When the COVID-19 pandemic became a reality last March it was the subject of almost every conversation. In these conversations I would often hear a comment similar to, “You’re probably even more nervous because you’re pregnant.” The first time someone said this to me I realized I hadn’t even considered how the sickness would affect me differently because I was pregnant. Then quickly my thought changed to, “Should I be more nervous?” I did some research after that, but mostly just stayed away from all the news stories and details because I was busy with my kids at home and I honestly wasn’t that worried about getting sick, or becoming very ill if I did happen to get it. Of course I was affected by Coronavirus, no one could avoid that, but I didn’t feel that this pregnancy was different because of COVID.
My emotions quickly shifted as my baby’s arrival came closer. The calm that I had felt before vanished when I thought of all the repercussions that could happen if I or someone in my family did get the virus. Would I still be able to have the homebirth I had planned? Would my baby be removed from me if I tested positive? Would my baby be okay if she was exposed in utero? Then came our COVID scare. My 5-year-old-son had a fever and loss of appetite one Sunday afternoon. He woke up the next morning with his throat hurting, a higher fever, and headache. I decided to take him in to get a strep test and when it came back negative they told me to have him tested for coronavirus. I slid back and forth between terrified of what would happen if he tested positive, to accepting that whatever happened it would all work out. The morning of July 4th we got his negative test result and all the fears left. Late the next night my contractions started and our baby was born early in the morning on July 6th.
My story of changing emotions and exposure to sickness is not unique to other pregnant parents during the COVID-19 pandemic. While there are indirect effects and direct effects of the pandemic, there is always something you can do to manage your emotions and prepare for the birth you want amidst the pandemic.
Whether or not you are in spaces where you could be exposed and contract the actual virus, you are still affected by the pandemic. This is what I noticed initially- the widespread indirect effects. Rather than feeling anxious about getting sick I was more focused on the stress of being home all the time with my kids and navigating school at home. Suddenly spouses and partners are home all the time too, and while in many ways this is positive, it can also add an adjustment to the relationship. Navigating the really tired and uncomfortable phases of pregnancy are difficult when alone time is not available as easily.
Shopping has changed dramatically too. There isn’t as much of concern over the availability of basic supplies, but the way and how frequently we shop is still different. In addition to groceries and toiletries, it can be difficult to shop for baby supplies such as car seats, furniture, and clothes with the restrictions related to COVID.
Lastly, isolation can be extremely difficult in a variety of ways. Pregnancy symptoms and preparation is often discussed with family and friends, but these spaces of empathy are not as available. The already small group you have contact with becomes even smaller as many families choose to quarantine as the baby’s birth gets closer and maintain social distancing for a period of time after the baby is born.
The direct effects of COVID-19 are also amplified when pregnant. I am not normally on the cautious end of the germ spectrum, but in the current environment it is extremely difficult not to notice every surface or person you come in contact with outside your regular social circle. Even routine appointments with providers are changed as virtual visits are the norm. These visits previously provided a space to discuss and process pregnancy, but without in-person visits it can be difficult to discuss in the same way. This can lead to higher anxiety as questions and fears may be left unanswered.
Probably the biggest effect of COVID is how it changes the birthing environment. Many hospitals still change their requirements frequently on who can be present during and after the birth. Face masks are required for the nurses and partner present. The birthing parent also wears a mask after the baby is born. There can also be greater repercussions if you or your partner do test positive right at birth.
How to cope with COVID while pregnant
With ALL that impacts you while pregnant during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s understandable why people are fearful and why many couples are choosing not to get pregnant during this time. But if you are pregnant, or plan to be soon, there are things you can do to cope with the many emotions.
Make time for self-care. Self-care is a hot topic right now, but for good reason. Self-care isn’t just making sure you have time alone, but doing those things that you really enjoy and requires input from you. Whether it’s reading a book, going to an art class, or having a virtual game night with your friends, you can find something that takes your mind off those areas you can’t control.
Express your emotions with someone regularly. Plan a daily check-in with your partner or another trusted family member or friend. Often just saying your emotions out loud can help relieve tension. They may also have a good perspective or be able to provide empathy. Acknowledging all the emotions you have can help you move through the emotions rather than staying stuck in one negative emotion.
Seek extra mental health therapy, if needed. If you find that doing the activities you enjoy aren’t bringing the usual peace and talking with someone everyday isn’t calming your fears, then it might be time to speak with a therapist. Many therapists have a virtual option if you don’t feel comfortable going in. A therapist can give you specific tools to help you learn how to redirect or retrain your brain. It also provides one more outlet to talk about your concerns.
Build a support network. Spending time building a community of people around you is essential in this time of isolation. Even though you may not be meeting with people as much in person, you can still build a network around you. You can assign someone to bring you food once a week or ask a friend to text you every few days just to chat. You can hire a doula to help you prepare for all the options of birthing in COVID. They can be present (in-person or virtually) at your birth to help carry out your wishes. You can also join an online birth forum that connects you to other pregnant women. Make sure to also arrange for help with household chores and meals for after the baby is born.
The more proactive you are in using some of these strategies, the more likely you’ll be to ride the normal wave of emotions, rather than staying in a consistent state of overwhelm or fear. When I really took the time to assess what my fears were about I was able to see that I only had control over what was present right now. I accepted that if I or a family member got sick we would be able to make a new plan at that point. Dwelling on what a plan could be kept me away from caring for me and my family now. I was able to surrender the worry and fully enjoy the beauty of bringing a new life into the world at this time.