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The Transformative Experiences of Pregnancy during a Pandemic



Lost in an Abyss


Will newborn babies indefinitely contract the coronavirus? Will mothers be forced to separate themselves from their newborns? Are pregnant women and their unborn children at the highest risk of contracting the disease? Is a birthing plan that involves being in total isolation the best possible solution? Can mothers still breastfeed? Do mothers need to prepare for home births? What should mothers do? As experts around the world scramble to retrieve conclusive data, contradicting knowledge and ideas are forcing all expectant mothers to spiral into an abyss of uncertainty, anxiety, and total desolation. The novel coronavirus is linked to a respiratory illness that is still a mystery to many scientists. The virus’s exact origins, mutations, and even differing symptoms amongst groups of people enables an even more elusive nature. The coronavirus’s cryptic being further complicates the virus’s relationship to pregnancy, especially when finding answers to difficult questions. According to Christina Caron’s New York Times article, “Pregnant and Worried about the Coronavirus? Experts Weigh In”, “There is very little data on how the new coronavirus, which causes a respiratory illness known as Covid-19, affects people who are pregnant.” (Caron, 2)

Even if we refer to the World Health Organization (WHO) or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to attain statistics surrounding pregnancy and infections, there is no one set database that allows for us to witness a pattern concerning how the virus is affecting pregnant women and/or their newborns. “According to a review of studies on pregnant women who are affected by the new coronavirus, which was published on March 17, there is currently no data on women infected with Covid-19 during their first trimester.” (Caron, 2) Pregnant women are prone to catching illnesses and infections because pregnancy alters any woman’s immune system and bodily functions. Therefore, if a pregnant woman catches a disease, even if it is the seasonal flu, serious complications can arise for both mother and child. Dr. Roxanna A. Irani, M.D., Ph.D., who is the medical director of outpatient obstetrics at the University of California, San Francisco, mentions that a mother’s, “risk for complications also increases if she has any underlying health conditions like diabetes or lupus.” According to Caron’s New York Times article, two pregnant women at the Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York City tested positive for Covid-19 and had drastically declined after giving birth. Their babies were unharmed and did not test positive, however both mothers were admitted to the intensive care unit for assistance. (Caron, 3)

American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has some hopeful news. According to case studies in China, out of the 731 children who tested positive for Covid-19, only 21 had serious health impediments and critical conditions. Other studies from AAAS’s Science Edition article, “New Coronavirus Leaves Pregnant Women with Wrenching Choices'’, mentions that various cases have shown that babies can be infected with the virus without getting sick”. (Vogel, 2) Furthermore, data from China shows that some newborns still contracted the virus even though Caesarian methodology was implemented to immediately separate the baby from the mother. Other diseases, including pneumonia and respiratory problems, affected newborns who were born prematurely, which is a condition that is common. Hence, even though there is still hope that children and newborns will not necessarily contract the virus and develop critical health conditions, there is no telling how the virus could still latch on to the newborn child post-birth.

“Leave your Husband at Home” – Isolation, Fear, and Discontent

Judy Kurtz from The Hill narrated her pregnancy experience in the midst of the pandemic. For one of her final appointments, her OB-GYN office instructed Kurtz to come to the appointment alone without her husband. Kurtz was told that she would be undergoing two intensive screenings before being able to enter the office for her last couple of appointments. The hospital is taking extra precautions in order to ensure that staff members will not contract the virus if Kurtz is exposed. Kurtz blatantly expresses in her article, “Word to the wise: Don’t get pregnant during a pandemic.” For many expectant mothers, pregnancy during a pandemic has transformed the jubilant experience into a phase of complete panic, ambiguity, fear, and frustration. (Kurtz, 2) Like AAAS’s article, Kurtz mentions how Dr. Deborah Birx (who is the White House Coronavirus Task Force coordinator) offered optimism with the small case study of births that happened in China. Nine infected mothers had delivered all healthy babies; the mothers also improved post-birth. As Birx further states, “We continue to look for data like that to be reassuring to the American public.”

Brenna and Jim Paustenbach of Sonoma County were elated after finding out they were expecting. When the couple went to their prenatal appointment, Jim was not permitted to enter the hospital premises despite him being fully covered and protected with a face mask and gloves. Due to the coronavirus, new parents like the Paustenbachs are forced to adhere to depressing and emotionally draining situations of being separated for the most wonderful moments during a pregnancy. Even though research surrounding the virus’s aggression towards pregnant mothers is indistinct, pregnant women are still classified as part of the high-risk populations that are susceptible to the virus. (Benefield, 2) Therefore, distressing protocols, such as separation and isolation for mothers from their loved ones, is intensely impacting the mental health of countless expectant mothers. Hospitals are being forced to implement new protocols every day as the virus is rapidly altering our daily lives every single moment.

Expectant mothers across the world have been coming across differing health protocols according to their country’s situation. On March 28th in New York City, state officials had revoked their initial procedure of total isolation where mothers are forced to deliver their babies alone with only the doctor in the room. Now, NY state officials have instructed “all hospitals to allow each mother to have a support person in the delivery room and in the ‘immediate postpartum period’ despite the coronavirus risk.” (Caron, 4) Other practices across the United States have implemented rules including mothers and partners wearing face masks, gloves, and protective gear to reduce contracting the infection. Dr. Denise J. Jamieson, who is the chairwoman of gynecology and obstetrics at the Emory University School of Medicine, said on March 19th that, “hospitals are taking precautions to ensure that pregnant women are not exposed to ill patients and visitors.” (Caron, 3) Therefore, expectant mothers are advised to not alter their birthing plans. Mothers who have opted for hospital delivery should stick to their plan, as home births require months of planning and education.

An Extensive Support System – Hope and Happiness for the Future

As many mothers are forced to cancel their baby showers, attend video appointments, and be completely isolated with their partners, chronic stress negatively impacts the nurturing and essential weight gain every expectant mother and their child deserves. In her article, Judy Kurtz expresses, “There’s a feeling of mom guilt about unwittingly bringing a baby into the world during such a devastating moment in history.” (Kurtz, 4) However, with all the insecurity around, families are greeted with composure and reassurance as mothers entering hospitals for their routine check-ups are greeted by teams of friendly and unrelentless healthcare workers. As Kurtz so poignantly reveals from her appointment, two women at the front desk (completely dressed in the new norm of gloves and masks) express a sentiment that has now become a global motto of faith and togetherness: “We’re all going to get through this!” (Kurtz, 4)

It truly is a strange time we are living in, and it’s an extraordinary feat to bring in a precious child amidst such a trying phase. Despite all the floating questions, unanswered enquiries, and induced crippling anxiety, one thing is for certain: the global community is working together. Healthcare workers, experts, and scientists are ensuring the extra care and attention needed for expectant mothers and their newborns with a smile on their faces. Proper hygiene, separation, and sensible practices (i.e. social distancing) does limit the exposure of mother and child from the virus. However, what might seem as an isolating experience, new parents are still enveloped in a shroud of love and hope that bringing a child into the world is not an emotional burden for a supposed bleak future. Humans and any “lifeform” are resilient; and just like any other catastrophic moment in history, we rise above as better beings. Thus, in what better way is hope and bliss personified than the arrival of healthy and beautiful babies?

Research:

Benefield, Kerry. April 2020. “Pregnant Women in Sonoma County Filled with Hope, Fear Amid Coronavirus Pandemic” in The Press Democrat The Press Democrat Publishing, California. Accessed on April 3, 2020. < https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10879743-181/pregnant-women-in-sonoma-county?sba=AAS> Caron, Christina. April 2020. “Pregnant and Worried About Coronavirus? Experts Weigh In – We Found Answers to Some of the Most Pressing Questions Posed by Expecting Mothers” in The New York Times. NY Times Publishing, New York. Accessed on April 2, 2020. < https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/06/parenting/coronavirus-pregnancy-questions.html> Kurtz, Judy. April 2020. “Getting Ready to Give Birth Amidst a Pandemic” in The Hill The Hill, Capitol Hill Publishing Corp. Washington DC Accessed on April 4, 2020. < https://thehill.com/blogs/in-the-know/in-the-know/491632-getting-ready-to-give-birth-amid-a-pande mic> Vogel, Gretchen. March 2020. “New Coronavirus Leaves Pregnant Women with Wrenching Choices – But Little Data to Guide Them” in Science. American Association for the Advancement of Science. Accessed on April 3, 2020. < https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/03/new-coronavirus-leaves-pregnant-women-wrenching-choices-little-data-guide-them#>

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Aanchal Bhattacharya has always been a storyteller her whole life. From indulging in creative writing, to directing short films and fashioning innovative projects, her passion has always driven her to artistically express herself in this ever-changing world. As a third culture kid and an extrovert, Aanchal considers herself a global citizen who loves to interact with people coming from all over. She has a First-Class Joint Honors Degree in History and Religious Studies from McGill University. Aanchal is also a Wasserman Scholar and has a Master’s Degree in Cinema Studies from Tisch School of the Arts, New York University. A great deal of her academic work consists of articulating people of color experiences and the concept of “Otherness” in cinema, television, and public media. She also cares deeply for the environment and animal rights. When she’s not too busy creating or writing, Aanchal loves to kick back with a good novel, listen to some awesome music, and/or watch hours of television shows and movies that spark her intellect. Whether it’s her personal or professional life, inspiration continuously flows through her veins.

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