What It’s Like To Be Pregnant In The Coronavirus Pandemic

Molly Longman

For those who are pregnant, the unknowns of the coronavirus outbreak are especially stressful. 

The pandemic has strained healthcare resources across the country and world, and as a result even the best-laid birthing plans are being upended. Faced with the possibility of giving birth in a hospital overrun by ill patients, some soon-to-be parents are desperately seeking out new healthcare providers, are considering home births, and are even inducing labor early to escape a situation that seems increasingly desperate. 

Hospitals are struggling to find solutions too. Despite social distancing orders, pregnant people still need prenatal care, especially in the third trimester. But right now, every visit can feel like a gamble. “We’re trying to space out appointments a little bit to decrease [the amount of] patients in the waiting room,” says Jeanne S. Sheffield, MD, director of the division of maternal-fetal medicine and professor of gynaecology and obstetrics at Johns Hopkins. Doctors are also relying on telehealth to reduce the necessity for in-person visits, and to hopefully minimise the spread of the viral disease.

In March, this desire to curtail patient traffic in healthcare facilities led some hospitals in New York to announce that they’d no longer be allowing partners in delivery rooms. But on 28th March, the office of Andrew M Cuomo, the governor of New York, put out an executive order ensuring everyone giving birth in the state could have one partner present. 

The perceived uncertainty over the safety of hospitals is also causing some people to choose to give birth at home, under the care of a doula or midwife. This decision has its own drawbacks, cautions Edward Chien, MD, chair of the department of OB/GYN Specialists at Cleveland Clinic.

“We understand there are complications of coronavirus, but there are also serious complications of pregnancy to consider, such as high blood pressure, or preeclampsia,” Dr Chien notes. ”And if you’re weighing the risk of having one of those complications versus catching COVID at the hospital, I’d probably say the risk is greater for your typical complications of pregnancy. That should be a consideration in what you decide to do.”

Of course, the possibility of contracting coronavirus while pregnant or during delivery, or passing it to their newborn, is weighing heavily on the minds of soon-to-be parents, especially since the effects of the virus are still not fully understood — particularly for pregnant women and fetuses.

The limited research available indicates that those who are pregnant aren’t more likely than anyone else to develop severe COVID-19 symptoms. Still, other viruses within the coronavirus family such as SARS and similar infections such as influenza may pose higher risk for those who are pregnant, Dr Sheffield explains. 

“COVID is a respiratory virus, and we always worry about those viruses in pregnant women, especially in their third trimester,” Dr Sheffield adds. 

All across the country and the world, expecting parents are wrestling with these massive decisions and anxieties. We spoke to eight people about how they’re making tough choices — and how they’re staying hopeful as they bring a child into a world that’s currently in unprecedented turmoil. 

Fo Alexander
Age: 31
Location: Greenville, South Carolina
History: A manager in the fashion merchandising industry, Alexander is 36 weeks pregnant with her first child, due on 23rd April.  

"Before this whole mess, my birth plan was very traditional. We intended to deliver at a local hospital with my husband and mom present. I'm not high risk nor do I have any complications, so the plan was to have a natural birth at the hospital. But, as they say, the best laid plans… 

Due to precautions being taken by the hospital, my husband will be the only one allowed in the delivery room. He’s also no longer able to attend doctor's visits, and no family members or friends can visit us during our hospital stay. Since this is our first child, I find that majorly disheartening. I’m especially upset that my mother won’t be able to be there with me. We’ll be FaceTiming her in for the birth, but it won’t be the same. I wanted her physically present for moral and spiritual support. My mom has always been present for every big moment in my life, and this will be a big “first” without her. I’ll miss her encouragement from an empathetic perspective, and the overall excitement that she brings to every environment she’s in.

If things progress and for some reason they disallow even partners in the hospital, I’d feel incredibly uncomfortable as a first-time mom. I want support, but also want an advocate to ensure that I'm receiving proper care and attention and that my wishes are being honoured. The staggering statistics and disturbing rates of maternal mortality for Black women in the US are also top of mind. I haven’t had any reason to believe that the medical staff I've been working with would purposefully provide subpar care; however, it is hard to ignore the stats. I would not want to leave my baby's health or my own to chance.

As such, in the event that my husband is not able to attend the delivery, my plan is to do a home birth. It’s not ideal, but we’d make it work. Earlier this week, I requested recommendations for licensed local midwives on my personal Facebook page and received an overwhelming response. 

This is the first time we’re exploring this option, so I have to do a lot of research in a short amount of time. It's all very new right now. I'm still parsing through the many recommendations that I received.

It’s all overwhelming, but I’m making it work and trying to stay calm. I’ve made an intentional effort to not be consumed by news about the virus. I occasionally check for updates, but in the interest of my mental health, I refrain from constantly watching updates and scrolling through articles. It’s upsetting, whether you’re reading about health or the economy.

I work in an industry that’s been impacted by the economic downturn. Managing a team through uncertain times does bring on an avoidable level of stress. Fortunately, it hasn't been enough to cause any health issues that would impact my pregnancy.

Right now, my hope is in my faith. That is the only thing that allows me to not be troubled by what's happening. My ritual is daily prayer and reciting declarations about having a safe delivery." Ben Alexander Photography

Becky Straw
Age: 39
Location: Brooklyn, New York
History: Straw is eight months pregnant with a girl, due 24th May. She has a history of pregnancy complications, including preeclampsia, which led to prenatal abruption — her placenta separated from the inner wall of the uterus and she began to bleed out, ultimately needing an emergency C-section five weeks early. Her son Finn was in the NICU for a long time. As the co-founder and CEO of The Adventure Project, a nonprofit that creates jobs to combat extreme poverty, she’s juggling the stress of giving birth again during coronavirus with her work. 
"My initial birth plan was to deliver at New York-Presbyterian in Brooklyn. Given my history of complications and age, a home birth is simply not an option for me. I could schedule another C-section, but I would like to try and deliver vaginally this time to avoid a long recovery period. 
Coronavirus has obviously disrupted our initial plans. My husband and I are considering renting a car and driving to Richmond, Virginia, where his family lives. We would rent an Airbnb, self-quarantine, and continue to work remotely. Thanks to the help of family, we found an OB/GYN practice who agreed to take me as a late-stage patient, if needed. So we would essentially hunker down for two weeks and then get all of my medical records transferred to Richmond and have the baby there. Our plan C is an offer from a sorority sister who has connections to a hospital in Boston. However, we don’t know anyone there. It’s still worth considering, because New York has so many cases of coronavirus compared to other cities in the country. 
Making a decision about what to do right now feels fraught. Each day seems to bring a different news story or development that sways our decision. My husband and I would have left already, but if we leave now, the virus may spread across the country by the time I need to deliver in eight weeks, and we worry hospitals may be seeing their peaks then. If we can stay and ride it out here, things in New York City may improve by the time I give birth — as long as I don’t deliver early again, that is. 
My doctor says we should stay, reassuring us that everything will be fine. Meanwhile, photos circulate online of nurses using garbage bags as gowns, with makeshift morgues going up in parking lots. I wonder if we’re being naive to pretend everything is normal while bringing a new life into a city that’s the epicentre of massive suffering. Nothing about this is normal. 
Sometimes, I wonder if I’m catching it, or if I’m just having a hard time breathing because the baby is pushing on my lungs. 
Perhaps the strangest part is how my mind has shifted from happy thoughts of our newborn, towards just strategizing and surviving the next eight weeks. We haven’t set up any baby gear, bought any diapers, or decided on her name. There is no talk of who she’ll be as a person at this stage. All of my mental focus is on getting both of us in and out of the hospital safely. The details of her life can wait. Our priority is that she lives. 
Last Sunday, while our son napped, I was trying to get some work done when I started to receive a barrage of text messages from friends. There were rumours circulating on Twitter that my hospital, NY Presbyterian, had a morning briefing where they shared that they were banning all visitors. The next day they shared an official statement
I joked that my husband and son would walk with me to the hospital, waving, and that I would then walk out the next day with a baby. But in truth, we were both grieving about it. I was mentally preparing for how I would do this on my own, as if preparing for battle. I did understand why the hospital made the decision — the staff are heroes for going to work, and if we can help mitigate their risk, we should. However when Governor Cuomo’s office put out an executive order this weekend, the hospital reversed its decision, allowing one partner during the delivery. As of now, as we understand it, my husband still can’t be there for recovery and once he leaves he cannot come back. So, if I have another c-section or our daughter needs the NICU, I will have to be there longer on my own." Garland Harwood

Michelle Drummond
Age: 31
Location: Redding, Connecticut 
History: Drummond is giving birth to her first child with her high school sweetheart on 6th June. The personal stylist at Saks Fifth Avenue in Greenwich says she was having a great pregnancy — until the COVID-19 outbreak.
"I’ve read many pregnancy books and considered many different birthing methods for delivery. After a lot of research, I opted for a hospital birth with my husband by my side, as well as my parents, and in-laws.
I had an OB/GYN visit 16th March, before the outbreak in Connecticut got really bad. I was told to wash my hands and give a urine sample as soon as I entered the office. I've always been a germaphobe, so washing my hands obsessively and using hand sanitizer is really no different from my everyday routine. I asked my OB/GYN many questions regarding COVID-19. I asked her about spouses being allowed in the hospital room. She told me everyday things were changing, but at the moment Norwalk Hospital was allowing just one visitor present during birth. 
I never imagined my husband not being present at the birth of our first child — his son. However, this possibility is becoming more of a reality to me. I’ve lost my right to choose who I want to experience childbirth with. The crisis has altered the course of my son’s first moments in the word. 
Since quarantining, I’ve been doing prenatal yoga and breathing exercises regularly. Our breastfeeding and lamaze classes are currently cancelled, but I’m hoping to take online courses soon. 
As a Chinese-American, I‘ve been following the COVID-19 outbreak especially closely since it was reported in China. However, I didn’t ever think that it would come to the United States and impact our lives as it has. I’ve always been a hypochondriac, so my anxiety has risen tremendously. 
I feel very protective of my son and really just want what is best for him like any mom. The whole outbreak has made me a nervous wreck, especially with everyday mundane tasks such as going to the grocery store seeming to be suddenly high-risk. I wear gloves, too. 
On the outset, my husband and I were planning to go on a “babymoon” to Costa Rica or the Bahamas. But in mid-February, I started feeling nervous about travelling via plane. We decided it wasn’t worth the risk. We turned towards planning a baby shower, which now obviously won’t happen either. However, we’re considering a virtual shower, as well as a “sip and see” once the baby is born. His life is definitely still something to celebrate. The thought of holding him in my arms gives me hope. "

Lauren Mitchell 
Age: 37 
Location: Detroit, Michigan
History: Mitchell is a stay-at-home mom to two boys  — ages 5 and 2 — who’s due with a third son on 24th April. 

"Before the coronavirus pandemic hit, I didn’t have a very detailed birth plan. I expected to have my husband there with me, to get an epidural when necessary, and to go skin-to-skin and breastfeed right away. I assumed there’d be no complications to prevent that. I assumed a lot of things. 
Now, I’m doing more worrying than presuming or planning. Our state doesn’t have a ban on “support people” attending births yet, but I do think it’s imminent. I’m preparing to go it alone. While I know I’ll be able to physically do it, it makes me sad to think about my husband meeting his son for the first time via FaceTime. I also worry about not having someone there to advocate for me or the baby, should complications arise and I become unconscious. I worry that I’ll be diagnosed with COVID at the time of delivery and be separated immediately from my son. Or that one of us will contract the virus in the hospital. I’m concerned that, due to hospital overcrowding, there won’t be space for me to deliver and I’ll be turned away, and I’m definitely not prepared for the logistics of a home birth.
I don’t have a detailed plan B yet. I’ve thought about reaching out to my friend who’s an OB/GYN across town to see if I can transfer to her hospital so I don’t have to deliver alone. This brings up a whole other set of anxieties though. It’s a health system I’ve never used, a hospital I’ve never visited, and is located a solid hour away from my house (and since this is my third delivery, there’s a greater chance labour will progress quickly and I won’t make it in time). There’s no guarantee she’d be able to make it either. 
Of all the things I’m agonising over, contracting the virus before delivery is possibly the biggest one. I don’t know for sure how it affects pregnant women or unborn babies, and that terrifies me. I haven’t left the house in two weeks. My family is fortunate that my husband’s employer allowed him to work from home when the cases first started appearing in Michigan, and that we’re able to afford grocery delivery services. I've stockpiled formula, diapers, and other goods that we might need after the baby comes home, so we do not have to risk exposure by going to stores or receiving deliveries when we have a newborn. I’m also limiting the number of times I go in for OB appointments. You’re typically seen by your OB weekly as you near the end of your pregnancy, but, in order to avoid unnecessary exposure, I’ve scaled them back. Right now, my OB is okay with seeing me in person every two weeks, and conducting an appointment via video chat during off weeks, as long as I monitor my blood pressure at home. Unfortunately, I haven’t received any words of hope from medical professionals. They’ve all been pretty blunt in telling me that the situation is fluid, and that things will change. This makes me nervous, but what can you do? 
I can usually quash my anxiety while the kids are up. My five-year-old is super sensitive and attuned to what’s going on, so I try to not let him see too much worry. If I get worked up when they’re up, I usually let them watch a show while I take a hot shower. At night, I try to watch something funny or mindless with my husband, read, or have a cup of mint tea. We’re all just trying to make it through."

Aarti Pole 
Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
History: Pole is a CBC News journalist who’s due on 12th June with a baby girl. She originally planned to have her mother come and stay with her for the birth and deliver in a hospital with her partner by her side. Things have changed. 
"As coronavirus started teetering toward becoming a global pandemic earlier in the year, both my husband and I started thinking about how that could impact our child's delivery. But, in all honesty, we had no clue just how drastically things were about to change. We were initially undecided on whether to hire a midwife, or stick with our OB/GYN. We felt comfortable with both our doctor and a midwife I met with, but it wasn't until the health crisis intensified that we decided to go with the midwife. During this global emergency, we know there will be a huge demand for doctors
My experience leading up to the birth has been altered in a way that feels disappointing. My husband can't come to ultrasounds anymore, our prenatal classes are cancelled, the hospital tour was totally scrapped, and our birthing class has moved online. It’s been harder to involve my partner in this process, which is sad because he’s excited to be a dad. Already, some of my prenatal appointments are moving online to limit the number of hospital visits. I completely understand the need to go virtual; but as a first-time mum, I can't help but wish I could see someone in person more regularly. 
With so little information about how the virus will spread in Canada and the demands on the health care system, we’ve started to think about the option of a home birth. It's not something we were at all considering before, but having a midwife means that’s now an option for us. It's a decision we can make closer to my due date as we watch how this situation unfolds. My mother is planning on flying in to be there for her granddaughter’s birth, and we’re hoping no travel restrictions prevent her visit. It would mean the world to me to have my mother here during this once-in-a-lifetime milestone, but it will likely just be my partner and me in the delivery room. 
Thankfully, my pregnancy to this point has been low risk; I'm told everything is A-ok. That is a relief, but I do worry about the impact of coronavirus-related anxiety. I don't want to be stressed out, as there is some evidence that suggests it can impact your unborn child. The thought of that stresses me out even more! Being a journalist, covering one of the biggest stories of the century, means I can't really unplug from pandemic news. I’m digesting developments daily, listening to briefings across the country, looking at case counts, reading stories about patient deaths, and learning more about the virus from doctors and experts every day. As a reporter, I’m happy to be covering all of this — it’s the privilege of this line of work to be able to distil what's important from the overwhelming amounts of information out there, and share it with our audience. The reality is my situation isn't changing on that front, and I don't want it to. It just means the fears and tears that everyone is experiencing, I'm going through, too, and I’ll need to find a more effective coping mechanism to make sure nothing changes with my pregnancy. At the end of the day, all that matters is that my baby is healthy.
This is just my experience, but I know there are cancer patients worried they won't get treatment they need, and there are doctors concerned they won’t have enough protective equipment. There are people dying alone in hospitals because no one is allowed to see them. All of it is heartbreaking, and I just hope collectively we’re able to reduce the negative impact for everyone. What’s giving me hope is that we're all in this together. I know it’s been said repeatedly, but we truly are." 

Janelle Sohner
Age: 32
Location: Redstone, Colorado
History: Sohner works in public relations for a marketing agency and is due in July. She’s fearful of getting coronavirus and transmitting the infection to her baby. 
"There’s a lot about this pregnancy I never could have gleaned from What to Expect When You’re Expecting. The book certainly didn’t account for these surreal times. In the age of coronavirus, my husband can no longer accompany me to any appointments, and the birthing class I was taking through my doula is now entirely online. Our doula, who I was so relying on to guide me through labour, will likely be completely virtual. I’ll miss having them there as an advocate and cheerleader. But the worries I have won’t stop after I leave the hospital with my baby. 
I fear that I might be at a higher risk for postpartum depression. Some days, I mourn for the pregnancy I once imagined (prenatal spa days, third trimester acupuncture, baby showers with friends and family). Not all of it “matters,” but it’s changed my experience significantly. I don’t know what the situation will look like when I’m due, but I fear that my husband won’t even be able to accompany me for the labour and delivery. I also worry about having to induce early if the virus overwhelms the local hospital in my small town. 
Another thought that’s crossed my mind, though I’m not sure if it’s medically possible: What if our baby is born with the virus? Can I mentally go two weeks without seeing and holding him or her? What if my husband or I have COVID-19 and could potentially pass it along to the baby. I can’t fathom birthing my baby and waiting two weeks to hold him or her, but I also won’t want to put them in danger. When I’m not partaking in catastrophic thinking, I still have more realistic questions: Will I be able to take him or her on walks or introduce them to their grandparents?
With all this said, I do think some good can come of this. I’m clinging to the glimpses of love and light I’ve seen. I started blogging about my experience, which brought me a network of friends, family, friends of friends, and even a few strangers. People have offered prayers and advice, and I’ve been able to swap stories with other pregnant women. I feel like overnight, I’ve gained a support network that’s larger than ever before in my pregnancy. Sure, it’s virtual, but hey — everything is now."

Shelby Wild
Age: 29
Location: Tribeca, New York and Malibu, California
History: Wild is due on 2nd May with her first child, a daughter, who she plans to name Mazzy. An entrepreneur, she’s the founder of Playa, a natural hair care line, who splits her time between Tribeca and Malibu — which are both in the top ten states (New York and California, respectively) with the most coronavirus cases
"Before all this happened, we had what seemed like a fool proof birth plan. My husband is a music producer working on an album in New York City for the next few months, so we were planning to give birth at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. My brother-in-law was going to watch our dog, Walter. After delivery, we were going to hire some help in New York City so I could continue working on my company, Playa.
Unfortunately for us, last week our hospital announced a ban on partners and spouses. Because Joey and I wanted to be together during the delivery, we planned to go to his parents’ home in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to give birth. We left before Cuomo’s executive order allowing all birthing parents to have a partner present with them, so now we’re just sticking to our current plan of action and will stay in the Midwest. 
Since I work at a startup, I understand that logistics are always going to change. I’ve learned to roll with the punches and reduce my attachment to fear. With that said, after spending hours packing up our nursery this week for travel, I felt — for the first time since the early days of Playa — the anxiety that comes with fear of the unknown. Like I have absolutely no control over how Mazzy’s birth will play out. Business is one thing, but becoming a new mom while living out of a suitcase during a pandemic is another story. 

Still, I’m holding out hope, and I’m excited to see my baby’s name on her birth certificate. My husband took my last name, so I can’t wait to read the name "Mazzy Wild" and know that she’s mine — even if the world she's coming into is full of tough challenges right now." 

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