(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

The data from the latest BCCDC reporting period. Image courtesy of B.C. Centre for Disease Control
Cluster mostly confined to Fernie: Sparwood Mayor

David Wilks said only a handful of cases were elsewhere in the Elk Valley

Toronto’s Mass Vaccination Clinic is shown on Sunday January 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Interior Health reports 2 more deaths, 83 new COVID-19 cases

Health authority also identifies new virus cluster in Fernie

Downtown Fernie is pictured after a snowfall.
South Columbia Search and Rescue called in the Nelson Search and Rescue and Kootenay Valley Helicopters to provide a long line rescue. Photo: BCSAR submitted.
Long-line rescue needed for injured hiker near Trail

Members of South Columbia and Nelson SAR and Kootenay Valley Helicopters did a long-line evacuation

A sign indicating a COVID-19 testing site is displayed inside a parking garage in West Nyack, N.Y., Monday, Nov. 30, 2020. The site was only open to students and staff of Rockland County schools in an effort to test enough people to keep the schools open for in-person learning. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
4 more deaths, 54 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

This brings the total to 66 deaths in the region

British Columbia Health Minister Adrian Dix looks on as Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry addresses the media during a news conference at the BC Centre of Disease Control in Vancouver B.C. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
B.C. announces 485 new COVID-19 cases, fewest deaths in months

‘The actions we take may seem small, but will have a big impact to stop the virus,” urges Dr. Henry

Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News
Search called off for small plane that went down in rough water south of Victoria

Plane bound for Port Angeles from Alaska believed to have one occupant, an Alaskan pilot

Royal B.C. Museum conservator Megan Doxsey-Whitfield kneels next to a carved stone pillar believed to have significance as a First Nations cultural marker by local Indigenous people. The pillar was discovered on the beach at Dallas Road last summer. Museum curatorial staff have been working with Songhees and Esquimalt Nation representatives to gain a clearer picture of its use. (Photo courtesy Royal BC Museum)
Stone carving found on Victoria beach confirmed Indigenous ritual pillar

Discussion underway with the Esquimalt and Songhees about suitable final home for the artifact

Former Vancouver Giants forward Evander Kane is seen here in Game 7 of the second round of the 2009 WHL playoffs against the Spokane Chiefs (Sam Chan under Wikipedia Commons licence)
Gambling debts revealed in details of bankruptcy filing by hockey star Evander Kane

Sharks left winger and former Vancouver Giants player owes close to $30 million total

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

Othman “Adam” Hamdan, pictured in front of Christina Lake’s Welcome Centre, was acquitted of terrorism related charges in 2017. He has been living in Christina Lake since November 2020. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Man acquitted on terrorism charges awaits deportation trial while living in Kootenays

Othman Ayed Hamdan said he wants to lead a normal life while he works on his upcoming book

B.C. Premier John Horgan wears a protective face mask to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 prior to being sworn in by The Honourable Janet Austin, Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia during a virtual swearing in ceremony in Victoria, Thursday, November 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Premier Horgan calls jumping COVID vaccine queue ‘un-Canadian’

Horgan says most people in B.C. are doing their best to follow current public health guidelines

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, and Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart share a laugh while speaking to the media before sitting down for a meeting at City Hall, in Vancouver, on Friday August 30, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
Vancouver mayor, Health Canada to formally discuss drug decriminalization

Kennedy Stewart says he’s encouraged by the federal health minister’s commitment to work with the city

Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops. (Dave Eagles/Kamloops This Week file photo)
COVID-19 outbreak at Kamloops hospital grows to 66 cases

A majority of cases remain among staff at Royal Inland Hospital

Most Read