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Culture & Conversation Maternity and Birthing

What It’s Like to Be Pregnant or a New Parent During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Tiffany Diane Tso

Will the hospital be short-staffed? Will my prenatal appointments be canceled? Will my infant be exposed to COVID-19?

For continuing coverage of how COVID-19 is affecting reproductive health, check out our Special Report.  

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to strain hospitals across the United States, an air of uncertainty surrounds people who need to go in for essential health care—including pregnant people on the verge of giving birth, and parents of newborn babies.

Researchers are trying to learn about the effects of COVID-19 on pregnant people, as there isn’t much data available. Last week, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists issued a statement maintaining that licensed and accredited birth centers and hospitals remain safe places to give birth. But pregnant people still question whether it is safe to go to the hospital to give birth and worry that they will use resources needed to battle the pandemic; some have turned to home births, deciding it’s a safer option than hospital delivery.

Meanwhile, some hospital systems are arguing about whether people giving birth will be allowed a support person in the room with them during labor and delivery, adding anxiety for pregnant people whose birth plans included their partners or doulas.

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Rewire.News spoke with two women at different stages of their pregnancies and one new parent about their realities, hopes, fears, and concerns in this moment. The interviews have been lightly edited for clarity.

Agnes is in her second trimester

Name: Agnes
Age: 34
Location: Metro Detroit, Michigan
Occupation: Communications

When are you due?

September 18.

Tell us about your situation:

My husband and I also have an almost four-year-old and a two-and-a-half-year-old who are home from preschool, doing some distance learning. We are both currently working from home indefinitely. We are socially distancing/self-quarantining from extended family in the area (including in-laws who normally help with the kids).

Has your health care been affected by the COVID-19 outbreak?

My last prenatal appointment at my midwives’ clinic was on the first day the schools closed in Michigan, so there were not many changes made to my prenatal care yet. My next one was supposed to be early April, but I expect that it will either be rescheduled or be turned into a telehealth session.

What are some of your anxieties surrounding your pregnancy or birth plan at the moment?

We have been through past pregnancy experiences under unusual circumstances. When I was unexpectedly pregnant with our second child while we were living in Korea and traveling in Southeast Asia, we all had to be tested for Zika, which has definite negative effects on pregnant women and their children. What we have heard and read about COVID-19, it is possible to have it without passing it on to the baby.

Because my other children were born in a natural birthing center while we lived in Korea, we would consider doing a home birth with the assistance of a midwife, if the COVID-19 situation continues to worsen. However, the bigger priority at the moment is to remain calm and manage stress, as well as stay healthy and active during pregnancy. I am grateful that my other pregnancies were without complications and that my labor/deliveries had been without medical interventions and were relatively fast.

What’s your biggest hope right now?

Just to have a healthy baby. There is so much out of our control—our faith is leading through this uncertainty.

Laila is in her third trimester

Name: Laila Chen
Age: 34
Location: Chicago, Illinois
Occupation: Marketing

When are you due?

April 8.

Has your birth plan been affected by the COVID-19 outbreak? 

I didn’t really have a plan, so not hugely. We were going to let people visit after birth, but since that’s not allowed anymore, it’ll just be my husband and I in the hospital the whole time, and we’ll introduce our baby to friends and family virtually once we’re home.

What are some of your anxieties surrounding your birth plan at the moment?

Whether they’ll continue allowing the one support person. I think I’ll be fine even if my husband can’t be there, but I’d be really sad for him to miss this experience, since it’s our first baby and he’s been looking forward to it so much.

Whether there will be enough attention from hospital staff, or if they will be short-staffed due to helping out other areas or the influx of patients due to COVID. In Chicago, the spike in cases is expected to happen [soon]. So, selfishly, if that has to happen, I hope it’s after my birth.

Whether there will be enough protective gear for doctors and nurses; possible contamination while in the hospital. Not too concerned since I trust the hospital, but it’s definitely a thought that’s in the back of my head.

What’s your biggest hope right now? 

A healthy baby and me, and a non-stressful stay, with nurses who can help educate us on how to care for him. Hopefully a totally usual labor with no emergencies.

Jenni is a new parent

Name: Jenni Gritters
Age: 30
Location: Seattle, Washington
Occupation: Journalism

When did you give birth?

December 16.

Tell us about your situation:

I’m about to end my 14-week maternity leave. My husband is a nurse, and he went back to work last week. I’m home with my infant at the moment and hoping our nanny can start next week, but it’s still touch-and-go in terms of what kind of exposure we can handle as a family, and what happens if my husband gets exposed to COVID at work. If my nanny can’t come, I’ll be forced to work between my husband’s shifts, mostly on evenings and weekends.

Has your infant’s health care been affected by the COVID-19 outbreak?

Not at all, thankfully. But he had respiratory issues that required a two-week NICU stay after he was born, so we’ve been keeping him super isolated.

What are some of your anxieties surrounding your newborn at the moment?

Honestly, the hardest part of all of this is the aspect of social support. Raising an infant is really challenging anyway, and usually everyone tells you, “Ask for help!”

Right now, you can’t. Even though we have family living close by, we haven’t had a break for a date night or trip to the store in quite a while, because we’re all on shelter-in-place here in Washington, and we can’t see each other. Video chat isn’t the same, either, and I know our families are missing seeing our baby grow up at this critical point in his life. Plus, we were really looking forward to being “back in the world” as our leaves ended this week—so that’s been a bummer.

I’m anxious about being able to work, since I work from home for myself, without childcare or family support. I’m anxious about our baby being exposed to COVID, so we’ve been keeping him mostly indoors or in his carrier on us during walks. And I’m anxious about paying rent if we can’t work. Also, being married to a health-care worker right now is pretty dicey, so my husband spends a lot of time decontaminating himself in the evenings when he gets home from work.

What’s your biggest hope right now?

If there’s a silver lining here, it’s that having an infant is very distracting. He doesn’t know about COVID-19, so our time with him is happy time. He’s learning to smile and grab at things and look in the mirror. He’s a reminder that this, too, shall pass, and there’s a future out there when things will return to some new kind of “normal.”

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