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‘It’s heartbreaking’: Expectant mothers trying to navigate pregnancy amid pandemic

Jonathan Roberts • May 2, 2020 at 2:16 PM

When Danielle Harris, already a mother of three, found out she was pregnant back in November, she thought she knew what to expect in her fourth pregnancy.

But even the surprise of learning she’s having twins couldn’t have prepared her for what the past two months have been like, as the novel coronavirus pandemic forced hospitals and doctors offices to adapt and enact major policy changes on the fly.

“The experience has been very odd,” said Harris, who’s due in July.

Across the country, hospitals and doctors offices have implemented strict visitation policies and enhanced safety guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19, which has left Harris trying to navigate the complicated, higher-risk nature of her monochorionic diamniotic pregnancy — where the twins share one placenta but not an amniotic sac — and the guidelines and restrictions in place during her appointments.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website, pregnancy does not appear to be a risk factor for COVID-19, but pregnant people “have had a higher risk of severe illness when infected with viruses from the same family as COVID-19 and other viral respiratory infections.” The CDC also says the risk of mother-to-child transmission during birth is rare, but a newborn could be susceptible to person-to-person transmission after birth.

Dr. Timothy Canavan, chair of East Tennessee State University’s Department of OB/GYN, said that, while changes made at clinics and hospitals may bring added stress and anxiety for patients, they’ve been necessary to ensure their safety. At ETSU facilities, Canavan said they’ve enacted restrictions on how many people are allowed back with a patient, increased the use of personal protective equipment and screen people for any signs of the virus before they arrive.

“We probably over-cared for them a little bit, but I think it was in the best interest of everybody because we just did not know how the virus was going to affect pregnancy,” Canavan said. “I think we safeguarded our patients, but we probably created a little bit more anxiety because we took away a lot of their support, which is really important in pregnancy and we all felt really challenged by that.”

Harris said one of the hardest adjustments has been being alone during her appointments.

“That was something that was very different and very hard for me because it’s his baby just as much as it is mine,” Harris said. “I may be carrying them, but it was hard not having him there. Not being able to have any support system within the doctor’s office or within the ultrasound room is very scary.”

Canavan said the decision for them to restrict visitors in the ultrasound room was “painful.”

“Having an ultrasound when you’re pregnant is — it’s a medical procedure for us, but it's a family event for someone that’s pregnant,” he said.

Uneque Sullivan, who’s expecting her first child in October, said she understands the restrictions, they’re difficult to deal with — especially when you’re separated from your significant other in an exam room.

“The biggest downside is that my fiance can’t even go and hear his child’s heartbeat or be there for me when they’re doing diagnostic tests or anything — I have to be completely alone,” she said. “It’s just sad, it makes me upset that I have to discuss things with the doctor that my partner should be able to take part in.”

But it’s not just the appointments that have changed.

In a country where more than one million have been sickened — leading to roughly 64,500 deaths, according to a running tally from Johns Hopkins University — everything has changed for expectant mothers.

“I’ve been very, very touchy and very hard to deal with at times, I think,” said Harris, who is also forgoing a traditional baby shower because of COVID-19. “I’m always on edge, I’m always worried about the twins.”

Sullivan said she thought she and her fiance would spend their time “shopping for the baby and going to all of our appointments together and planning a nursery,” something that they won’t be able experience as long as the virus remains a serious threat in Northeast Tennessee.

“We can’t even really enjoy the pregnancy now because we aren’t able to go shop and do ‘normal’ baby preparations,” Sullivan said.

Canavan said he “can’t imagine” what it would be like to bring a baby home over the next few months, adding that “being a parent right now is really hard because” of the added stress and anxiety that’s now part of routine events like visiting a pediatrician’s office.

Harris, meanwhile, said things have gone well for her so far, and her twins are healthy and doing well, though she is concerned about what the situation will be like by the time she goes into labor.

“I feel like in July it will still be pretty close to how it is now, and it’s heartbreaking (to think) people that were there through all the other deliveries won’t be able to be in the room this time,” she said. “I still feel like a lot of this will be lingering — it will definitely be very different and very scary to have to deliver in a hospital.”

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