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AP Photos: Mothers-to-be face challenges in Venezuela

The birth of a first baby is usually a source of immense joy for couples. In Venezuela, however, the worries can override the excitement.

Twenty-four-year-old Adaimar Mendoza became pregnant for the first time in the midst of her nation’s worst economic crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic that has disrupted lives around the globe.

As a result of the turmoil, prenatal care has been suspended for women at public hospitals. Women arrive to deliver without prior evaluations to prevent complications. Maternity wards are short on supplies and specialists.

Ada Mendoza, 24, smiles during a game of riddles during her baby shower at her parents' apartment in the Catia neighborhood of Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. Mendoza has carried her baby amidst the coronavirus pandemic that has disrupted the lives of millions of Venezuelans, who since March 16th are still subject to a severe quarantine. (AP PhotoMatias Delacroix)

That’s on top of basic issues like getting gas to drive to the hospital at a time when shortages of fuel in the oil-rich nation have grown even more dire.

“It’s like we’re in a penalty round,” said Leo Camejo, Ada’s partner, referring to the high stakes finale of a tied soccer match. “The nervousness is always there.”

Venezuelan women for years have felt the acute effects of their country’s economic contraction, even before COVID-19 hit. Maternal death rates rose over 65% between 2015 and 2016. Contraceptives are unaffordable for most women. Many pregnant women leave, deciding to seek care abroad.

Ada Mendoza, 24, takes a picture of the decorations at her baby shower as her nuclear family, her partner, and close friends celebrate at her parents' home in the Catia neighborhood of Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. Her partner's family, who live just outside the capital, didn't attend the shower due to the travel restrictions brought by the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, and lack of gasoline, amid a nation-wide fuel crunch. (AP PhotoMatias Delacroix)

When Mendoza and Camejo learned of the pregnancy, it seemed life had turned upside down.

The couple lives with seven other relatives in the populous neighborhood of Catia in Caracas. Camejo had regular work as a graphic designer, but in recent months he’s struggled to find jobs. So he began selling hamburgers to pay for $20 visits to a private doctor’s office.

They also had to deal with pandemic complications now familiar to pregnant women worldwide. Every trip aboard public transportation brought fears of contagion.

Ada Mendoza, 24, receives a fetal ultrasound that shows her unborn daughter who she will name Peyton, from her obstetrician at a private medical clinic where visits average $20 U.S. dollars, in Caracas, Venezuela, Monday, Sept. 7, 2020. Her partner Leo Camejo began selling hamburgers from home, earning enough to pay for the prenatal care appointments. (AP PhotoMatias Delacroix)

Though officially the country registers about 65,000 cases, a relatively low number, limited testing means that is likely an undercount.

When their baby was born, the couple said seeing her tiny face gave them the courage to face the new obstacles that will come with raising a child in Venezuela.

“When I see Peyton, it’s like looking at Leo,” Mendoza said. “They have the same nose.”

Ada Mendoza, 24, rests her head on the shoulder of her partner Leo Camejo, as they return home on a bus after a prenatal visit to a private clinic in Caracas, Venezuela, Monday, Sept. 7, 2020. Despite being afraid of becoming infected with the new coronavirus, the couple has no choice but to board two buses to get to the prenatal care appointments. (AP PhotoMatias Delacroix)

Ada Mendoza, 24, tries walking to ease her labor contractions as she waits for her cousin to bring the car around, in the Catia neighborhood of Caracas, Venezuela, late Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. In reference to her labor pains, Mendoza said to her mother, “I can't take it anymore,” as the cousin drove them to the hospital in his vehicle that was running on empty due to the nation-wide fuel shortage. (AP PhotoMatias Delacroix)

Reacting to labor contractions Ada Mendoza, 24, leans on her mother as they leave the Hugo Chavez Frias Public Maternal and Children's Hospital after doctors ordered them to return home to wait for more frequent contractions, in the El Valle neighborhood of Caracas, Venezuela, just after midnight, Thursday, Sept. 10, 2020. Mendoza returned to the hospital four hours later, and gave birth to her daughter Peyton, after five hours of labor. (AP PhotoMatias Delacroix)

Ada Mendoza, 24, breastfeeds her newborn daughter Peyton for the first time at the Hugo Chavez Frias Public Maternity and Children's Hospital in the El Valle neighborhood of Caracas, Venezuela, early Thursday, Sept. 10, 2020. Her partner, Leo Camejo, was not allowed to witness his daughter’s birth due to virus-related sanitary restrictions at the free maternity hospital, where thousands like them can’t afford the thousand dollars price tags of private clinics. (AP PhotoMatias Delacroix)

Ada Mendoza, 24, shows her daughter Peyton to her partner Leo Camejo for the first time, hours after giving birth at the Hugo Chavez Frias Public Maternity and Children's Hospital, in the El Valle neighborhood of Caracas, Venezuela, Thursday, Sept. 10, 2020. Mendoza said her daughter has her father's nose. (AP PhotoMatias Delacroix)

Reflected in the rearview mirror, Leo Camejo sits with his partner Ada Mendoza and their newborn baby daughter Peyton as a friend drives them home after being discharged from the hospital, in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020. The young couple met three years ago thanks to their love of soccer, as fans of the Caracas F.C. team. (AP PhotoMatias Delacroix)

Ada Mendoza, 24, arrives home with her newborn daughter Peyton after being discharged from the hospital, in the Catia neighborhood of Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020. The first-time mother is full of renewed courage and trust that she’ll continue dodging the onslaught of obstacles brought by the pandemic and her nation’s crisis, for the sake of her little girl. (AP PhotoMatias Delacroix)

Nelida Lopez holds Peyton's foot, her newborn granddaughter, on the day Peyton arrived home from the hospital, in the Catia neighborhood of Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020. The biggest concerns for Peyton's parents are the new coronavirus pandemic and keeping their newborn daughter healthy. (AP PhotoMatias Delacroix)

Nelida Lopez kisses her daughter, first-time mom Ada Mendoza, while cradling newborn granddaughter Peyton, after the two arrived home from the hospital, in the Catia neighborhood of Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020. The 24-year-old mother carried her baby to term in the midst of Venezuela's worst economic crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic that has disrupted the lives of millions. (AP PhotoMatias Delacroix)

Two-day-old Peyton lies in a basket as her family watches over her in their apartment in the Catia neighborhood of Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020. Authorities have not published childbirth related mortality figures for years, but organizations like the Venezuelan Federation of Doctors and the nongovernmental Doctors of Venezuela report the risk for women in labor and newborns is high. (AP PhotoMatias Delacroix)