Getting ready to give birth amid a pandemic
© Chantal Lavine/The Hill illustration

In such unusual times, ITK is doing something different. Here is my experience of the last few weeks. Please stay safe.

 

"Leave your husband at home."

ADVERTISEMENT

That was the most jarring instruction my OB-GYN office delivered before one of my final appointments. I'm a few, short weeks from my due date and thankfully healthy. But the lead-up to the debut of our third child has been ... different.

As the OB-GYN receptionist gives me a heads up that I'll go through two screenings before I can enter the office, I'm tearing up on the phone. Of course, the policy makes sense — the hospital staff has to make sure I don't have any coronavirus symptoms before I enter.

Word to the wise: Don't get pregnant during a pandemic.

The rapid and terrifying spread of COVID-19 has made having a bundle of joy a bundle of uncertainty, fear and frustration in an already vulnerable time for pregnant women around the world.

While hundreds of thousands of people are stricken with the virus, and tens of thousands are dead from it, very little seems to be known about the effects it has on women and their babies on the way.

ADVERTISEMENT

Last month, Dr. Deborah Birx acknowledged there was "very little data in pregnant women" with the coronavirus. Birx, the White House coronavirus task force coordinator, offered a small nugget of optimism from an admittedly tiny sample size of nine women in China: "They delivered while they were infected and all nine babies were healthy and the mothers were healthy. So we continue to look for data like that to be reassuring to the American public."

An understandable lack of data about a new infectious disease means, for this pregnant woman, every cough or sneeze elicits concern. Is my shortness of breath just normal pregnancy stuff, or is it one of the classic symptoms of the coronavirus being described by its many sufferers? If I do get sick, what happens? Will the baby and I be safe in the hospital?

By all measures, I'm one of the most fortunate ones: I have a great job at The Hill, health care coverage, child care and a supportive network of friends and family. My loved ones are hunkered down and adhering to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. Yet despite the many blessings — and with hormones out of whack — what should be a joyous time suddenly feels like a never-ending case of morning sickness.

Walking (or waddling) down the street, well-intentioned neighbors eye my burgeoning belly and rather than excitedly asking me about my due date or if I've settled on a name, give me a concerned, almost pitying look.

"What hospital are you delivering at? Are they equipped to handle everything?" they ask.

Equally well-meaning family members call up asking what my Plan B is if the situation at the hospital gets out of control. (Right now my Plan B entails finding a nice, socially distant grassy spot outside the hospital and having an extremely "natural" birth.)

The normal expectations of having the baby's grandparents and siblings meet their newest grandson and family member in the hospital and proudly posing for snapshots are gone — no more than one visitor allowed during and after delivery. (Some New York City hospitals have adopted a policy of no visitors). My pediatrician advised us that the adoring grandparents not have any in-person contact with our soon-to-be newborn until social distancing measures are loosened at some undetermined date.

To be clear, I don't begrudge the measures being taken by hospitals and their staff at all — they're heroes and I wish I could have an ounce of their courage in fighting this unprecedented illness. And there are unfortunately reminders nearly every moment that it could most certainly be much worse — I’m not saying goodbye to a loved one or struggling to make ends meet after losing my job. There's just a sadness — a wish that things could be different for such a special time in one's life.

As a journalist, I simply can't unplug or tune out the daily doom and gloom headlines. I'm not a worrier by nature (my blood pressure is typically so low that some doctors have quipped that I'm close to comatose) but thoughts about the coronavirus and pregnancy have me unnerved on good days, and petrified on bad ones. There's a feeling of mom guilt about unwittingly bringing a baby into the world during such a devastating moment in history.

As I walk into the hospital for the OB-GYN appointment that had me almost in tears a day earlier, I’m greeted with wide smiles by a pair of workers conducting the coronavirus screenings. Clad in what’s become a seemingly typical outfit for being out in public — gloves and masks — the two women ask me the series of questions about my health before giving me a sticker to indicate that I passed.

Perhaps they say this to everyone — or maybe they could sense my pregnancy-fueled emotions about to pour out — but they yelled to me as I ever so slowly wobbled my way to the office elevator: “We’re all going to get through this!”