(via The Canadian Press)

(via The Canadian Press)

Conceived and born in a pandemic: December babies show unique experience of pregnancy

Most pregnant people with COVID experience mild sickness and recover, says experts

Michelle Farrugia was in the Dominican Republic on vacation with her husband when news hit in March that the COVID-19 health crisis had been declared a global pandemic.

The couple rushed back to their Bowmanville, Ont., home as case counts began climbing worldwide. Soon after, amid the stress and commotion of the early days of the pandemic, Farrugia found out she was pregnant with their first child.

“We were so excited, then reality kind of hit, like, ‘oh my goodness, we’re going to be pregnant during a pandemic,’” Farrugia said. “We absolutely didn’t think we’d still be in it nine months later.”

Farrugia, along with husband Mark Weldon, welcomed baby boy Nolan James Weldon on Dec. 3, about a week earlier than expected. Like other parents of December babies, Farrugia experienced her entire pregnancy in the COVID era.

While Farrugia avoided a COVID infection throughout her pregnancy, that wasn’t the case for every person expecting.

Canada has seen more than 2,000 COVID cases in pregnant people since March. And preliminary findings of a national surveillance project show that those who contracted the virus during pregnancy were at an increased risk of hospitalization (11 per cent of studied cases from March 1 to Sept. 30) and ICU admission (2.3 per cent)compared to non-pregnant women of similar ages. The survey also found that 15 per cent of babies born to women with COVID-19 in Canada were premature, approximately double the national average.

Dr. Deborah Money, an obstetrics and gynecology professor at UBC who’s leading the project, stressed that severe outcomes are rare, however, and most pregnant people with COVID experience mild sickness and recover.

Some of the uptick in hospitalization might be explained by cautious bias, she said, with pregnant patients more likely to be admitted to hospital when something’s wrong.

It also wasn’t surprising to see more serious COVID outcomes in pregnant people, she added, since that pattern exists with other respiratory viruses.

“We think it’s a combination, probably of the changes in the immune response and physiological changes related to being pregnant,” Money explained. “And later in pregnancy, there’s somewhat restricted lung capacity when the uterus is squeezing up there.”

A baby acquiring COVID, either while in the womb or shortly after birth is also rare, Money said, though it has happened. A newborn in Calgary tested positive for the virus in November and spent two weeks in hospital recovering.

While Farrugia didn’t have to worry about any of that as a healthy woman, the pandemic impacted her pregnancy in less direct ways.

In-person medical appointments were limited in the initial stages of the pandemic, unless the pregnant patient proved higher risk for complications. When in-person care was needed, those visits were modified with mask-wearing and distancing.

Some jurisdictions limited the patient to one support person while other areas requested they attend alone.

Farrugia had a telehealth appointment with her general practitioner after taking a home pregnancy test on April 1, but didn’t actually see a doctor until her first ultrasound at 12 weeks. Not knowing how her baby was doing in that time was tough to handle.

“You find out you’re pregnant but can’t get checked out (right away) to see if there’s a heartbeat or anything,” she said. “So you’re just trying to nurture your body hoping that everything’s gonna be OK.”

Farrugia’s husband was with her at the time of delivery, but no visitors were allowed in the hospital. With Christmas so soon after Nolan’s birth, Farrugia says it’s been disappointing to not share the baby’s first holiday with her large family.

Cristina Pereira of Brampton, Ont., is facing a similar experience.

Her second child, a daughter named Claudia, was delivered on Sunday in a planned C-section. While husband Pedro was allowed in the room, Pereira missed the social celebration she felt when son Samuel was born three years ago.

Going through her third trimester in a COVID hotspot — one Brampton neighbourhood recorded a positivity rate of nearly 20 per cent last month — was also tough, increasing Pereira’s anxiety for her and her baby’s health and further stifling her social interactions when a second lockdown hit.

While Pereira described her second pregnancy as “isolating,” her concern now is on how maternity leave will feel.

“I (have to) adapt to a new baby and being a mother of two while more closures are happening … I’m not able to join mommy groups or have extracurricular outlets available for my children and my own wellbeing.”

Dr. Vanessa Poliquin, an OBGYN and assistant professor at the University of Manitoba, says social isolation is a concern when it comes to pre- and postnatal mental health.

Poliquin reminds her patients to practice self-care, and urges them to “maximize virtual platforms to interact with their support system” when possible.

“Pregnancy and being a new parent to a little human is stressful at the best of times, but it’s heightened (now),” she said.

When it comes to COVID treatment or vaccines, pregnant people have been largely excluded from clinical trials, making it hard for health organizations to decipher safety data for those populations.

The Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada (SOGC) released a statement last week saying that for those more likely to contract the virus or suffer a severe outcome, “the risk of not getting the COVID-19 vaccine outweighs the theorized and undescribed risk of being vaccinated during pregnancy or while breastfeeding.” They added, however, that advice could change “as further evidence becomes available.”

The experiences of those going through their pregnancies over the last nine months will have varied from person to person, Poliquin says, but she admires her patients’ resilience.

“Being pregnant, being a new parent, that demands a lot of courage,” she said. “And for people who are becoming new parents during this pandemic, I think they’re going to have a special variety of courage and strength.”

Melissa Couto Zuber, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Surrey Council Chambers. (File photo)
Surrey council approves $420,570 in grants for local arts, culture groups

This happened at Monday night’s council meeting, to cover 2021

Investigators placed dozens of yellow evidence markers on the ground near the site of a fatal shooting in Langley City early Wednesday morning. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance Times)
UPDATE: 22-year-old man killed in targeted shooting in Langley

South Surrey vehicle fire may be linked to homicide: police

Surrey-raised actor Michael Coleman in some of the roles he’s played since the mid-1990s. (submitted photo)
Chat with Robin Williams helped send Surrey’s Coleman into world of acting

‘For me, it was a game-changer,’ says co-founder of Story Institute acting school

Friends and family of Paul Prestbakmo (from left: Barbara Calder, Leah Charles, Jimmy Slater, Angela Prestbakmo and Liz Prestbakmo) gather outside Surrey Provincial Court on Tuesday (Jan. 26, 2021). (Tracy Holmes photo)
South Surrey murder victim stabbed 42 times: pathologist

RCMP digital-evidence specialist also among witnesses

Surrey City Hall. (File photo)
OUR VIEW: Surrey’s public hearings are for being heard

Surrey public hearings of late have been devolving into something less than intended

Dr. Penny Ballem, a former deputy health minister, discusses her role in leading B.C.’s COVID-19 vaccination program, at the B.C. legislature, Jan. 22, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C. holds steady with 407 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday

14 deaths, no new outbreaks in the health care system

B.C. Premier John Horgan speaks at B.C. legislature on the province’s mass vaccination plan for COVID-19, Jan. 22, 2021. (B.C. government)
COVID-19 quarantine not an option for B.C., John Horgan says

Apres-ski parties increase risk, not interprovincial travel

Worker at Swartz Bay terminal on Monday, January 20, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito)
Former BC Ferries employee alleges he was fired because of his race

Imraan Goondiwala has been granted a BC Human Rights Tribunal hearing

Some of the fake gold sold by con artists in B.C. RCMP said there have been reports of the scam in Richmond, Coquitlam, Burnaby, Langley and New Westminster from Jan. 17 through Jan. 22 (RCMP)
‘Dubai gold’ scam is back in the Lower Mainland

If someone offers to sell gold jewelry at a bargain, it’s probably fake, police warn

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Rodney and Ekaterina Baker have been ticketed and charged under the Yukon’s Civil Emergency Measures Act for breaking isolation requirements in order to sneak into a vaccine clinic and receive Moderna vaccine doses in Beaver Creek. (Facebook/Submitted)
B.C. couple who travelled to Yukon for COVID vaccine ineligible for 2nd dose until summer

The province is ensuring those eligible to receive the vaccine get the second shot within 42 days

(File)
Mask dispute in court leaves Vancouver cop with broken leg

Man allegedly refused to put on a mask and resisted arrest

(Kraft Dinner/Twitter)
Kraft Dinner launches candy-flavoured mac and cheese just in time for Valentine’s Day

Sweet and cheesy treat will be here just in time for the cheesiest holiday of the year

Most Read