Eight years ago, at the tender age of 27, my new husband and I bought 9 acres in the rolling hillsides of rural Uruguay. After a young adulthood of terrorism, hurricanes, financial disaster, we were seeking stability. While both in grad school we saved up what little we could to purchase our property, and moved here permanently, two children later, at the end of 2016.

At this young age I could see, alongside most of my generation, the writing on the wall. For most of us, it was obvious the system was crumbling, and with those overlapping failures comes crisis and insecurity.  If we were going to have a family, we owed it to them to settle in a place they would be safe and undamaged from the world unraveling. Uruguay, with its low population, quality soils, abundant water table, and progressive social democracy, promised just that stability. Emigrating, even from a place of privilege (we had some savings and were in the process of getting graduate degrees), is difficult. We had to learn a new language and culture, navigate a foreign bureaucracy, learn new social systems (e.g. health care, emergency services), and integrate into a community. 

Over the past few years we’ve done this work, and we’ve learned to live with less. We have a solar water heater so we have learned to shower in the afternoons. Electricity is expensive so we turn off everything we don’t use immediately. We have planted fruit trees and gotten chickens and built a water tower and a well so we will never be without water. But sometimes the electricity goes out and we have to run the generator every few hours so we don’t lose all the food in the deep freezer. We heat by wood stove, and we harvest from our forest. Once you learn how much work goes into making heat that way, you learn to put on a sweater in winter. I pride myself in learning to live this way, but this is the normal reality of most of my neighbors here in Uruguay, and it makes for a community of resilient people.


Almost 3 weeks ago, on March 13, my family began a self-quarantine. I was 36 weeks pregnant, and after learning about the high c-section rate in Uruguay, awaiting my planned home birth. The news was scary and the information uncertain about pregnancy and newborns (still is), so our best bet was to stay home. After years of planning for some crisis, moving to Uruguay and doing the psychological labor of learning to live with less, we were ready. We pretty seamlessly transitioned to life on our land.

As the days went by, I got more anxious for the baby to come. What if I had an emergency and had to go into the hospital? What if the baby waited to come until 42 weeks (April 23), which could be at the height of the curve and the hospital is lined with COVID-19 patients, surely infecting us? Will they let my husband go in? (The answer is currently no in many places in the world.) Will they take my baby away from me and put her in quarantine? (Also true in many places.) What could this do to her long -term health consequences, being separated, without breastmilk? 

My health outcomes, and those of my child, are dependent on so many factors beyond my control: whether or not the government does a quarantine, whether people follow it, macroeconomic supply chains of medical equipment and medicines and tests, the culture of the nation and whether economics trumps human health, and so much more. Despite all of our preparation, none of us are immune to the effects of disasters. 


Lucia, bringing her graceful light, came early on March 27. Smart kid. With luck on our side, our planning paid off, and it was the most peaceful and beautiful birth experience I ever had. The midwives came to our home, she was born in the early morning with her sisters cheering, and we didn’t move from the bed together for several days. This home is all she will know for weeks to come. 

When my in-laws’ flight got cancelled and we found ourselves alone without family support, our local friends (themselves seriously abiding by quarantine) offered to take the older girls while we got adjusted. Our community built a nest around us, a safe space to accept in new life. Our land provides us water and heating and food (eggs and walnuts and pears), and the hardworking family farmers around us provided the rest. A pediatrician made a house call to check me and the baby at 24 hours. The midwife came back at 48 hours and then a week after the birth.


I gained several insights from the experience of giving birth in the time of crisis. First, we all must accept the loss of the society we hoped would be, or were reliant upon, and look forward to the one that is coming. It is beyond the time of hoping for business-as-usual, or for a peaceful transition to a sustainable future. This also means accepting the loss of stability we might have all hoped for from our institutions. In many ways we are on our own to provide for ourselves and remake the future we hope comes from this present. 

Second, you can be knowledgeable and prepared to some extent, but you can never be fully insulated from the impact of larger institutions and independent of reliance on others. Third, it is in moments of crisis that routines break down and possibilities open up. Although my birth experience went according to the plan, and we are incredibly privileged to have the savings to pay doctors to pay direct visits to our home.  Many factors out of my control could have changed these circumstances and I would have had to face a whole host of new problems to solve. Even postpartum, I have to decide whether or not I should bring the baby to routine well checks, and whether or not it is more risky to bring her into a clinic to get vaccinated or to stay home and wait for months and delay her schedule. How we adapt, and the choices we make when faced with these new dilemmas, matter in making new routines and patterns.  

With all that, life goes on. Babies get born. People pass away. We need to eat and to drink and to thrive. We must make choices and take risks and find our community. We must be ready, but accept that which we can’t control.