Expectant mother looks for 'ray of sunshine' amid concerns
GALESBURG — From revamped baby showers and forced downtime to solo sonograms and revised birth plans, the coronavirus pandemic is reshaping how pregnant women prepare for birth and the caring of newborns.
Pregnant women are advised to follow the same hygiene and social distancing guidelines as others to reduce chances of contracting the virus, but the fears and restrictions can feel more intense for those who are expecting.
"It’s scary because there is not a lot of research on how it affects mothers and babies," said Miranda Hines of rural Abingdon, about 160 miles southwest of Rockford, who is expecting her first child next month.
Affected pregnant women are not known to have more serious COVID-19 symptoms than the general public, according the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, but researchers are still learning about the virus.
Hines goes to her prenatal appointments alone now, and had her first sonogram by herself as well. She’s disappointed her parents and in-laws won’t be there for the birth, but is relieved her husband will be allowed in the delivery room.
"As a first-time mom, that was really weighing on me," Hines said.
Hines’ family threw her an outdoor drive-and-drop shower, with guests driving by to drop off their gifts and family members seated appropriately six feet apart.
Preparing for the baby’s arrival doesn’t stop even as daily life has changed.
"He’s going to be here in a few weeks whether the virus is here or not," Hines said.
Kate Bullis and her partner opted to change their birth plan for their baby, due May 13, amid the coronavirus pandemic.
With an at-risk family member, Bullis was strictly following social distancing guidelines and was anxious about going out for doctor appointments.
"You worry enough being pregnant," Bullis said. "Pregnancy is a job for worry. But it’s become exponential."
After extensive research, the couple is now planning a home birth as long as Bullis remains healthy and low-risk, and her prenatal visits are now in-home as well.
Happy with the change in birth plan, Bullis still battles emotions about being away from family during the last weeks of her pregnancy, and is sad about things like her baby shower and maternity photos that were canceled.
Bullis also is sad her family won’t be at the birth, and likely won’t be able to see her newborn for a while, but she's keeping it in perspective.
"This is scary for all of us, but when he is born he is going to be this wonderful ray of sunshine," Bullis said.
The other silver lining for Bullis is forced downtime. As the owner of two downtown businesses and president of the Galesburg Business Association, time off is rare. She’s grateful for the time to nest and prepare for the baby at home.
"The nursery will be ready," she said.
Women who give birth during the pandemic may experience more spaced out prenatal and postpartum visits. That’s been the case for Chelsea Ekstedt, whose prenatal appointments are less frequent than they normally would be at this stage in her pregnancy.
She goes to the appointments alone after a required prescreening. In the waiting room, chairs are fewer and far between, and everyone in the office wears masks.
Ekstedt is hopeful things will be closer to normal by June 10, when she is due with her third child. She and her husband both grew up in Knox County and now live in Springfield.
With visits from family on hold, she wonders who would watch her two boys while she gives birth if shelter-at-home orders are still in place by then. Her mother, a nurse, would normally come.
"I am holding out hope that there will be some improvement by then," Esktedt said.
With both parents working from home, the soon-to-be family of five has seen a lot of changes the past few weeks. Ekstedt said things like going to prenatal yoga classes that she relied on during previous pregnancies are no longer an option.
"The things that would help me destress, I am not able to do anymore," Ekstedt said.
Researchers don’t think it’s likely that COVID-19 would pass to a fetus during pregnancy or delivery, but there is still a lot that is unknown.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 has not been detected in amniotic fluid or breast milk in limited studies.
A small number of babies have tested positive, though it’s not known if the infection occurred before or after birth, according to the CDC. Illinois reported the country’s first COVID-19-related infant death in late March.
After birth, person-to-person spread can affect newborns, just like other viruses and illness, according to the CDC. An infant’s immune system doesn’t fully develop for several months.
Holly Hardy gave birth to her third child, a daughter, in late February. At the time, there were only a few confirmed cases of COVID-19 statewide.
While the family was welcoming a new baby, they were also moving to a new home. Friends and family at first came by to see the baby and help pack, but the threat became real over the first few weeks of the baby’s life.
Within a few weeks, non-essential businesses were closed. Soon after that, the state was under a shelter-at-home order. By Sunday, there were more than 20,000 cases in Illinois.
"It all happened so quickly," said Hardy, who lives in Galva and works as a hairstylist in Galesburg.
"Living in a small town, we all tend to believe we are safe from it. But that’s not true," Hardy said.
For now, she is keeping her family at home, working on the new house, and being very careful when she ventures out for groceries.
While she might have taken her older children out on a nice day when they were babies, her newborn daughter is staying home.
"It is very scary to think she could catch something," Hardy said.