Courageous parents who have been navigating pregnancy and/or parenting after loss during this pandemic, I see you. I feel your fatigue. I am tired too.
We have been living in this pandemic for the past 21 months, nearly 2 years. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States, my rainbow baby (born after the consecutive losses of her brothers at 20 weeks) had just turned 1 year old. Now, she is 6 weeks shy of her 3rd birthday, and I am 25 weeks pregnant with our fourth child.
Like everyone else, I cannot believe how much time has passed since this all started.
During this pandemic, our household has been incredibly cautious. In the first two months of our pandemic shutdowns, our daughter required multiple surgeries and hospital stays with only one of us allowed to be there at a time. It was a really, really hard time for us. The trauma from this combined with our loss history results in us being very careful with the risks we take with her. We often feel like we evaluate pandemic-related risk differently than others around us who have not experienced the loss of a child, but we want to do everything in our power to stop her from getting COVID-19 before she is vaccinated.
We also considered the pandemic when deciding whether we were ready to try to become pregnant again.
We had already decided we were comfortable having a few years between our living children. After three years of pregnancy in a row, followed by a year of breastfeeding and raising an infant, we decided we needed more of a break before diving back into IVF and pregnancy again. In the midst of the pandemic in fall 2020, I had some moments of wondering whether we should move up our plans, but we decided it would be better to wait until I was able to get vaccinated and then plan for an embryo transfer in the summer like we had been thinking.
At the time, I didn’t expect the pandemic to be impacting this pregnancy as much as it has.
I felt like once I was vaccinated, I would feel pretty safe from COVID-19 and we would just be worried about protecting our daughter. At this point, we know the research on vaccine safety and effectiveness in protecting pregnant people and their babies from serious complications of COVID-19 is very strong. In fact, moving into the summer of 2021, things were looking good. We got the ball rolling with our fertility treatment team and had a successful embryo transfer in July.
My partner is a high school teacher who was headed back to entirely in-person classes in August 2021, and I was going to be back to the office as a psychologist in higher education, planning to find a comfortable balance of in-person therapy and telehealth. We had planned to have our daughter back in daycare. She hadn’t been in daycare since March 2020, and with the numbers going down and anticipation high for the children’s vaccines, we were feeling good about that plan. But as August neared and the delta variant hit, we changed our minds. It didn’t feel worth the risk to have her back in daycare when we were able to work out other plans for her to have less exposure. I know this is what is right for us, and our daughter is happy, developing well, and loving all of the time she gets with her four grandparents. We are relieved that we know we are doing what we can to protect her and grateful for those who are helping us do that.
But still, I am tired. I am tired of worrying and tired of having to take all of these extra steps to protect her from something I never knew I was going to need to protect her from.
I am tired of feeling guilty and wondering whether we are making the right decisions for her development and her safety. I am tired of wondering whether we are being overprotective or just protective enough. I am tired of having to make decisions about the risks.
And now, here we are, with the omicron variant of COVID-19 surging around the country.
We have been incredibly careful and taken all the steps we can. We both wear KN95s at work and in public indoor spaces, we don’t eat inside restaurants, we don’t go out, we see very limited people inside unmasked, and yet, when the omicron variant hit the United States in the first few weeks of December, my husband tested positive. Here we were, with COVID-19 finally hitting our family in the way we had feared it would. His job put him at higher risk of exposure and even as careful as he could be, the contagiousness of this variant resulted in him catching COVID-19.
Thankfully, although we thought it was a cold, my daughter and I started distancing from my husband as soon as he had symptoms, and we both luckily ended up testing negative. I somehow managed 10 days of being alone at home, with my daughter and our dog, while also trying to work as much as I could.
I will continue to describe that time similar to other difficult experiences I have had after losing our babies – it isn’t the hardest thing I have ever done, but it definitely was not easy.
Our exposure as close contacts to COVID-19 delayed a prenatal visit and ultrasound for me, and when my next visit occurred I was informed that my partner will no longer be allowed at prenatal visits and ultrasounds, as he was before. This was something I had been worried about before starting this pregnancy. I didn’t want to go through the first 20 weeks without him being able to attend my appointments. We found out that we lost our sons at our 20-week ultrasounds in both of their pregnancies. There was no reason for concern prior to these scans, and when we went in we found out their hearts had stopped.
When I was pregnant with my daughter I didn’t go to an ultrasound alone until I was 24 weeks pregnant and feeling really consistent movement. I am so grateful that I made it to 24 weeks this time before being told that my partner could not attend appointments. Even if we wouldn’t have planned for him to attend every appointment, it still would feel nice for that to be our decision rather than him not being able to come. I know this is something that so many pregnant people and their partners have faced throughout the last two years. At this point in the pandemic, though, I really didn’t expect it to be happening again.
Along with so many other parents of infants and toddlers, I was disappointed to hear the news two weeks ago that one of the vaccine studies for younger children will need more time. I remember last summer thinking that maybe my daughter would be able to get vaccinated in the fall of 2021. Then, up until hearing that news, I had been very hopeful that by her 3rd birthday there would be a COVID-19 vaccine for her. Now, I don’t know what to think or what to hope for.
This pandemic feels never-ending to those of us with children under age five.
I have more questions than I hoped I would at this point. How much longer will we have to wait for a vaccine for these age groups? How many months of trying to avoid our daughter being exposed? How much longer will we feel like we are being paranoid or overreacting? How many more months of worrying about whether she or I could have more severe complications, despite my vaccination status and the fact that “most kids” with COVID-19 have mild symptoms?
I find myself following informative pages on social media and reading articles from experts hoping I can get answers to these questions, but the reality is that I typically find the answers are the ones I already know. There is a reality that we won’t know how much longer all of this will be until we get there.
I keep wanting to feel like I am doing all that I can, but I already felt we were, and we still ended up with COVID-19 in our house.
I am hoping that it will feel safe enough for my children to be in daycare by August 2022. I am hoping that my baby will get antibodies from me having received my booster shot during the first trimester, and I am hoping, assuming they arrive safely this spring, that breastfeeding will go well and may provide them even more COVID-19 antibodies to protect them as much as I can until they are eligible for a vaccine.
Fellow loss parents who are weary and fatigued from this pandemic, I see you.
Just like you, I knew from my entry into parenthood that my job was to do all I could to protect my child. I learned from the losses of my first two babies that there were some things I wouldn’t be able to protect my children from. Still, I didn’t imagine having to protect my children from a virus in a global pandemic. Just like you, I didn’t expect it to be like this. I wish I had more answers or solutions for you, but please know you are not alone. I am with you.
- 5 Ways to Help Support a Pregnant after Loss Mom During the Pandemic
- Why Evaluating Risk is Different for Loss Parents
- Even if we think we are ready, is now the right time? Deciding whether to choose pregnancy after loss during a pandemic
- Before and After: A Letter to Loss Parents During the Pandemic
- Coping Skills for Pregnancy After Loss during a Pandemic: Remember that we’re your PALS in a PANDEMIC