As one half of a newlywed couple, I’ve become a pro at fielding the question, “so when are you going to start having babies?!” Now, six months after our wedding, I’ve started to loathe this question almost as much as the “so, what’s next?!” conversations that happened post-college graduation. I understand the question of when we’re going to have kids almost always comes with innocent and well-meaning intentions, but let’s be honest: asked any less delicately, and people would literally be asking me and my husband, “so, when are you two going to start ‘doing it’ more often?” Even though the question annoys me, it’s still something I’ve started to wonder myself. When should we start having babies? The wedding is over, the honeymoon was great, the thank-you cards were sent… and now I’ve found myself wondering if this is the time when we’re supposed to start creating more humans. But with Zika on the rise in Florida, my husband and I have put family planning on hold… indefinitely.
I always assumed that when the time was right, my husband and I would just know. It would just “feel right,” like it was time for us to expand our family, and yet, now that I’m actually at that point in my life, there is an entirely different monster to think about. A problem I’d honestly never factored into my baby-having timeline: the Zika virus. It never dawned on me that the decision to have kids would be based on anything other than whether or not we wanted to be parents. We now have to factor in whether or not we can afford to move to another state or region of the country just so that we can have the chance to have a healthy, Zika-free pregnancy and become parents of a healthy baby.
Growing up in New Jersey, I was in New York City just weeks after 9/11 happened. I was 14 at the time, and it was my first day of high school. When the Anthrax scare broke out weeks later, it seemed more like something out of a spy movie than it did something that could happen in real life, so I didn’t let it bother me. When SARS broke out in Canada two years later in 2003, I wasn’t deterred — I went to Toronto anyway to visit a high school friend. Even when Ebola seemed to be just about everywhere in 2015, I really didn’t concern myself with worrying about it. In all these situations, I had the privilege of not thinking about how these diseases and tragedies would affect me. They all seemed so far away, they couldn’t possibly hurt me. I mean, what were the chances that I would be affected?
Right now, deciding to start a family seems more like a risky gamble than a hopeful adventure. Making the decision to put pregnancy on the back burner has been much more emotionally draining than I was ever prepared for.
But Zika is different. It's been an eye-opening revelation that my privilege cannot protect me from this, and that if I were to get pregnant, my risks would be just as high. And maybe it’s because for the first time in history, the World Health Organization has issued a Travel Advisory Warning on a region that’s just three hours away from where I live. Maybe it’s because medical facilities in my state have blatantly stated that they are ill-prepared for a Zika pandemic. Maybe it’s because if I were to contract Zika, it’s likely I wouldn’t even realize it. According to Vox.com, the majority of those with Zika don’t even know they have it. Only about 20 percent of people infected with the Zika virus show symptoms, and even then they’re minor: sore body, headache, a low-grade fever, joint pain.
Or maybe Zika scares me because for the first time in my life, if I were to come into contact with one of these scary, new health crises, I wouldn’t be the only one at risk. I’d also be putting my future children’s health on the line. Although I might not suffer anything worse than maybe a fever, if my child was exposed to Zika in utero, they could endure any number of devastating disorders. They could suffer from microcephaly, according to the Center for Diseases Control and Prevention, where their brain would be underdeveloped, ultimately leading them to a shortened life span. They could suffer arthrogryposis, a traumatic birth defect where joints are curved while muscles and connective tissues are severely shortened. Not to mention seizures, hearing loss, impaired vision, delayed intellectual development, deformed limbs, and any number of other birth defects, according to an August 2016 report published by LiveScience.com.
These are just the risks that doctors actually know about right now. Zika is still so new, it seems researchers are still discovering more and more effects daily. As it stands, there is no vaccine for Zika.
If it's a choice between risking a severely unhealthy pregnancy or moving to a different area, we’d pick up and move — no questions asked.
Even though I’m not pregnant or a mother, I can’t ignore the instincts telling me to do everything I can so that I don’t expose any potential child I may bear to this nightmare scenario. If it's a choice between risking a severely unhealthy pregnancy or moving to a different area, we’d pick up and move — no questions asked. However, Zika has moved rather quickly thus far, so who knows where we can go to be perfectly “safe.” Maybe there is nowhere safe from Zika. But I’d still want to give myself and my baby whatever fighting chance I could. Maybe — hopefully — by the time we’re ready to start a family, there will be some sort of cure, treatment, or vaccine available for Zika. But until then, the risks are just not worth the reward. And so my husband and I will leave Florida.
I could easily tell myself, Oh, I’ll be fine. Miami is three hours away. I can just wear more bug spray than usual, and the Zika-infected mosquitoes won’t get me. But that’s a lie. There are two things Floridians know: mosquitos move fast, and they don’t care what kind of repellent you’ve got on — if you’re outside, they will find you. My husband and I (and imagine, many Floridians in general) have just to come to terms with it: Zika will be here before we know it. And now, Zika is here, in our home, and it’s not like we can throw a big mosquito net around Miami-Dade County and just hope for the best.
The idea of moving anywhere, let alone multiple states away, is draining. And a move that large also means new jobs, new insurance, new homes, new friends, new care providers, adjusting to a new normal and all the new stress that comes with it. But trying to do all that while also trying to have a baby?
For the time being, while we’re still living in Florida, we’re going to put our plans to start a family on hold. If we do decide to start a family anytime soon, we will, most likely, first decide to move out of the state. This was always on our to-do list anyway (neither of us are from Florida originally, so we didn’t plan on staying forever). However, now with that particular transition centered around if, and/or when, we want to start a family, that move may happen sooner than we anticipated. I’ll be 30 in a few months, and even though that’s not “old” by any means, I can’t help but wonder what will happen if we wait years for a Zika vaccine or treatment. And if that happens, what if I’ll have waited too long to get pregnant because of my Zika fears?
I know that my husband and I are extremely fortunate to be able to plan ahead in this way and to have the financial means to be able to move if we decide we’re ready to start a family. I also understand the reality that women and families in countries most severely affected by Zika are not so lucky. My husband and I have the freedom to choose exactly when we decide to become parents. In places like South America, where Zika has taken over, these options are not necessarily available to young women. My privilege is not lost on me.
Deciding to start a family should be one of the most exciting times for a newly married couple, if that’s what they want. And for us, it is. We look forward to the future, imagining all the amazing things our future child(ren) will be capable of. But right now, deciding to start a family seems more like a risky gamble than a hopeful adventure. Making the decision to put pregnancy on the back burner has been much more emotionally draining than I was ever prepared for. The idea of moving anywhere, let alone multiple states away, is draining. And a move that large also means new jobs, new insurance, new homes, new friends, new care providers, adjusting to a new normal and all the new stress that comes with it. But trying to do all that while also trying to have a baby? It all seems so overwhelming. What should be an exciting time in our lives has turned into a constant carousel of pro-and-con lists, of weighing the options, of wondering whether or not we're willing to take a chance. All because of a mosquito.