When I got pregnant, I asked my partner to read the most-recommended pregnancy books out there and summarize the key takeaways for me in a memo (hey, I wanted both of us to be involved in the research, even when it concerned my body!). The data-driven pregnancy guides we perused were clear about what foods I should avoid and what flowcharts I should include in my birth plan. But there was no chapter on how to navigate a pregnancy in the middle of a global pandemic; no tips on how to breathe through contractions while wearing a mask; no studies on whether COVID leaves long-term effects on babies; and no suggestions on the best way to raise and protect a tiny human when the world seemed like it was falling apart. After muddling through nine months of pregnancy in quarantine and safely delivering a baby, I had some time to reflect on the pros and cons of being pregnant in a pandemic.
- Pregnant women are at an increased risk for severe COVID symptoms compared to non-pregnant women. Pregnant women who contract COVID are also at an increased risk for adverse pregnancy outcomes. For me, this meant carefully following CDC guidelines and quarantine measures. It also meant many hours fretting about exposure risk before leaving the house to do anything. Many of my pregnant friends went into lockdown much earlier than the general population--and stayed in isolation even as restrictions eased from time to time. For us, many everyday activities just seemed no longer worth the risk. Although some of these concerns have dissipated now that vaccines are available, the new variants that "breaks through" vaccines make these health risks very much live issues for pregnant women.
- Restrictions in doctor's offices and hospitals can be challenging and isolating. When my partner and I went to our first OB appointment, we did not know that our doctor's office stopped allowing plus ones. We walked into a waiting room full of women sitting six feet apart and a very apologetic receptionist who asked my partner to wait in the car. Maybe I imagined it, but I thought every woman in the room gave us a look of commiseration and pity. Luckily, I was allowed to video-chat during the ultrasounds, but I don't think my partner ever saw more than white blobs. Unless you decide to pay for ultrasounds at a private clinic that allows plus ones to be present, these office restrictions mean that you will receive both good news and bad news by yourself, which can be an incredibly lonely experience. Earlier in the pandemic, some women undertook the unimaginably difficult feat of delivering at the hospital without a partner or support person in the room. Others scheduled inductions earlier than expected to get the baby out before restrictions went into effect. Many neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) to this day still restrict access to one parent at a time (tip: check with your hospital ahead of time to see what the current policy is!).
- Uncertain travel plans and potentially little or no family support. It is bewildering to think that other than my partner, not a single family member saw me in-person while I was pregnant. COVID cases were spiking as my due date approached, and we made the painful decision to cancel our parents' cross-country flights. I have friends who, for months, lived with the uncertainty of whether their parents could fly in from overseas. Perhaps in another entry, I will talk about what it's like to care for a newborn without any family or staff support. The short answer is: we muddled our way through it, but I definitely would not recommend it!
- No in-person celebrations or baby showers. This is a major blow for many expecting mothers. I was very sad to miss out on one of my good friends' showers last April (this was before we figured out virtual showers are a thing).
Beyond the tangible downsides, I along with many of my friends acutely felt the mental burden of being pregnant in a pandemic. It is not all doom and gloom, however, as I did see a few upsides about my pandemic pregnancy.
- Working from home (for those of us luck enough to have the option) made the first trimester more manageable. Morning sickness is a lot easier to handle when you can walk from your desk to your bed in 30 seconds and collapse into it.
- Save time and money by skipping the maternity clothes purchases. Who wants a maternity suit for court, anyway? All told, I got through my whole pregnancy with only a few pairs of maternity pants and a couple of loose dresses.
- No FOMO over work and personal travel. Before getting pregnant, I was worried about getting "grounded" in my third trimester and missing out on work trips and vacations. Since the whole world was basically grounded, I did not feel like I missed out on any travel.
- No FOMO over happy hours. Before the pandemic, the bulk of my social life revolved around weekend brunches, work-sponsored happy hours, post-work drinks, and professional events/panels/bar association conferences with buffets and open bars to which I dragged my friends and coworkers (look, it's great when you can combine career development AND socializing AND a free dinner). As a wine aficionado and a self-proclaimed connoisseur of bloody mary's, I would have been bummed to sip a soda at all these events. The calculation is simple: no happy hours = no #FOMO = more time sit at home and contemplate the meaning of our existence with hot tea.
- More control over disclosure. For those of you who would like to keep your pregnancy private for as long as possible for whatever reason, it is certainly much easier to do that on Zoom than in-person.
- Decreased instances of premature births. A large study in the Netherlands found a decrease of 15 to 23 percent in preterm births during the pandemic. Other studies in Denmark and Ireland showed even greater dips. It will be interesting to see analysis on potential causes for the decrease.
In a time of so much turmoil and uncertainty, it was nice to have a few silver linings. At the end of the day, the most important thing in my mind was to give Billable Baby a warm and cozy place to grow and to safely bring her into the world. I can already imagine the insufferable lectures we will give during her teenage years: "No, you may not go to that party because I said so and because I gave birth to you in a pandemic!"
For those of you who are currently pregnant, plan to be pregnant, or got through a pandemic pregnancy, I would love to hear about your experience! Comment below or on my Instagram or send me a message.