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What To Expect In The Time Of Coronavirus? For Pregnant Women, It's Uncertainty.

Courtesy of Katie Rivera

Katie Rivera is scared. She’s 38 weeks pregnant, sitting in her car in a doctor’s office parking lot. She’s far enough along now that she’s supposed to see her doctor every week.

She used to like these appointments - they were calming. She’d bring her 2-year-old Elle, the nurses would give Elle stickers - it was nice. 

But now, Elle’s not allowed. Katie is waiting until the last possible second to go in there, to minimize any potential exposure.

And when she gets home, she will take everything off, put it immediately in the washing machine and shower, so she doesn’t get herself or her family sick.

Pregnancy is already mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausting. But being pregnant right now, in the middle of this pandemic means managing a long list of additional fears and what ifs: What if I get sick? What happens to my baby? What will the world look like when my baby arrives?

There are no clear answers to any of these big questions.

The science is still unclear about how COVID-19 affects pregnant women, and rules in New Hampshire hospitals are constantly evolving based on the outbreak.

So Katie Rivera is now embarking on “Operation: have this baby as quickly as possible.”

“It’s like you never want to wish your baby to come early, but you kind of do wish your baby to come early,” she said. “I don’t care how it goes, like I don't even care about the pain, I don't care if it happens in a car. I just want him to be here so I can bring him home.”  

Katie is trying everything - all the old wives tales like drinking red raspberry leaf tea, she’s bouncing on an exercise ball, she’s taking tons of walks around her Manchester neighborhood.

And just in case things get worse, she’s mentally preparing herself to give birth alone, just in case her husband isn’t allowed in the maternity ward.

Credit Courtesy of Sarah Helfgott
Sarah Helfgott and her family. She's due in June and has been socially distancing from her husband, an ER nurse in a Massachusetts hospital.

This is a very common fear. For Sarah Helfgott, it terrifies her “more than the pain of labor.”

Helfgott is due in the middle of June, and she plans to deliver at St. Joseph Hospital’s Midwifery. But as the coronavirus crisis ramped up, she started considering a plan B: A home birth.

She’s got an appointment with her midwife this week to talk it through.

A home birth would not be her ideal delivery. What if there are complications? She was in labor with her first daughter for four days. If she decides she wants medication, she wants to be able to ask for it. 

And yet, “I’m not willing to go through this labor and birth by myself,” she said.

Sarah’s already had to spend a lot of this pregnancy further away from her husband than she’d like. He’s an ER nurse at a hospital in Massachusetts, so he’s potentially been exposed to the coronavirus. 

So they’ve been social distancing from each other. He sleeps in the guest room, and Sarah sleeps in the master (occasionally their 3 year old Gigi climbs in there, too).

They eat dinner at opposite ends of the table. Family walks mean dad wears a glove, just in case Gigi wants to hold his hand.

“Living in a house of distancing when he can’t touch my stomach or hug my daughter or hug me is not something I ever imagined. And having to send videos of the baby moving in my stomach so he can actually see it because he can’t get close enough to see it? I mean, it's very - it's different. But so far he’s healthy and we’re healthy and I have to be grateful for that,” Sarah said.

Sarah and Katie both said they pull a lot of strength from their first pregnancies. They have faith in their bodies, and their daughters are keeping them busy. And so their minds often wander into worrying about first time moms, like Katie’s friend Kristin Lindemann. Kristin is due later this summer, in July.

“Honestly, most of my worries aren’t necessarily pregnancy related: my grandmother, my parents that kind of stuff. But then whenever I get into a panic cycle of what’s happening? What’s going on in the world? Do we have enough food? That always turns back in to," Kristin said. "Am I stressing myself out too much that I could hurt the pregnancy?” 

Credit Jessica Arnold / Arnold Imaging LLC
Kristin Lindemann and her husband Chris Alexandre stand on their porch in Pittsfield.

Working from home is not helping soothe Kristin’s anxieties. There are no colleagues to distract her. All her thoughts are just right there, in front of her: How will she take childbirth classes now that they’re cancelled? She was so looking forward to her baby shower - will that get cancelled too? 

And then her husband’s office closed - he had to file for unemployment.

“We have no baby stuff yet,” Kristin said. “And with him not having a job and not knowing when he might have a job again, it’s very nerve wracking [to think about] how we might be able to afford to get all the stuff we need.”

Kristin says if she and her husband had known that all this would happen, they would not have tried to get pregnant right now - they would have waited until things were more certain.

Lauren is a Senior Reporter/Producer for NHPR's narrative news unit, Document.
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