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  • Writer's pictureErin Stevens

Pandemic Pregnancy

The timeline of my pregnancy has been the exact timeline of the COVID19 pandemic in my life. My last period was in late February, around the time there was a big emergence of cases in the Seattle area. The virus was on our radar here in Minnesota at that point, but it wasn't yet an active and pressing concern. My husband and I conceived the first week of March. That weekend, I traveled to Washington, DC for an OB/Gyn advocacy conference. I never questioned going on the trip as planned, but I did exercise some extra precautions. I used hand sanitizer any time I touched absolutely anything on the plane. I bought cleaning wipes to wipe down my entire hotel room. I carried the hand sanitizer and wipes around with me to the conference meeting rooms to use as needed. It was a handshake-free meeting, which most of us joked about a little bit (and many hugs still happened). While we were at the conference, we found out that essentially every other medical conference in the country that weekend had been canceled. Many attendees learned that their academic institutions had established travel restrictions going forward. Some attendees chose not to participate in the culminating event of the conference - taking to Capitol Hill to meet with lawmakers to discuss the issues important to the OB/Gyn world that we had been learning about all weekend - but most of us went ahead with it.

Returning from the conference, there was an unknown and uneasy feeling in the air. The following day, the World Health Organization declared a pandemic. Two days after that, the United States declared a national emergency. I still cautiously visited my immediate family in my hometown to celebrate the birthdays of my dad, brother, and nephew that weekend. During the official birthday party that Sunday with some extended family members in attendance, I didn't hug anyone as I normally would have, and I left very early to return for a meeting at my private practice office to discuss what changes we would need to start to make.

I had a positive pregnancy test three days later. We had been trying to conceive for some time and had experienced a miscarriage a few months earlier. If I'd had a period that month, I had been planning to complete work-up in preparation for potential in-vitro fertilization, which I knew might not be possible in the setting of a pandemic (official recommendations against fertility treatments would soon be released). I knew I wouldn't have been sure what to do in terms of trying to conceive at all and that that would have contributed to significant emotional and mental distress. In a way, this particular timing of this pregnancy was just right considering what we had been through to that point (and I resent anyone who jokingly refers to my baby as a result of the pandemic).

A week and a half later, Minnesota's stay at home order began. Lockdown was pretty easy for me in early pregnancy. Without traffic contributing to a long commute and with no in-person obligations otherwise, I could battle the first trimester fatigue with long naps every day after work. It was very easy to hide from others that I wasn't drinking alcohol or that I was eating way more carbs and sweets. I didn't have to feel like I was missing out on anything, because there was nothing happening to miss out on.

First trimester diet

I had bleeding in the first trimester, essentially at the same time that I diagnosed my miscarriage in my first pregnancy. I was devastated. The trauma from my past experience re-emerged. I sobbed deeply as I tried to go to sleep that night. When I went into the office for an ultrasound the next morning, COVID19 was the last thing on my mind. All I wanted was to see a happy image, but I was convinced I would be going home to grieve another miscarriage. The fetal cardiac activity on the ultrasound was the only thing in the world that mattered that day.

Since I've never experienced a pandemic not pregnant, I can't say how much the pregnancy itself has contributed to my level of precaution since then. Since I've never experienced a full pregnancy not in a pandemic, I can't say how much the pandemic has shaped my pregnancy experience. Certainly every decision I make is heavily influenced by the idea that the wrong choice could irreversibly harm me and my baby. I've been very big on masking (I went to a small wedding where I was the only person wearing a mask ever at all) and am so thankful there's a statewide mask mandate at this point, but I will acknowledge that I am completely out of breath after walking up a couple of flights of stairs to labor and delivery while pregnant and wearing a mask. I'm grateful for some of the restrictions and protocols my office has had in place, although I do feel badly for some of the impacts they can have on patients. I become excessively annoyed that no one can seem to follow the giant one-way arrows in the grocery store aisles. I can't stand groups that take up entire hallways or sidewalks. I hate that in general other people's choices could impact my safety. I've mostly been running indoors on my treadmill, but when I do take the opportunity to go for a run outside, I veer far off the paved trail and run in the grass any time I start to approach another person. I've had enough time to run or go for a long walk typically 6-7 days each week in addition to doing prenatal yoga twice weekly. I've also had enough time to practice other self-care like reading for pleasure, spending lots of time with my husband, seeing a prenatal chiropractor, sleeping a lot, doing absolutely nothing if I want to, and slathering lotion all over my body to prevent stretch marks. I can't fathom anyone's desire to go on a plane or even go sit in a restaurant. I haven't had much of a summer as I've mostly stuck to work and home. I've seen a few friends and family members a few times in person, always nervously wondering if I'm getting too close. Many of my friends and family members haven't seen me at all (and probably won't for the foreseeable future) to be able to laugh at my big belly, waddling gait, and swollen sausage toes. I worry that I'm not committing myself enough and working hard enough when it comes to my extracurricular board and committee roles. I've essentially checked off every box in terms of preparation for the baby and my postpartum experience because I've had all the time in the world to do that and don't expect any baby showers. I imagine terrible scenarios and their consequences like ending up in an ICU on a ventilator while still pregnant or my husband dying. I worry about what will happen once our baby arrives - will I feel comfortable participating in any family holiday activities? Who can visit and when? How will postpartum winter quarantine impact my mental, emotional, and physical health? When will I feel okay with daycare? What impact does masking of others have on a baby's cognitive and emotional development? How much will I be endangering my baby with my job as a physician? What restrictions are we going to have to carry on, and for how long? When a vaccine becomes available, will it be safe for infants? It's very difficult to know that so much is unknown and out of my control when I want to do what is best for my family.

Second trimester skin care

This is a hard time to be pregnant, but honestly I don't know any different, and in a way it feels easy to have a primary focus of not screwing up this kid. Ultimately I know that no matter the timing of my pregnancy, there would have been pros and cons to it, and I would have found plenty to be anxious about. The circumstances of the pandemic have brought both positives and negatives to the pregnancy. Knowing how dangerous this virus can be, I feel extremely lucky to have my health, to know that thus far my family members and friends continue to be healthy, and to focus on having a healthy pregnancy. I am fortunate to have access to the resources I need, which is not true of every pregnant person in this pandemic. I am so thankful to be growing this baby girl and excited for everything she will bring to our lives so long as I can keep her safe. The pandemic is terrible, and this virus will continue to wreak havoc, but it's so important to still experience joy and celebrate the wonderful events that continue to happen in all of our lives - graduations, marriages, new jobs, pregnancies, and so much more - even if those things all come with new precautions and look a little different.

As this pandemic continues, please do your best to be safe - for you, for your loved ones, for me, and for my baby.

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