- Insider spoke to a handful of women who are currently pregnant or who have recently given birth who said they’d advise women to wait to get pregnant.
- There’s little data about how COVID-19 could affect an unborn baby – limited studies point to heightened risks of stillbirth and fetal distress in newborns.
- A New York City-based OB-GYN said she wouldn’t advise women to delay pregnancy due to the pandemic.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Ten days into developing the coronavirus in March, when she was 18 weeks pregnant, Jessica Sigal developed a case of pneumonia so severe that every breath she took felt like she was “inhaling glass.” As a physical therapist, Sigal is comfortable using a pulse oximeter, and she regularly measured her oxygen saturation levels, carefully monitoring if she needed to go to the hospital
But when her oxygen levels dropped to the low 90s and then the high 80s, Sigal started to panic. Values less than 90 are considered low and a lack of oxygen in utero may contribute to some congenital cardiovascular issues. At that point, Sigal went to the emergency room of a major New York City hospital.
“It’s not just about me,” Sigal told Insider. “Because if it was just me, then that’s fine. But It’s about me and about the life that I’m that I’m creating. That’s the most terrifying thing.”
While in the ER, her vitals improved to the point where it was safe for her to go home. She hasn’t been able to breathe easy since.
Due to the many unknowns about how having the coronavirus could affect an unborn baby, Sigal said she would advise women who are considering getting pregnant now to wait if they can afford to. Insider spoke to a handful of other women who are currently pregnant, or who have recently given birth, who have also had challenging experiences. They shared similar sentiments.
Some women who were pregnant during the pandemic report feeling isolated and worried about their babies’ health
Throughout her pregnancy, Sigal has felt isolated. She had to be apart from her parents, who are in their 70s, and had hoped to share the experience with them. She’s already grieving the fact that they may not even be able to be a part of her newborn’s life.
She’s felt anxious about telehealth appointments, and not being able to hear her baby’s heartbeat as frequently as she would have under normal circumstances. But she worries about going to in-person appointments and getting infected again.
At times, she’s felt sad about the milestone moments she hasn’t been able to experience – celebrating a baby shower, testing baby gear, and outfitting a nursery. Instead of signing up for prenatal classes, she’s enrolled in studies for pregnant women who have had COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
What concerns Sigal most are the unknown factors related to the disease.
“Wait at least until we have more information and more data on how infection may affect the unborn, because we just don’t have that data yet,” Sigal said of what she would tell women who are thinking about getting pregnant. “You want [a baby] to be able to have everything that they can possibly get from day one.”
A study found that 34% of women want to delay pregnancy or have fewer children due to the pandemic
Sigal’s advice echoes the results of a recent study published by the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights group. The organisation surveyed 2,000 cisgender, sexually-active women and found that 34% of respondents wanted to delay pregnancy or have fewer children because of the pandemic.
Low-income women and women in marginalised communities were especially likely to say they have altered their reproductive plans.
Dr. Michelle Tham Metz, assistant clinical professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Science at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, said that there’s still paltry data available about the effects of COVID-19 on unborn babies and newborns. Right now, it’s mostly case reports, not vetted studies.
Still, Dr. Metz said she wouldn’t advise anyone to put off pregnancy due to the the pandemic. She especially encourages women over 35, who could face a reduction in fertility, to not delay pregnancy.
But she understands if younger women want to wait to see how the data pans out.
“If it makes sense to postpone from a logistical standpoint,” Dr. Metz said, “I don’t think it’s generally unreasonable to wait.”
There may be a heightened risk of stillbirth in women who had the coronavirus in the third trimester
Data about how COVID-19 affects pregnant women and their babies is steadily emerging as researchers learn more about the disease.
A new analysis by the US Centres for Disease Control, the largest of its kind, found that pregnant women with COVID-19 are more likely to suffer severe infections than those with the disease who aren’t pregnant.
Pregnant women are more likely to be hospitalized, admitted to the intensive care unit, and put on ventilators, according to a new CDC analysis. (The analysis didn’t note why the hospitalized women were admitted, and whether the reasons were labour-related or not). The report also found that Black and Hispanic pregnant women may be disproportionately affected by COVID-19.
There are also studies to suggest that there may be an increased risk for stillbirth, babies born with fetal distress, or in need of admission to the neonatal intensive care when a mother develops COVID-19 in the third trimester. There also may be an increased risk of injury to the placenta in women who have had the coronavirus.
But getting pregnant in and of itself is a good health indicator.
Women in their late 30s and early 40s who have experienced pregnancy loss may not be able to wait to try to get pregnant, and have to weigh that consideration as well.
Lauren Cosenza, who’s 41, had a chemical pregnancy last summer, followed by a miscarriage soon after at around nine weeks. When Cosenza, a mother of one, got pregnant in December, she was elated.
Like most women who have experienced pregnancy during the pandemic, Cosenza has faced plenty of stressors.
She goes to her doctors’ appointments in Manhattan covered from head to toe, and brings an extra set of clothing to change into before going home. Cosenza had hoped her parents would have been an integral part of her birth plan, but because of their age, she doesn’t know when she’ll see them.
She and her husband have been balancing their startup hot sauce business while taking care of their toddler without childcare.
Even still, Cosenza said she’s grateful for this pregnancy and wouldn’t have changed anything about it.
“If you don’t feel like you’re ready and it’s time, then you’re not ready,” Cosenza said. “But if you feel like me, where age is a consideration, and loss is a consideration – it gave me that clarity that I wouldn’t want to miss this opportunity, even if it’s a harder window.”
Women who had COVID-19 while pregnant still don’t know how that will affect their babies
But the fact that this feels like a lot more than just a “passing window” for some can be particularly disconcerting.
That was the case for Lauren Wellbank, who gave birth to her third child in April. Wellbank said she also would encourage women to wait to get pregnant. She said knowing what she knows now, she would have reconsidered having this baby.
“I don’t think I would have had a third kid. Period,” Wellbank told Insider. “Because I am afraid of what the future looks like for humanity.”
Wellbank experienced many of the challenges other pregnant people have reported.
She got sick in March, and the urgent care she visited wasn’t able to test her for the coronavirus. Wellbank isn’t sure if she’s had COVID-19 or if her baby had been exposed to it.
“What if I did have COVID? We don’t know the effects, or the complications down the line,” Wellbanks said. “It’s a great big question mark.”
The freelance writer said the labour and delivery process was eerie and isolating. Once Wellbank and her husband were settled in their room, she was left to labour alone for the night, and they weren’t permitted to leave. Her OB wasn’t called until right before she started pushing, and she said wearing a mask was hard, especially while taking deep, gasping breaths.
Wellbank’s mother met her grandson through a window, able to just make out the blanket she had knitted for him.
For Wellbank and her husband, many of their new fears are just emerging.
Writing assignments have been drying up and payments have been slashed. Her husband works in the healthcare field and his hours may get cut too. Wellbank now has to also consider how to keep her other children, who are five and three, busy this summer, while she cares for her newborn and tries to generate work. She doesn’t know how she’ll manage homeschooling them in the fall if schools stay shut down.
“It’s a scary time,” Wellbank said. “I’ve got three kids that I’m worried about and what kind of world they’re going to grow up in.”
- Read more:
- I had a high-risk pregnancy, and was terrified to give birth during the pandemic. Everything’s even scarier now that my son has been born.
- Pregnant women and new mums are experiencing ‘shocking’ rates of anxiety and depression during the pandemic
- A New York City mum gave birth in a hospital without her partner because of coronavirus restrictions. Here’s what it was like.
- A woman with the coronavirus gave birth while in a coma. She met her newborn when she woke up 11 days later.