There is a unique vulnerability that comes with being pregnant. When you carry a tiny, fragile life inside you, you are susceptible to more harm than the average person. When you are pumped with hormones, you likely feel more emotionally vulnerable as well. Throw in a global crisis and what you’ve got is vulnerability on steroids. It’s a pretty unfortunate time to bring a new life into the world, and the following issues are what many pregnant women are currently going through during the COVID-19 pandemic.
*Please note that we do understand that the new policies and guidelines are for the greater good of limiting the spread of the virus, and that many people have it worse. However, that does not make our struggles any less difficult or valid.
Fearing for the Life/Health of Our Unborn Child/Newborn
There is conflicting information on whether pregnant women, unborn children, and newborns are at a higher risk for contracting or recovering from coronavirus. Some sources say that we are, which is very scary. Some say we are not, but doctors have minimal information on which to base that assertion. This is a new virus, one lacking research, clinical trials, and reliable statistics. Newborns lack developed immune systems and can die from minor illnesses like the flu and cold sores. Now we have to worry about our babies contracting a new illness that doctors really don’t know much about. Is a pregnant woman more susceptible to the virus? Can she transmit the disease to her unborn child? Can she breastfeed safely? Are newborns recovering quicker because they lack the respiratory receptors affecting adults? No one really knows for sure.
Cancelled/Modified Prenatal Appointments
As our nation enters a state of quarantine to limit the spread of the disease, many OBGYN’s are canceling prenatal appointments or not allowing the patient to bring a support person with her. So pregnant women are either not receiving the care they need, or are forced to endure the emotional trauma of receiving care without their spouse. You may read that last part and think I’m being dramatic, but imagine this scenario. You have your 20 week anatomy scan – the ultrasound that determines whether your child is “compatible with life” or has fatal abnormalities – and you have to hear the news without your partner.
My anatomy scan was absolutely terrifying for me. I had lost two babies prior to my current pregnancy, and had panic attacks before appointments, praying to see a heartbeat flickering on the screen and for the doctor to tell us that this time everything looked healthy. I had my husband holding my hand at my anatomy scan as we watched the tech examine each of our daughter’s organs. The thought of going to that appointment without Charlie hurts my heart so much. I truly feel for women in the early stages of pregnancy; I can only imagine how alone they must feel. Whether this is her very first pregnancy, a rainbow pregnancy after loss, or her 6th healthy child – no woman should have to go to ultrasounds without her child’s father (or her mom, best friend, etc.). And no father should miss out on seeing his child wiggling on an ultrasound screen. Those ultrasounds are the only visuals we get for 9 months of the life we’ve created.
Anxiety of Contracting the Virus from the Doctor’s Office
For those who are able to quarantine, it can cause a lot of stress and anxiety having to leave the house for prenatal appointments. Many of us consider prenatal appointments to be “essential” and worth the risk, but what could be a scarier place than a medical facility likely visited by sick people. Women who are late in pregnancy are supposed to go to the doctor every week. I’ve been in tears all morning preparing for my weekly appointment. It may sound ridiculous, but hormones plus the instinctive desire to protect my unborn child are very strong. If I contract the virus at my doctor’s office, I will transmit it to my husband and neither of us will be able to care for our newborn daughter. Doctors would separate us and the baby at birth. If somehow the baby avoided contracting the virus from me in the womb or during birth, she’d still be without her mother in her first days/weeks in the outside world.
Spouses Potentially Not Being Allowed at Birth
As hospitals are being flooded with patients exposed to or diagnosed with coronavirus, visitor rules are changing daily. Some hospitals are no longer allowing the baby’s father or other support person (such as a doula) to attend the baby’s birth, and it’s only a matter of time before more hospitals follow suit. The thought of my husband not being by my side when I give birth is too devastating to even entertain. This will be my first “real” labor and delivery after two miscarriages. I gave “birth” to our deceased daughter in a hospital and watched my sister take her last breath in a hospital. I can’t do this alone.
Even for those who have not experienced trauma in a hospital, it is unimaginable to me to give birth without your support person. Whether that’s your partner, your mom, your best friend, or your doula, a woman needs support going through arguably the most significant and scary experience of her life. Doulas, for those who choose to have them, are often vital to helping a woman advocate for her desired birth plan, as well as tending to her emotional needs, which can be overlooked by a busy hospital staff focused on the patient’s physical well-being. Many doulas have personal and professional experience with the trauma of pregnancy loss and giving birth after loss, which is important to many women.
While the real hardship falls on the mother, I can only imagine how hard it would be for fathers in this situation as well. Can you imagine sitting at home while your wife is birthing your child? Missing your child’s first breath? Not being there to hold your partner’s hand and make sure she is safe? To meet your baby two days later, knowing you were completely helpless when your spouse needed you the most? I’ve seen countless women say they’d rather give birth in the parking lot of the hospital or in their bathtubs, unassisted, than go through the trauma of giving birth without their partner.
Birth Photographers & Friends/Family Not Being Allowed to Visit
If even spouses aren’t allowed at some hospitals, I bet you can guess what is happening to the policies on visitors after birth. My hospital, like most others, has implemented a zero visitor policy, meaning no grandparents or photographers. Our moms and dads won’t get to bring balloons to the hospital to meet their grandchildren. Our photographers won’t capture the most precious moment of our lives on camera. Our babies will have to wait to meet their aunts and uncles, cousins, and other family and friends. While this is only a minor inconvenience to some, this is devastating for those who have dreamt their whole lives of having a full hospital room full of loved ones, teddy bears from the gift shop, and pink or blue balloons. It is devastating for those who planned to cherish their birth and Fresh 48 photos for years to come. It’s just one more thing the coronavirus has robbed from us that we can’t ever get back.
The Fear of Having a Miscarriage/Stillbirth Without Our Partner
I spoke to a woman a few days ago who went to the ER for bleeding and cramping at 16 weeks pregnant. Because at that point it was a medical exam and not a birth, her husband was not allowed to go back with her (per the new COVID restrictions). Her water ended up breaking and she delivered their deceased child alone. They finally let him come back, when they realized it was in fact a “birth,” but by then she had already suffered the trauma without him by her side.
A slightly less traumatic but equally devastating scenario is a woman who receives an ultrasound that her partner is not allowed to attend, and she is told there is no heartbeat. I can only imagine the fear of attending an early ultrasound knowing you could get bad news without your partner there holding your hand. If a D&C is recommended, many practices aren’t even allowing partners in the waiting room. It’s a truly terrifying time to be pregnant.
The Complete Lack of Control Over Our Birth Experience
A pregnant woman goes into labor knowing she may have to make a lot of sacrifices with regards to her birth plan. You can’t predict if your water will break on its own, whether you’ll need a C-section, or whether you’ll be in labor for 24 hours and decide last minute you want the epidural. I never in a million years thought I’d have to sacrifice things like having my husband by my side or feeling safe in a facility that sees patients with a deadly new virus. It seemed like a given that I’d be in the safest place in the world, with the safest person by my side. As if the fear of giving birth for the first time or being a first-time mom wasn’t heavy enough. And the hardest part, for me at least, is the uncertainty of things changing every day. The visitor policies will likely look different next week than they do today. The state of the virus may be a million times worse when I give birth than it is now. I’m due to give birth in two weeks, when confirmed cases will be much higher than they are now. What about the moms giving birth in two months? What will the world look like then?
Family Missing Baby’s First Several Weeks/Months of Life
For many women, having home visitors is a risk they are not willing to take. Some are allowing grandparents to meet the baby, but no other extended family or friends. And the visits they do allow will be limited. They won’t be having their moms stay with them for the first couple of weeks to help them take care of the baby. There will be no Easter gathering with the family. No Fourth of July. No family trips to the lake or Mother’s/Father’s Day celebrations. No playdates with cousins. Our families will essentially be missing the first few months of our child’s life. Charlie and I finally get our rainbow baby, who will be his parents’ first grandchild, our siblings’ first niece or nephew, and my parents’ first girl grandchild, only to share her first weeks/months on social media instead of in real life.
The Lack of Formula, Diapers, & Wipes
As if the stress of this pandemic wasn’t bad enough, throw in the added bonus of having to hunt down essential items. I’m 9 months pregnant (which means I pee every 15 minutes), and we almost ran out of toilet paper (after the stress of visiting 13 stores, we finally found some). Formula, diapers, and wipes are also hard to come by as people are hoarding them out of fear. I have a good amount of diapers and wipes from my baby shower, but what happens if I run out or if my daughter is allergic to the brands we have? I haven’t bought any formula because A) I plan to breastfeed and B) there’s no way of telling which brand will work for my baby. What if I can’t breastfeed? There will be no way to feed my child. These are the absolute last things mothers should be worrying about when they’re about to bring new life into the world.
Postpartum Depression from Isolation and Lack of Help
New parents are already isolated and overwhelmed in those first few weeks and months with a newborn. Throw in a quarantine and social distancing, and it’s pretty much a given they’ll feel isolated and alone. There will be no trips to the park with the other neighborhood parents, no mommy and me classes, not even grocery store runs with the little one. I can’t even begin to imagine how stir crazy we are going to feel. The isolation has already taken a toll on me and my baby isn’t even born yet. In addition to the lack of social contact, unless we risk having our parents over, we won’t have much help taking care of our brand new baby. I am already experiencing depression and can only imagine how bad the postpartum period will be, after the drastic change in hormones.
Cancelled Baby Showers
This may seem trivial to some, but because of social distancing, pregnant moms no longer get to have a baby shower in the foreseeable future. I was lucky enough to have already had two baby showers, but my heart is sad for those who are less far along and have to sacrifice this rite of passage. Celebrating a new life is really important to some people. Sure, a shower could potentially be planned 6 months from now, when the baby is already here, but many women dream of having a huge belly being surrounded by their loved ones during her special day. It’s a way for the families to connect with the unborn child before his or her upcoming arrival into the outside world. It’s a way to show the mother she has the support of her loved ones.
Women Trying to Conceive
Many women are delaying their TTC journeys because of the uncertainty of the world. Who wants to get pregnant when you can’t receive prenatal care? Couples going through IVF are being forced to delay their TTC journeys due to elective medical procedures being canceled. A delay in trying may not be a big deal to some, but to others it’s a devastating blow. Having a baby may be their biggest dream and something they’ve been trying to achieve for a significant amount of time. If you had told me a year ago I’d have to hit pause on trying to get pregnant, I would have spiraled into a state of depression, not knowing when and if I’d ever get to fulfill my dreams.
Not Allowing Visitors in NICU
Some hospitals are implementing zero visitor policies at their NICUs, which means if you go into preterm labor or have a baby with a serious health condition, you may have to leave the hospital without your child. This is traumatizing even in normal times, where visitation is allowed. I can’t think of anything scarier than leaving your newborn that you’ve never held or barely gotten a chance to hold, alone in a hospital full of coronavirus. And not being able to even see him/her for days, weeks, or even months. NICU nurses are amazing, but having a substitute caregiver is not the same as being right there next to your brand new baby.
No Newborn Photography
All non essential businesses, including photography, have been forced to temporarily shut down in most counties. Photographers could lose their license and face a misdemeanor if caught doing business, in addition to putting themselves and others at risk. This means no newborn photoshoots for those of us who are having babies or who recently had a baby. This may be another issue that seems trivial to some, in the grand scheme of things, but many of us have pre-paid for these sessions and were planning to cherish these photos for years to come. It can’t be easy to pose a newborn and I doubt iPhone photos can compare to photos taken by a professional photographer. There’s a very small window in which to get these precious photos and we can’t ever get this time back.
Sucking the Joy out of Pregnancy
Even if everything turns out ok in the end, and this is just a crazy birth story we tell our child 12 years from now, the joy is being sucked out of what should be the happiest and most exciting time of our lives. This period of time is no longer filled with baby showers, maternity shoots, ultrasounds with our partners, showing off our bumps around town, and being with our families and friends with our new baby. It’s now a time of worry, fear, anxiety, and panic.
To every pregnant woman in the world right now, I see you, I am you, and I’m sending you so much love during this somber and unpredictable time in the world.