WEIGHING the risks of pregnancy during a worldwide pandemic.
You hear it all the time. Our mothers, grandmothers, aunts and older role models say how much easier life was back when.
“When I was young we were outside after breakfast and home before dark”, followed by: “We had no cell phones – our parents trusted us to make good choices.”
These commonly uttered phrases reflect to me as times well in our past. We will never again be as trusting of the world as we could have been 50, 40 or even 20 years ago. As parents, we have very difficult decisions to make about our children – including the choice of bringing them into this world.
We are now living in a day of social media predators, bullying, mental health and a suicide crisis among children; as well as the ever present physical threats to our children’s safety. We no longer feel as confident as our ancestors might have been bringing children into the world. Many of us hesitantly allow our children to walk to and from school, only after arming them with a GPS tracker on their personal cellphone. This device in itself its own threat to their mental and emotional health.
So it is no wonder in the year 2020 birth rates have significantly dropped. Many thoughtful would-be parents feel a pregnancy, and especially a newborn, amidst a worldwide pandemic is simply too risky. With so much uncertainty in this already troublesome world, it is difficult to imagine the choices couples of childbearing age are faced with.
what are the risks?
It’s easy to fall into the trap of what ifs, even without the additional fears COVID-19 brings to the table. But the very real reality is that the novel virus is a physical threat to both the mother and child. We know very little about the effects the virus can have on a pregnancy and even less about any lasting effects on the fetus.
First…can your body handle it?
We have discovered COVID-19 attacks the cardiovascular system as it rages in our bodies. Studies have shown the aftermath of this virus can be linked to blood clots in the body – including the heart and lungs. It has been shown those affected with the novel virus are at a higher risk for a stroke, PE (a blood clot affecting the lungs), or even a heart attack. Pregnancy by itself is a risk of these complications because of the hormones the body needs to grow the baby. COVID-19 may increase this risk. Obstetricians are increasingly cautious with their patients; many following the recommendation to treat any COVID-19 positive mothers with anticoagulant medications, hopefully preventing these life threatening blood clots.
Anyone with co-morbidities – a word I fear is more commonplace than it once was – should take caution when embarking on a pregnancy during these days of outbreaks. These especially include women with diabetes, heart disease or any other cardiovascular compromise. Co-morbidities such as these have been shown to increase the risk of serious illness and death to those infected with the COVID-19 virus. Any pregnancy should be closely monitored by a qualified healthcare provider so that any risks to the mother can be minimized.
What are the risks to the baby?
What scientists have discovered is the condition called IUGR, or Intrauterine Growth Restriction, in pregnancies – may be related to exposure to the virus. This condition is caused when there is a reduction of blood flow from the mother to the baby, of which there are many known causes. Preeclampsia, heart disease, cardiovascular diseases and hypertension are a few known culprits. The virus has been shown to effect the cardiovascular system of those infected, which in turn can compromise the amount of blood flow the mother’s body gives to the baby for growth.
The very real threat to the baby is in how the virus might affect the mother. Some people are infected without symptoms, and some need to be on ventilators and full life support to recover.
What we already know about pregnancy is that any real threat to the mother’s life will automatically cause the body to shunt oxygenated blood away from the growing baby. If the mother’s life is at risk the body will not spare that of the child. A sick pregnant mom means the pregnancy may not survive.
In short, babies are smaller and are at a higher risk for premature birth when they become growth restricted. It has been shown that the virus has been linked to this condition which can affect the outcome of the baby’s birth.
how do you choose?
It’s so easy to say that we are in “unprecedented times” and to put off starting (or growing) a family because of it. And that may very well be the right thing to do for you. Certainly elective pregnancy should give us all pause in the year 2020 – and as the signs point to another year of social distancing, quarantine and death tolls -possibly extended through the year 2021.
But there can also be an argument made to forge ahead. We are all, today, here and now, a product of a couple – somewhere in our past – who chose to have a baby during “unprecedented times”. Pick any of our world wars, the AIDS epidemic, the Spanish flu 100 years ago. No one is saying that what we are experiencing now is the same. And yet, no one can say that what our ancestors experienced was that much different.
Social injustice? Political unrest? Pandemic? A country divided? Child predators? Economic downturn? We’ve been there before. And somehow, we survived.
Maybe it is the perseverance of those who choose to move beyond the fears of the unknown which propels our species through such fearful times.
If you wait for the moment to be perfectly right, the opportunity may just slip right on by and pass you up. Never to be grasped again. So know the risks, know yourself, and follow your heart. In the end, it will always steer you right.