Inside: I share my personal experiences about what it’s like to have Covid-19 during pregnancy, what it’s like to be pregnant during a pandemic, and to give birth during the time of Coronavirus. I also share ways to help a pregnant woman with covid or a new mom during the pandemic, as well as what to do if you have Covid-19 and are pregnant. This post contains affiliate links.
“In a year from now you’ll have a baby girl after having recovered from a new virus that came from China. Two months later, you’ll labor in a mask in the same hospital you were in with pneumonia. Your 4 year old’s class will be in quarantine then and your kids won’t be allowed to visit the hospital. But that’s cool because they’ll kick you out of the hospital after a day anyway. You won’t allow anyone near your baby – maybe the grandparents if they’re wearing masks.”
If you’d told me this a year ago I’d have looked at you real weird.
Baby A is now one month old, and I figure it’s time to share a bit about my pregnancy, her birth, and the events that surrounded all this bedlam.
A week after my sons’ school voluntarily shut down last March, and days before the rest of the city locked down, we found out we were pregnant.
The ten months that followed are familiar to all of us.
A virus that we knew almost nothing about turned our world upside down.
Wow. Where do I even start?
Even though I was pregnant twice before, being pregnant during a pandemic is nothing like anything I’ve ever experienced. No one can really tell us how this affects pregnant women.
Even now there is so little data to that end.
There’s nothing like holding a tiny little human in your arms, not knowing how this crazy world, this frightening new illness might hurt this tiny, tiny magical creation.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Here’s a little glimpse into the past ten months, what it’s like to be pregnant during a pandemic, to give birth, and to have a tiny baby during this time. Oh yeah. I also share the joys of having COVID-19 while pregnant. Because that happened too.
Table of Contents:
March through May and “14 days” to slow the spread…
We live in one of the hardest hit zip codes in NYC, and we felt the impact – the death, the illness, the tragedy that surrounded us.
We locked down hard and early, but not early enough. Our schools and synagogues, a central component to our religious observance and daily life, shut down before it was mandatory, before the official lockdown. We were already experiencing huge communal losses.
In April it became clear that we can safely step out of our house as outdoor, distanced transmission wasn’t an issue. We started going for family walks, keeping six feet away from others, wearing masks once that recommendation came about. We’d “visit” families outdoors, talking to them from the sidewalk, while they stayed on their front porches.
And I was experiencing a very challenging first trimester. I was working, while basically non-functional. I was doing distance learning with a very distracted M while trying to occupy a very bored Y. Did I mention that I needed to work too?
I made Passover for the first time at home (for those who aren’t aware that involves lots of cooking, completely deep cleaning the kitchen, getting a separate set of dishes, and basically thoroughly cleaning the whole house).
I learned to cook new foods that I couldn’t stomach… I couldn’t get help because it was each family for themselves then.
And each time my husband had to go grocery shopping I was tense. Y told my husband “don’t go shopping, there might be coronavirus by the store!” We had no idea how the virus might impact a pregnant woman. Grocery delivery was reserved for high risk individuals; healthy 30-somethings could reserve a slot only a month off. Pregnant women didn’t get that “high risk” classification.
No one knew if the virus could be passed to the fetus either.
My husband was home from work then. He made Passover happen, bless him… and took the kids out for walks so I could get some things done.
We don’t have a big yard, or much play space. The kids and their toys completely took over our small apartment to the point where I was tripping all day.
The big lesson of that time period was not that we’re all in the same boat. It was that each person’s boat looks so different. Each unique formula of circumstances affected how the pandemic affected a person. We didn’t have a nice, neighborly block where we could all sit outside, socially distanced, while sipping coffee. The isolation was real. We learned not to judge others because something as simple as having a swing set in the backyard or a few extra feet of living space, or a child who did well with distance learning, or a child who didn’t crave social interaction and full-time stimulation completely transformed how the lock-down affected them.
Having an income or losing income influenced how people viewed the lock-down.
And of course, there was the not-insignificant variable of: did they actually get sick or lose a loved one.
By the end of May, numbers were dropping and we heard the good news: day camps can open with precautions.
At that point, both of my kids were acting out in ways I never knew them to. M is an easygoing child and he became extremely reactive. Y was suffering from separation anxiety, chronic stomach aches, and other signs of anxiety.
The lock-down took a tangible toll on our family.
My husband eventually returned to work and it was terrifying at that point.
And I was depressed. I was cut off from any means of self-care, hadn’t had a day off in a while, was extremely tired, couldn’t visit my therapist, and was feeling it. Over the years I had fought off mental illness and really learned to care for myself. Many of the things I had learned to maintain were inaccessible to me. My days off, my “therapy crafting” sessions… I was experiencing extreme sensory overload as well.
June through August
It was like a dream. It was a true respite. The kids could go to camp!
Y’s separation anxiety seemed to melt away as he ran ahead of me down the block to his small backyard camp. We had seven short weeks of fun, with no cases, no exposures. Yeah, we were waiting every day for this dream-come-true to end abruptly. But it didn’t.
The transformation in my kids was visible.
I was finally able to work again. I was able to see my therapist again. I was able to go to my doctor for prenatal visits! I was in that second trimester energy zone, feeling like a human again, nesting, preparing, organizing. It’s amazing how getting “normal” back gives you a new appreciation of normal. Our area was compliant with masking which meant I could take my days off, go out shopping, with some peace of mind.
On one of the last days of day camp, a child in Y’s day camp tested positive for the virus. Our family quarantined for two weeks, and Y tested negative (no one else in day camp caught it as far as I know).
Wake me up when September ends…
That break between when day camp ends and school starts was unlike any other. It’s always challenging for me to find ways to occupy the kids, and now we had to do it all at home.
I pulled out every ounce of energy I didn’t have to make the best of it.
We did activities, we pulled through. We got the amazing news: with layers of precautions in place, in-person schooling was going to be a reality.
And then a day after our quarantine ended, just as school was starting, my husband caught the virus. Yep that one.
He got it at work. That one congregate setting that was unavoidable, that I had been so nervous about? That’s the one that sent Covid-19 our way.
I was so burnt out, so done trying to make it okay for the kids, so desperate for a bit of normalcy, to get out and breathe some fresh air again, for the kids to be in school… I simply fell apart.
I caught it from him, the kids got very short, mild cases too. M coughed a few times. Y got a 24 hour fever and skipped dinner once.
My husband recovered quickly – he had fever, cough, backache for about a week but nothing painkillers couldn’t get him through.
I got a little sicker- like a bad flu only without the fever. Aches, chills, cough, cold, fatigue for a few days (the aches being the hardest to manage as they were exacerbated by pregnancy aches) and then got better. Or so I thought.
A week after I tested positive, when I was almost back to myself, my cough suddenly got much worse, I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t talk – even trying to whisper caused crazy coughing fits. I couldn’t get to the bathroom without insane, crippling coughing fits. For a couple of days I was gasping even when lying down and doing nothing.
I ended up in the ER twice – the second time having developed a fever for the first time since getting sick. Finally, after taking antibiotics to treat the pneumonia, things took a turn for the better. My case was labeled “moderate” as I didn’t need to stay in the hospital and oxygen levels did not dip below 93%. I was very dehydrated both times, despite drinking incredible amounts, eating loads of soup, and drinking hot water with honey all day. I fortunately never lost my sense of taste or smell, although things tasted funny for a few days.
Recovery took a bit of time and there were a few times I was really terrified, with worst-case scenarios going through my head. My first major milestone in recovery was “I can breathe if I’m doing nothing”. My second was “I can whisper a sentence without coughing too much”.
About 2.5 weeks after testing positive and after 1.5 weeks of being bedridden, I was finally able to function again, and prepare for baby.
My cough lingered for another week or two, although my doctors had predicted months of lingering symptoms due to lung damage. I am so thankful for that. I was told that this is how pregnant women handle COVID-19. This is anecdotal – there is so little research regarding how pregnancy and COVID interact – but I can tell you, it was painful and scary.
I’m 31, with no pre-existing conditions, and I thought I was gonna die. And I just had a “moderate” case. I can’t fathom severe cases. I couldn’t get through the days. I wanted to die at times because of the social isolation, the stigma, the hopelessness of sitting all day incapable of sleeping, talking, breathing, no end in sight, my doctor predicting weeks like this (thank G-d he was wrong ).
Now let’s talk about the stigma. Through it all, I couldn’t share about being sick, because people (outright) blamed me. We rely on those around us to be careful, so that things like my husband’s low-risk work situation remain low-risk. But when outbreak is rampant, nothing is low risk. My husband got it at work. He’s been back in his warehouse since early May I think, when we were terrified to have him go back. But what should we do? He needs to support the family.
Those who knew us well teased us – we were “the careful ones” who masked even when others weren’t masking. I’ve gotten pretty good at risk assessment and taking calculated risks, something I learned to do in therapy for OCD. Our absolute no-no’s were: no congregate settings where people are unmasked, no unnecessary unmasked indoor interaction. But we needed to LIVE with the virus in existence long-term, to function and we found our balance, within the guidelines of local health professionals and infectious disease specialists.
We needed to find a level of isolation we could live with, and we bubbled with a few families, chosen based on our kids’ needs. We did NOT get it from them, nor did we give it to them.
School was non-negotiable for us. The damage of school cancellation on our kids was tangible. We did not get it at school, we did not give it to anyone at school.
We got it at work. My husband simply had to go to work.
Those who DON’T know us well assume we were careless. We really weren’t. Those who do know us were amused that we got it despite being careful.
There are so many aspects to having COVID-19 beyond the illness itself!
The incredible burden of social responsibility, decision-making, and the mental health impact of that.
The mental health impact on me of fearing for my life, and on my kids fearing for their mother.
The mental health impact of isolation.
The missed schooling for my children, again.
But there’s more.
On September 4, our beloved family patriarch with whom my kids were very close, my husband’s grandfather, passed away. Papa Joe’s passing was somewhat sudden and came two days after my husband’s positive test, one day after mine.
But here’s the crazy part:
When my husband first tested positive, our doctor told us that our kids will need to quarantine until fourteen days after my husband’s ten day isolation period IF they don’t catch it. That is, unless he stays far from them and masks. I applied the same rule to myself (I got tested on Sept. 3 in the morning and showed first symptoms that night). So we were masking and distancing from the kids at that time, coming close only briefly when absolutely necessary, sanitizing before prepping their meals – if only so that they can go back to school sooner. And so that our family can have some semblance of celebrating the Jewish New Year if we can exit quarantine soon enough.
That means that we couldn’t pull them on our laps and hug them as we told them they lost their beloved great-grandfather. As we explained death to them. As we tried to comfort them, with the trademark of 2020: the absence of human touch.
We couldn’t attend his funeral.
We couldn’t mourn the shiva period with our family.
Eventually, our kids got sick too, although very mildly. Once their positive test results came in, we hugged them like crazy. It was scary for them to see me so sick, to see an ambulance come and take me away, but at least now we could comfort them. If I couldn’t talk I could at least hug…
Once again, we pulled through. Yeah, there was a little trauma to recover. I never fully regained my strength and struggled incredibly with a lack of focus caused by a bad mix of my illness and pregnancy. But I am lucky that I’m still here to share my story.
The baby was okay, and growing well.
We got to celebrate the holidays, with family we may not have otherwise seen. And we had a slight hope that the baby might be offered some protection from the antibodies that I had developed. And the kids finally got to start school.
What to do if you get Covid-19 while pregnant
While I had spent months reading articles about Covid-19, none of them actually told a pregnant woman what to do if she tests positive! This is not a substitute for medical advice. Please consult with your doctors and follow their advice over mine.
1. Don’t panic. Your prognosis is good. Pregnant women have a higher chance of needing hospitalization and oxygen support but most will be fine. From the National Institutes of Health:
This study’s bottom line is that most women who become infected with SARS-CoV-2 during pregnancy will do just fine. That doesn’t mean, however, that anyone should take this situation casually. The finding that 5 percent of pregnant women may become severely ill is still cause for concern….
Taken together, while there’s no need to panic about COVID-19 infection during pregnancy, it’s still a good idea for pregnant women and their loved ones to take extra precautions to protect their health. And, of course, follow the three W’s: Wear a mask, Watch your distance, and Wash your hands.
2. Call your doctor. Your doctor can give you guidance as to how to monitor your health, when to go to the emergency room. Be in touch with any questions – if you’re not sure, it can’t hurt to call. Ask your doctor before taking all the supplements everyone around you is going to tell you to take, considering you’re probably already taking a prenatal vitamin.
3. Drink up. Covid is dehydrating. With pregnancy it’s a bad mix. Drink like crazy.
4. Rest up. Even if you’re feeling somewhat okay, try to relax for your full isolation period because…
5. Be wary of the one week point. Some symptoms start later, and many people find their condition worsening after a week. Don’t let your self-care guard down because you’re feeling better (like I did).
6. Monitor oxygen. Ask your doctor what normal numbers are, at what point you should go to the emergency room, or seek medical care. You’ll want to keep a reliable pulse oximeter handy for this.
7. Don’t be a martyr. There are ways to help your pain. Talk to your doctor about what you can or can’t take. I was told no ibuprofen (Advil/Motrin) but yes Acetaminophen (Tylenol). I was also told that I can take Robitussen DM to help with the cough. Honey helps a lot – yes, straight honey. If you can’t handle that, honey with hot water serves double duty and hydrates you as well.
And again, talk to your doctors, ask all your questions! Speak to your OB/GYN or your regular doctor, but do seek medical care, even if over the phone so you know what your “red flags” are.
We were granted a respite with the holidays, while we eagerly awaited the arrival of our baby.
Both my boys were born 2.5 weeks before their due dates, and so when I passed that point, I felt “overdue”. With both, my water broke at that point and I labored for hours in the hospital.
At that 37.5 week point, I got the news that Y’s class needed to quarantine. He officially would have also had to – only he was within 90 days of testing positive. To err on the side of caution, we kept him away from high risk individuals until we got a positive antibody test result for him.
The exact time frame that we had COVID ended up being a blessing – what would we have done had he had to actually quarantine when I gave birth?
And then, at 1.5 weeks before my due date, a week into Y’s class quarantine, the contractions started. They were ten minutes apart for a full day, before getting frighteningly close together really quickly, causing a mad dash to the hospital just in time to welcome our pandemic princess to our crazy world… while wearing a mask.
Giving birth during a pandemic is strange but fortunately I did not get the whole experience. Princess A was born in the evening so my hospital stay was two nights long, instead of the new normal of 24 hours. We came with positive antibody test results, and the hospital had my records from my emergency room visits two months before. They respected that and didn’t ask us to mask while in our room.
I did labor in a mask though – there wasn’t even time to take it off!
It was weird. It was strange and scary. But our princess had finally arrived. And we couldn’t be more thankful.
I won’t mince words. The first weeks postpartum presented unique challenges that I did not experience with my other kids. Recovering with Y, age four, bored and hangry, lonely and slightly jealous, at home was… a nightmare! And we were still in middle of a pandemic.
What it’s really like to be pregnant and have a baby during a pandemic
Throughout my pandemic pregnancy, and now postpartum, the emotions were extreme contradictions.
Can something that feels like hell also be the biggest blessing ever?
Contradictions exist and if there ever was the perfect example, having a pandemic baby is just that. The pain and the love, the fear and the light at the end of the “pregnant during covid” tunnel…But it’s not really because the fear is really still there when you have a tiny, weak creature in middle of a world disaster.
And indeed, it seems like getting sick with the novel coronavirus took a toll on my immune system. I’ve already made my poor baby sick twice. We try to shelter her from everyone else, but I’m the one getting her sick. Hey, at least we’re not depriving her of building her own immunity, like we’ve been told we’re doing, right?
After speaking to other pandemic moms, I realize that I am not alone in feeling this way. Far from it!
From things as tough as the pain of seeing your baby sick… to things as simple not having your parents meet the best thing that ever happened to you. From emotions such as fear, worry, and stress more than ever, to seemingly silly things that get you through the waiting – the older women cooing and asking when you’re due, and even just having a village to ask how you’re doing.
Part of living through this is constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. Part of the learning experience for me, as a mom, as a woman who had COVID while pregnant, is accepting what I cannot control and trying to remain positive (I mean in my attitude…)
Bad things might happen, but are they truly bad? Or just hard? Is trying our best enough? How can we do more than that? Do we have the right to make the cost/benefit analyses that we need to, and pay the price?
Haven’t moms been doing that for years? It’s only magnified as the role of a mother has been magnified this year.
This year has been full of blessings, and the anticipation of welcoming our princess carried us through some of the hardest times.
It may have made things harder. But blessings can sometimes come at a cost. As we struggle through sleepless nights, quarantined preschoolers, and protecting our baby, it’s clear we’d have done it regardless, even knowing what the cost would be.
December and 2021 is around the bend!
It’s “back to real life” and work for me. Come back to this space for new crafts, along with some new helpful tidbits from a third-time mom. Some of the things I share might be influenced by the timing (I’m thinking DIY photoshoot tips and tricks…) And in some, I’ll be hiding with my struggles behind the face of cheerful crafts, many of which were frankly hired out these past few months – but not all.
I pray my kids stay in school. They need it so bad.
I pray their friends and teachers stay healthy.
And as I open my 2021 planner and fill in that two month well-visit appointment, I’m wondering just how much of that planner I’m actually going to use. Because if 2020 taught us anything, it’s that our best plans can come apart beyond our wildest imagination.
How to help a pregnant/new mom during pandemic
I don’t really know what compelled me to sit down and write out the story of our long, wild year. But I know one thing that’ll make it worthwhile: if one person takes one of these points to heart and helps even just one mom who is struggling.
- Please respect a new mom’s desire to protect her baby! Respect her masking requests, her distancing requests. Even if you are a proud grandparent don’t be offended. We are surrounded with an overwhelming load of contradicting information, an absence of information on the topics we really care about (covid during pregnancy, in babies, how moms transfer antibodies to the fetus or while breastfeeding…) Our babies come first, and yes, we WILL err on the side of caution.
- Please , please, please be honest as to how you are feeling! If you have the slightest throat tickle or sniffle, wait it out before visiting. It’s not just about covid! Catching anything now has much bigger implications. If a baby’s sibling gets sick, they will have to be home from school , again, even at the first sign of a sniffle. It’s not fun to be a new mom recovering while dealing with a needy preschooler at home! And if mom, like me, has a weakened immune system, your sniffle can make her much more sick. And she might make baby sick, even if you’re wearing a mask while holding baby.
- Bring food… I don’t know how I would have survived without those who dropped food outside our door while we were sick and in isolation, those who offered to shop for us. Those same people two months later again helped feed my family for better reasons. Focus on hydrating food (such as soups) as it’s extremely difficult to stay hydrated with COVID and pregnancy only exacerbates it. And if a new mom is concerned about home cooked meals, you can offer help with takeout or other purchased food options.
- Be specific when offering help. When we need it most, it can be hard to ask for it. One big lesson I learned was to offer people something specific instead of just “how can I help”. Can I cook you dinner? Can I watch your kid for the afternoon (if safe)? I’m sending you xyz. Let me know if you don’t want it… You can definitely ASK “what can I do for you” but don’t necessarily expect the “we’re okay” you get to be an honest one. You can always take it the next step and offer something specific that may help. Inspired by those who helped me, I mailed care packages to my nieces when they were in quarantine. I created little craft kits that didn’t really require parental involvement to keep them busy.
- Respect, respect, respect… New moms, expectant moms are dealing with something on a different level than what you dealt with at that stage. Even if her requests seem illogical, please respect her desires to behave in the way that she deems safest for her family. If she chose to keep her kids home from school, to isolate completely from family, to mask around her child – yes, I’ve heard of moms doing things that seem to be extreme to me, but everyone’s risk level, fear level, and overall needs are different. If moms normally have it coming at them from all directions, now there are so many more factors at play. Ultimately, we need to be respectful of a mom’s decisions she makes with her family’s best interests in mind.
- Don’t judge. I’ve fallen into the trap of judging others too many times only to find out that things weren’t as I thought they were… I still do. There is so much we don’t see. If a family gets sick, definitely don’t assume they were neglectful. Even if you saw them behaving in a way that you think was negligent, you may not know what brought them to behave this way.
- Acknowledge the struggle. A little empathy goes a long way towards helping us feel less alone. If you have a friend or family member dealing with this, you are in a unique position to hold her hand. Every time someone said something like “wow, it must have really sucked having COVID while pregnant” it helped me feel less lonely in all of it.
Moms, we need to be a sisterhood. The media hasn’t done justice to what the pandemic has done to us. The science has under-researched how it uniquely affects us. If we do not stand with each other, who will?
As 2020 comes to an end, I am incredibly thankful for the blessings it has brought. I mourn the loved ones we lost. An as 2021 approaches, and the first vaccines are distributed in our area, I am so hopeful that 2021 might be just a little more boring than this year was.
If you have anything to add based on your experiences, please share it in the comments below!