After working as a mental health professional for 10 years, Catherine Seaver became a stay-at-home mom following the birth of her first baby. Now the parents of two girls, an 18-month-old and a 3-year-old, Seaver and her husband decided to expand their family last winter.
“We started trying to get pregnant in November, never expecting to have a baby during a pandemic,” she says.
Her husband was still traveling internationally for business when COVID-19 began spreading rapidly abroad (though he stopped when the stay-at-home order was put in place). By February, the Alexandria couple realized this pregnancy would be markedly different.
During doctor visits, people wore masks and there were posted warnings about coronavirus. In March, Seaver began wearing a mask to her prenatal appointments (the only time she left her house) as a safety precaution. “It is weird going into a medical setting now,” she says. “They immediately take your temperature when you walk inside.”
First her visits were spaced out for safety. Then she was switched to telehealth appointments when possible. Recently, Seaver was told by her doctor she could only have one visitor in the delivery room—and with protocols around the virus remaining unpredictable, even that is subject to change.
In hospitals around the nation, routine checkups for pregnant women have been impacted by the pandemic, as medical professionals work to balance the emotional and physical needs of pregnancy while limiting exposure to the virus. In some regions, this means pregnant women have had to head into the delivery room without a support person (whether that’s a partner, friend, family member or a professional doula).
For Seaver, the thought of potentially delivering her son alone triggers anxiety. “In the event of a medical health emergency, I need someone there to make decisions for me,” she says. “It will be very sad to not have my husband there for our son’s birth.”
And even if her husband is permitted in the delivery room, domestic travel restrictions and sheltering-in-place orders have made laboring alone a real possibility for Seaver. Her mother-in-law hopes to travel to Virginia and quarantine for a few weeks before entering their home. But if she cannot arrive in time, it would fall to Seaver’s husband to stay home to care for their daughters.
“The scariest part is feeling isolated,” says Seaver. “We are trying to figure out a plan for having a baby in July, while caring for two toddlers alone.”
Her only option is to research alternative labor support, such as hiring a doula. While her husband has remained stoic, it upsets him to see her stressed. “We want to have a contingency plan, but we are not in control,” he says.
To allay some of her fears, Seaver has turned to her former therapist for support and taken advantage of the resources provided by Postpartum Support Virginia, a nonprofit that helps mothers and expectant mothers deal with depression and anxiety. While Seaver says she feels fortunate to have a support network in place, she cannot help but feel sad.
“I am constantly feeling down about how lonely this [pregnancy] feels,” she says, “It feels selfish to say this, because everyone is going through something, but it really sucks.”
COVID-19 Impact: More than 100,000 babies are born in Virginia annually, with the majority of those in hospitals. As of press time, most hospitals in Northern Virginia were allowing one support person in the delivery room with a laboring mother.
This post originally appeared in our June/July 2020 print issue. For more Faces of the Pandemic, check out our cover story “We Stand Together. From 6 Feet Apart.” For more local coverage, subscribe to our weekly newsletters.