Photo courtesy El Paso Matters

COVID-19 sucks the fun out of being pregnant

I sit alone in an empty consultation room wearing my hand-made facemask. Everything has been sanitized, and two of three chairs have a red stop sign on them indicating they are not available.

In front of me is a small camera that is hooked up to a large television monitor. I’m here to discuss my glucose test and my son’s progress inside my ever-growing belly. This is my fourth visit at my specialist’s office. Turns out when you’re 34 years old, have a history of high blood pressure, and had a past miscarriage, you’re considered high risk.

My specialist pops up on the monitor and through some streaming and static interruptions we discuss my lab results, how baby is doing, and whether to take the COVID vaccine.

She’s not at home, she’s not at the hospital across the street – she’s literally down the hall in her office and I can hear her voice through the walls. And despite being in her office, she is wearing a face mask and a face shield.

This is now considered “the new norm” during my appointments with her – and I’ve never felt so alone.

This is my first successful pregnancy. I’m having a son. My husband and I are over the moon.

But the precautions – while understandable – that doctors and family must take to keep us safe has been, let’s just say it – a real downer.

I imagined myself sitting in the doctor’s office with my husband by my side, holding my hand as the sonogram technician showed us pictures of our son sucking his thumb, listening to his heartbeat.

Instead, my husband drives me to the doctor’s office and waits in the car for me for up to two hours because he’s not allowed in. Each visit, I have to confirm and reconfirm for him that he can come into the hospital when it’s time to deliver our son. I’ve been reassured that he can come in each time, but when he’s waiting in the car for up to two hours, it’s hard to believe.

My visits to my regular OBGYN are so brief. He wears a mask, speeds through our appointment to minimize his risk. I always feel like I’m an inconvenience when I have questions after he presents me with an explanation of my results, usually filled with acronyms and health terms that warrant a Google search.

“OK, so if you don’t have any questions,” he always says, his back to the door that he’s just opened, his body halfway in and halfway out of the room.

“Ah, yes – please – I do want to know…” And he’ll stop with about two-thirds of his body in the hallway. In these instances, I am forever grateful for my experience as a journalist and the ability to shout out questions in a hurried voice to get a response.

But it makes me feel like a bother. I feel like I’m increasing his risk and that my visit is an inconvenience because of COVID.

Advice from an expert

Dr. Maria Velazquez, a maternal fetal medicine specialist and obstetrician gynecologist at the Advanced Center for Women’s Health at Providence, said the changes in protocol to protect the patient and the staff can be a little isolating for the patient during doctor’s visit and has changed the way loved ones and expectant mothers may experience pregnancy.

Dr. Maria Velazquez

The biggest change, she said, was limiting the number of visitors during a check-up or during delivery.

“I think first and foremost, the biggest change is the inability to extend the office encounter to the family,” Velazquez said. “I think most patients understand that it’s needed to protect the staff and the patients. But it is a little bit isolating, as far as sharing the experience with a family. We do our best to accommodate it by allowing Facetime. But even then, sometimes, patients are not happy with that, because at a certain point in time, maybe their partner is not available, and they can’t participate.”

To accommodate patients that can’t Facetime with loved ones or their partner, ultrasound pictures are provided. Velazquez said she will also speak to the husband or family member that the patient requests if there are additional questions.

As for accommodating expectant mothers and their plus one at the hospital, Velazquez said it’s recommended that their plus one bring their own overnight bag as well. Live tours of maternity facilities and rooms are still available by appointment, but she added they are also online as a precaution.

Sonia Lopez Espinal, director of nursing for Women’s Services at The Hospitals of Providence Transmountain Campus, displays a labor and delivery room that is prepped for a birth. The hospital currently allows each patient to have only one designated visitor. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

Upon admittance, expectant moms are screened for COVID-19 if they show symptoms and will allow one visitor to be with the patient.

“They (hospitals) allow one family member, and they would prefer that once that family member is in the hospital with the patient that they wouldn’t leave until the patient is discharged,” Velazquez said. “Obviously, sometimes there is some need to be gone and then we make accommodations for that. But we would prefer once the person is there with them to stay there until the patient leaves.”

Velazquez added that a patient’s plus one can’t be swapping out with another visitor or member of the family.  “It has to be the same person that stays there for the length of stay,” she said.

Another added stress factor that has kept me up at night is whether or not to take the COVID-19 vaccine. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,  if you are pregnant you are considered to be part of the Phase 1B population group. However, there have not been many studies on the vaccine’s effects on the fetus.

But with the new variants and strains of COVID-19, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists along with the Society for Maternal Fetal Medicine recommend that expectant mothers get vaccinated.

“We know that the recommendations for the vaccine are based on high-risk categories of people that are at most risk for having severe disease, any underlying condition. So that would be heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, cancer, and guess what, pregnancy is considered a high-risk category,” Dr. Velazquez said. “So yes, you are considered in the population that should be offered the vaccine first after the health care workers. And the recommendation from the American College of OBGYNs and the Society for Maternal Fetal Medicine is that we don’t withhold it from the pregnant patient simply because she’s pregnant.”

Velazquez added that the vaccine is an mRNA vaccine, which means it’s not a live virus.

“So, we wouldn’t anticipate any issues with the fetus,” she said. “And on the contrary, you know, the severity of the disease (COVID) tends to be higher in pregnant women. So, if you weigh your risk and benefits, the benefit significantly outweighs the risk. But nobody’s going to force a pregnant woman to take the vaccine if she’s not comfortable with it, but we would have to educate her and make her aware that she does fall into the high-risk category.”

Being labeled “high-risk” just because you are pregnant is definitely a downer.

Where are the fun parts of pregnancy?

I was really looking for the fun parts of this experience and doing them with my husband, family and friends. I imagined myself in prenatal classes with my husband and other parents. Maybe my husband cracking some jokes to other fathers.

Instead, we get to do online classes. Oh joy, another hour I get to spend looking at my screen when I’m not working.

I had imagined friends and family throwing me a baby shower with fun cutesy games. All of us together, laughing, eating some amazing food, sharing baby stories and everyone oohing and ahhing over the baby presents we got.

Brenda Gurrola Diaz, left, speaks with Sonia Lopez Espinal, director of nursing for Women’s Services at The Hospitals of Providence Transmountain Campus, as she waits for discharge on Jan. 27. Due to the pandemic, Gurrola Diaz did not have visitors during her delivery and subsequent hospital stay. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

I imagined flying out to see my mother-in-law and my husband’s grandmothers in North Carolina once baby was old enough to fly.

Instead, I have to tell my baby shower planners “no” to so many fun ideas. Instead, we have to coordinate a drive-by shower and coordinate a possible present-opening Zoom session.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s better than nothing, but I really wanted to eat my Aunt Celia’s salsa, my Aunt Gina’s rice, my Aunt Irma’s chile con queso …. in short, my entire family’s cooking is amazing.

Instead, we’re thinking of giving out cupcakes made by a friend who is an amazing baker – but let’s be real, it’s not a party without that con queso.

Our family and friends have been really kind. They’ve given us their children’s baby toys, baby clothes and my cousin was gracious enough to give us her crib. But when we arrive home it’s a whole process of washing the baby clothes and wiping down the toys and furniture with disinfectant. Again, a real downer.

As for flying out to see the family in North Carolina – we have to wait until this COVID vaccine gets sorted out and even longer to see if it’s safe for baby. Exploring the option of flying them down here is just as unsafe. Instead, we have to settle for Facetime.

I don’t want to sound ungrateful or whiny. But growing up I went to so many baby showers and they were always so fun and cute. I think it’s unfair that my son doesn’t get that.

No fun or cute pictures of people sniffing diapers trying to guess what it is; no funny memories created as the men try to change a baby doll’s diaper as fast as they can; no pictures of people trying to guess how big my belly is with toilet paper.

And what about showing baby off? Having someone come and babysit so hubby and I can have some much-needed alone time?

I asked Dr. Velazquez if and when that may be a possibility. In short, the answer is not anytime soon.

“You know, we still don’t want family members that live in different households visiting other family members,” Dr. Velazquez said. “So, I would say until that recommendation changes, then, don’t allow in other family members because you don’t have control. Anyone that’s going to be handling a newborn should be completely immunized. Because the babies are so vulnerable, and their immune system has not really kicked in when they’re infants. So, everyone needs to limit the exposure that they give to that baby.”

An additional recommendation that expectant mothers and fathers should follow would be to take a Tdap booster shot to protect their child from tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (whooping cough). Velazquez said the Tdap booster should not interfere with the COVID vaccine so long as there’s a two-week waiting period between the two vaccines.

Let’s face it – COVID sucks and COVID has sucked the fun of being pregnant and replaced the “fun” with more anxiety than I would normally have.

I’m tired of pivoting. Tired of telling people “no” to fun ideas. Tired of disinfecting everything.

This pregnancy has been exhausting, and I’m not talking about the actual pregnancy symptoms here – I’m talking about “suck-the-fun-out-of-everything” COVID.

Look, I’m happy our son is healthy. I’m grateful that there’s a vaccine and that I’ve already received my first dose. I’m glad we will be able to do a drive-by shower. And I’ll continue to take the appropriate precautions for my family’s health and everyone else’s health and well- being.

But I can’t wait until this is all over and we get the majority of the population immunized so I can live my life.

Author: Alex Hinojosa –  El Paso Matters