(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

Submissions are open for Vancouver Island Regional Library’s new online arts and literature magazine, ‘Sea and Cedar.’ (Bulletin file photo)
Submissions sought for library’s new digital arts and literature publication

‘Sea and Cedar’ magazine an initiative of Nanaimo Harbourfront Library

Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools. (News Bulletin photo)
Bear seen at Park Avenue Elementary School field in Nanaimo

Students being advised to walk in groups and avoid the bushes

A battery electric-hybrid ferry, pictured here, is expected to make its way to Vancouver Island in late 2021, says B.C. Ferries. (Submitted photo)
Hybrid ferry for Gabriola-Nanaimo route launches in shipyard in Europe

Two hybrid vessels to replace MV Quinsam by early 2022, says B.C. Ferries

Vancouver Island Symphony conductor Pierre Simard is releasing his new synthwave album ‘Plandemic’ on March 5. (Photo courtesy Olivia Simard)
Vancouver Island Symphony conductor releasing side-project EP of electronic music

Pierre Simard, recording as Plan Omega, presents ‘Plandemic’

Two women were arrested in Nanaimo for refusing to wear masks and causing disturbance on a B.C. Ferries vessel. (File photo)
Nanaimo ferry passengers who refused to wear masks and caused disturbance fined $460 each

Incident happened Sunday, Feb. 21, aboard the Queen of Cowichan

Dr. Bonnie Henry talk about the next steps in B.C.'s COVID-19 Immunization Plan during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, January 22, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
456 new COVID-19 cases in B.C., 2 deaths

Since January 2020, 78,278 have tested positive for the novel coronavirus in B.C.

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
NDP will not trigger election as long as pandemic continues: Singh

‘“We will vote to keep the government going’

A BC Ferries worker out of Swartz Bay has tested positive for COVID-19. (Black Press Media file photo)
Swartz Bay ferry worker confirmed to have COVID-19

Employees in direct contact with worker now isolating

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)
Vaccinating essential workers before seniors in B.C. could save lives: experts

A new study says the switch could also save up to $230 million in provincial health-care costs

(Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. residents can reserve provincial camp sites starting March 8

B.C. residents get priority access to camping reservations in province

Nanaimo’s Joanne Secord is a quarterfinalist in Inked Magazine’s Cover Model Search contest. (Janayh Wright Photography)
50-year-old Nanaimo mom hopes her tattoos will earn her a magazine cover shoot

Joanne Secord on cusp of semifinals in Inked Magazine contest

Nanaimo Courthouse. (News Bulletin file photo)
Motorist sentenced to two years for dangerous driving causing death on Gabriola Island

William Goosman pleaded guilty last fall in connection with incident that killed Jay Dearman

According to a new poll, a majority of Canadians want to see illicit drugs decriminalized. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Majority of Canadians think it’s high time to decriminalize illicit drugs: poll

More than two-times the B.C. residents know someone who died from an overdose compared to rest of Canada

“Support your city” reads a piece of graffiti outside the Ministry of Finance office. (Jane Skrypnek/News Staff)
Slew of anti-bylaw graffiti ‘unacceptable’ says Victoria mayor, police

Downtown businesses, bylaw office and Ministry of Finance vandalized Wednesday morning

Most Read