t know the likelihood of a Zika infection affecting an unborn child or the rate of birth defects caused by the virus. They don’t know exactly how long the virus can stay in an infected man’s semen — a scary thought for anyone trying to conceive.
All this puts pregnant women in affected areas in an extremely difficult and stressful situation. Every time you step outside, you have to think, “Have I done enough to protect myself?”
For us, it was the right decision to pack up our car and drive north, where the stress of finding a new doctor feels at least somewhat within our power. Unfortunately, other expectant couples in Miami don’t have that option, but they are no less deserving of the same peace of mind.