International Update : The People Planning for a Baby After the Covid Pandemic Hit

Insight Online News

By Rachel Feintzeig

It’s a strange moment to bring a baby into the world.

The pandemic has changed much of what it once meant to be expecting: a partner holding your hand through an ultrasound appointment, crowded baby showers and unsolicited advice from hovering strangers in the supermarket, family flying in to meet a new grandchild in the hospital.

The constant threat of the virus has made our health feel precarious, and pregnant women are at higher risk for severe disease if they become infected. Much of the country is either struggling financially or bracing for economic impact. A Brookings Institution report projected there will be about 300,000 fewer births in 2021, an 8% drop from 2019.

And yet, about a year into the pandemic, many would-be parents say they’ve grown tired of waiting. Some paused fertility treatments in the spring only to realize Covid wasn’t going to disappear in a matter of months. For others, Covid was the push: the sign they needed to slow down and focus on life at home. Or the pandemic brought the silver lining of flexibility—remote work, canceled business travel—that made having a baby possible.

“Everything was kind of home-centered, with work and school,” says Landon Faulkner, whose wife, Kyra Faulkner, is due in February. “In some ways, it seemed even easier.”

Mr. Faulkner, a dad of three in Vineyard, Utah, had a vasectomy reversed in April after he and his wife felt called to have another child. Ms. Faulkner got pregnant by May, but the experience hasn’t come without its bumps: The whole family contracted Covid in November. Everyone recovered well and the baby is doing fine, Mr. Faulkner says.

A November survey of nearly 4,000 users by Modern Fertility, a maker of at-home hormone tests, found that 70% weren’t changing their family planning decisions as a result of the pandemic. Of the 30% who were, most decided to delay having kids, or rethought the proposition altogether. But a quarter of that 30% accelerated their plans.

“There’s some kinds of existential crises that make people kind of re-evaluate priorities,” says Sarah Hayford, a sociology professor at Ohio State University who studies family formation and reproductive health. “You can imagine that someone might respond to a very threatening crisis by saying, ‘I want to strengthen my family.’ ”

Unintended births may also go up during this time, Dr. Hayford notes. It’s been harder for women to access birth control and abortions in some places, amid lockdowns and a slowdown in some medical appointments.

No matter the circumstances of the pregnancy, expecting a baby during a pandemic can be nerve-racking and isolating.

“You’re holding your breath the entire time,” says Marty McDonald, who gave birth to her daughter, Elle Olivia, on Jan. 18. The CEO of Boss Women Media Group, an online community for women, she lives in Dallas, hours away from family in Tennessee. She’s only seen them once in over a year—for a funeral.

“I didn’t even hug my mom,” she says.

Still, she says some moments of the past year have injected extra hope into her experience of preparing to welcome a new life.

“We’re bringing our daughter into the world when there’s the first Black woman vice president of the United States,” Ms. McDonald told her husband, Kevin McDonald. “She’s going to be able to see possibilities.”

The journey to conceive during Covid for Valerie Wernet and her wife, Emilie Wapnick, kicked off with a road trip from their home on British Columbia’s Cortes Island. They hopped three ferries and traveled 3,000 miles to Charlotte, Vt., wiping down hotel rooms with Lysol as they went and heating cans of soup they’d packed in the car.

“We will go home when we’re pregnant or when we give up,” Ms. Wernet told me in December from the tiny cabin she and Ms. Wapnick rented upon arriving in the States. The 35-year-old is hoping to become pregnant with a sperm donation from a friend of Ms. Wapnick who lives nearby.

“Everyone is waiting for life to go back to normal, and for us, if we’re lucky, life will never go back to normal,” Ms. Wernet says.

When Jenn Allen’s most recent embryo transfer failed last spring, the news felt especially devastating. The 43-year old’s fertility clinic was temporarily shuttering due to lockdowns. Ms. Allen was hesitant to keep trying amid a pandemic anyway.

“There was a grieving of like, ‘When am I going to be able to do this?’ ” she says.

By fall, the Oakland, Calif., resident says she realized she couldn’t wait for a vaccine to fulfill her dreams. She’s now embarking on her 13th attempt to get pregnant. As a single woman, she sometimes worries about handling the stress of trying to get pregnant—and stay healthy—by herself during a health crisis.

“There might not be someone right there to say, ‘Hey, you’re spinning. You’re kind of falling down a rabbit hole right now,’ ” she says of managing the anxiety.

Chelsea Powers, a 31-year-old mother of one in Carrollton, Texas, decided to try for a second baby despite being furloughed in May from her job at a real estate company.

“We just decided that our lives couldn’t just stop,” says Ms. Powers, who found out she was pregnant in June. “There’s never really the right time to have a baby.”

Navigating a career setback and financial blow while preparing for a newborn has been tough. Ms. Powers grappled with whether to reveal her pregnancy during job interviews. She refinanced her mortgage and began buying meat in bulk from Costco to save money. Then, in November, she was formally laid off.

“As things progressed and got worse, I definitely felt like, ‘What were we thinking? Why did we do this? This is insane,’ ” Ms. Powers says.

But she also feels a sense of peace. “The closer I get to meeting him, it just doesn’t matter anymore.”


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