(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

Current unmarked residential streets are 50 km/h, but Greater Vancouver municipalities might consider dropping that to 30 km/h. (Black Press Media file photo)
Oak Bay, Esquimalt and Sidney join Saanich in application to reduce residential road speeds to 30 km/h

Victoria also taking part in pilot to change default speed to 30 km/h from 50 km/h

Demonstrators at the legislature on April 14 called on the province to decriminalize drug possession and provide widespread access to regulated safe supply across B.C. (Jake Romphf/News Staff)
Rally calls for decriminalization, safe supply as overdose emergency turns 5

From 2016 to the end of February, 7,072 British Columbians died due to overdose

(Black Press Media file photo)
Privacy concerns keep COVID-19 cases at University of Victoria off the record

Island Health, UVic not sharing specifics after internal notice confirms coronavirus case

A man with a history of sexual offences was arrested after he followed and aggressively tried to talk to two young woman on the weekend. Black Press File Photo
Man convicted of sexual offences arrested after teens followed in Victoria

Women hid in a Quadra Village convenience store as man aggressively tried to get in

A few dozen students and parents gathered outside Lansdowne Middle School April 14 to protest proposed budget cuts to SD61 music programs. From left to right: Lyra Gaudin, Cleo Bateman, Abby Farish, Brigitte Peters, Enid Gaudin, Des Farish. (Jane Skrypnek/News Staff)
SD61’s proposed $7 million cuts threaten equity and inclusion, say parents, teachers

Music classes, inclusion services, reading programs on the line

(Black Press Media file photo)
POLL: Do you have a plan in place in the event of a tsunami?

Tsunamis have claimed the lives of more than 250,000 people between 1998… Continue reading

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of April 13

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

(Government of Canada)
Liberal MP caught stark naked during House of Commons video conference

William Amos, in Quebec, appeared on the screens of his fellow members of Parliament completely naked

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, Feb. 1, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count jumps to 1,168 Wednesday, nearly 400 in hospital

Now 120 coronavirus patients in intensive care, six more deaths

Moss covered branches are seen in the Avatar Old Growth Forest near Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island, B.C. Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. blockades aimed at protecting old-growth forests reveal First Nation split

Two Pacheedaht chiefs say they’re ‘concerned about the increasing polarization over forestry activities’ in the territory

One of the grand prizes for this year's Hometown Heroes Lottery includes a seaside home at SookePoint, $1.5 million, and an Audi Quattro. (Photo courtesy of Hometown Heroes)
Hometown Heroes Lottery features seaside home in Sooke

A stunning seaside home in Sooke could be yours for the price… Continue reading

(Amandalina Letterio - Capital News)
Kelowna demonstrators show support for Vancouver Island logging activists

Two Kelowna men stood atop a pedestrian bridge on Harvey Avenue to raise awareness about old-growth forests

City workers from Duncan were busy recently putting up street signs in both Hul’q’umi’num’ and English. (Submitted photo)
Hul’q’umi’num street signs installed in downtown Duncan

Partnership with Cowichan Tribes sees English street names twinned with Indigenous language

Most Read