True: everyone is impacted in some way by the spread of COVID-19, the novel strand of coronavirus. Also true: certain people are facing unfathomable, unprecedented circumstances that no one could have predicted—like expectant mothers. As we often explore on Blood + Milk, conception, pregnancy, and delivery are all complicated, messy, and sometimes terrifying experiences. But when you also add in a global pandemic that’s forcing some women to give birth alone, it’s a whole new ‘normal’ that is anything but. Though they’re already incredibly strong, mothers-to-be are stepping boldly into the unknown, adapting their birth plans and doing what they can for themselves, their families—and their children.
Here, we spoke to five mothers with summer due dates on how their pregnancy has been impacted, as well as coping tips for those sharing their struggle.
Take it one day at a time
Typically when women are expecting their first child, they have regular check-in appointments to monitor the fetus’s growth and development. And of course, expectant mothers are welcome to bring their partners with them for the ultrasounds. Now, though, Cassidy*, who is expecting her first child on June 9, must go for these sessions alone. And rather than returning every two weeks, it’s now once a month until she is 30 days from delivery.
At her last doctor’s office visit, she was informed that even stricter measures are in play in Cincinnati where she calls home: Unless the appointment is for an ultrasound or a test, women will have virtual checks instead. Sadly, in-person birthing classes aren’t an option either, and as Cassidy puts it: it’s a little nerve-wracking thinking about going into labor without ever stepping foot in the hospital.
As of right now, women are only allowed one guest at the hospital, whose temperatures are taken upon arrival, given a wrist band, and not allowed to leave. While, of course, she wants her husband by her side, she’s devastated not to be able to also have her mother in the room. “Also, you think about grandparents being able to come to the hospital to meet your little one and that will not happen,” she adds.
How is she coping? Taking it one day at a time—which is the advice she offers other moms-to-be. “If I think about all the things that aren’t normal with the end of my pregnancy, it can seem overwhelming and completely out of my control,” she shares. “What I can control is each day and how I approach it, looking for silver linings and hoping for the best when it is time for me to welcome our baby girl.”
Stay active and set boundaries
For Florida-based first-time mom, Audrey*, appointments haven’t changed too much since COVID-19 rippled through her community. However, her last appointment, which happened at 21 weeks, was held virtually. To her surprise and delight, her first experience with telemedicine went well. Her doctor asked her to weigh herself and recommended she purchase a blood pressure cuff to monitor her health at home. She will return to the office in-person at 28 weeks for a scheduled sonogram and testing.
She’s due on August 15, and right now, she plans to deliver at her local hospital with her husband by her side. Though the hospital hasn’t officially restricted additional visitors, doctors have warned it could be a possibility. Even with a seemingly smooth process—so far—Audrey describes pregnancy during a pandemic as weird. Her anxiety is skyrocketing, and in response, she’s tried to set boundaries when watching or reading the news and to stay as active as possible. “I’m working from home and doing my best to stretch, go on walks, journal, and check-in with my husband and family,” she shares.
Remember, you can do this
Erica* is over-the-moon excited to welcome her first child into the world. But there’s nothing quite like a state-wide stay-at-home order to throw a wrench into the whole process. Leading up to her July 20 due date, her OB-GYN appointments have been interesting.
Due to having bipolar disorder, her pregnancy is considered high-risk, so she had her second appointment for the heavily-anticipated ultrasound appointment at a local hospital in her New Jersey town. To say she was nervous is an understatement: not only did she have to navigate her way around, but her husband wasn’t able to join her. Though it was scary, she felt as if the staff was prepared. At the door, she was given a mask, her temperature was taken, and she was asked to sanitize her hands. “While the hospital looked like a war-zone, I felt truly comfortable that such protocols were in place and that I was able to put my mind at ease by getting a glimpse of what it will be like when I return to deliver the baby in July,” she shared.
Erica planned for this pregnancy with her psychiatrist for years, knowing it would be a challenging journey that would require many mental health appointments in addition to physical exams. Deciding to bring a child into the world took much personal courage and support from her family. In February, she was so proud of herself for staying stable, healthy, and free of any manic or depressive episodes. Little did she know what would happen next.
But as Erica reminds all expecting mothers: you’re stronger than you know. “I am six months pregnant. I am living amid this global pandemic in one of the coronavirus hotspots in the New York/New Jersey area. I also have bipolar disorder. If I can stay strong and healthy, we all can,” she shares. “During a typical manic episode or anxiety attack, I am alone, uncertain of when it will pass, and not in control. But, with this crisis, I take comfort in knowing—as should all pregnant mothers—that the whole world is in this together. This will eventually pass. And, most importantly, we actually have the control needed to stay safe by staying home.”
Find the silver lining
At her most recent appointment, Kim* hopped in an Uber alone to take a glucose test at 24-weeks pregnant with her first child. The hospital isn’t allowing any additional visitors, and as other women experienced, her temperature was taken at the front door. In an eerie, dystopian-like world, everyone was wearing gloves and masks, including her Uber driver. Though it was frightening, she also found comfort in the precautions. Because so much is unknown, Kim has put off developing a birth plan for her July 20 due date, partly because so much can change and also, she doesn’t want to get her hopes up. There’s a chance she won’t be able to welcome her parents or in-laws to the hospital and she’s not quite ready to pack her bag for a pandemic birth she can’t imagine… just yet.
What’s helping this mom-to-be to stay sane is looking for the silver linings, whatever they may be. “I try to find the good in this situation. Like, even though being stuck inside isn’t ideal, I get to wear sweatpants all the time—which is way better than the maternity jeans I’d be wearing if I had to go to work,” she quips.
Prioritize mental health
Haley*’s prenatal appointments with her midwife went from being a joyous occasion to something that brings up anxiety and fears. Due with her first child on July 10, her husband can’t come along anymore—a restriction that put her into a tailspin. “Leading up to the crisis, the appointments felt exciting, positive, a great opportunity to check in with your care provider and talk about all the change happening in your body and help prep me for this life-altering event: the transition to motherhood. Now, it’s like a dark cloud just hangs over the entire experience,” she explains.
Though she says her midwife has done an incredible job of helping to comfort her with evidence-based advice, it’s still a scary, unsettling new normal to adjust to. Especially as a first-time mom. To try and breathe and take each day at a time, Haley has focused on her mental health. In addition to going to a therapist, she downloaded the meditation app, Headspace. “Integrating a mindfulness practice into my daily routine has helped me immensely throughout this time. I find a quiet space, put on my noise-canceling headphones and spend 15 minutes just breathing,” she shares.
And so she feels less alone, Haley has also discovered great solidarity reading other women’s birth stories rather than the latest news. She recommends The Birth Hour podcast. “Since COVID-19 hit, they have transitioned to sharing really immediate raw stories from women who literally just had a baby—like a week ago. While some of them have been scary, it is helpful for me to hear real, firsthand stories of what women are facing as they give birth during a pandemic,” she explains.
*Names changed or shortened upon request.