Bringing a new child into the world is already fraught thanks to our current health care system — COVID-19 brings a whole new set of complications.
Liz Sczudlo, who is eight months pregnant, recently found out she will learn to take care of her newborn with a sack of flour and the internet. Her hospital-led, hands-on baby care workshop, which, among other things, teaches new parents how to swaddle their babies and provides them with breastfeeding tips, is generally taught live with life-like baby dolls — not sacks of flour. But in the wake of COVID-19, the hospital has modified the class to take place online.
“They sent an email saying they obviously can’t give out baby dolls virtually,” Sczudlo says. “So now they recommend finding something roughly the shape of a baby, like a sack of flour, to practice. We had to laugh. … We’re going to do it because it’s better than nothing. But it’s just — it’s surreal.”
Change and unpredictability have been constant during the current pandemic, but pregnant women have been especially affected as they navigate their health care and plans for having — and rearing — a child in 2020.
During the initial days of COVID-19, babies, children and pregnant women were considered to be less vulnerable to the virus, but as the pandemic wages on that’s proven to be more complex. The Los Angeles Times recently reported that among the more than 32,000 confirmed cases of the virus within L.A. County, approximately 134 pregnant women have tested positive for COVID-19. Among those women, nearly 30 have given birth, including one stillborn infant. Of the 24 babies tested for the virus at birth, none were reported positive for the novel coronavirus.
In the wake of all this uncertainty, we talked to three women, all in their third trimester, to get a snapshot of their lives during this time when baby showers are canceled, family and loved ones can only have limited contact and hospital guidelines and doctor visits are in constant flux.
Priscilla Bejarano is a 34-year-old paralegal living in downtown L.A. with her husband and two kids. She has a 5-year-old and a teenager, and is currently eight months pregnant with her third child. Bejarano plans to have her baby at Good Samaritan Hospital, where she says she’s grateful her husband will be allowed in the delivery room — but no other family or support is allowed.
“I was preparing for a solo labor,” she says, “and just had plans to have my husband on Facetime. But my doctor just confirmed that that won’t be the case.” To keep safe and healthy during the pandemic, she has hardly left their two-bedroom apartment since lockdown — not even for groceries.
Pandemic Pregnancy Surprises
“I’m going to say that our family has been one of the lucky ones [in] that my husband and I are both still employed and we’re working from home. So we haven’t been affected in ways that a lot of other families have been affected. I’m actually enjoying my pandemic pregnancy. Which sounds weird but honestly, to me, I think it’s the best time to be pregnant. I’m working from home. The kids are here. I’m not commuting. I still feel good. I have more time to spend with the kids before my third child comes. And I have more ‘me’ time. Which is something that is not going to be available to me once the baby comes.”
“My current babysitter is my mother-in-law, and she’s 70, and she takes public transportation to come to our place. So even if the lockdown is lifted by then, I don’t feel safe with her traveling on the train. We might have to find a new babysitter. Someone that we trust, that is safe and healthy and not out a lot. … I don’t know how that will work.”
“I highly, highly recommend finding an exercise routine or regimen. I feel like it’s definitely helped me a lot, not just with the physical symptoms of the pregnancy but also mentally.”
Liz Sczudlo is a 34-year-old TV writer living in Sherman Oaks who is pregnant with her first child. Her plan is to have the baby at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where the most recent rule states one support person is allowed in the delivery room and postpartum (whereas prior to the virus, more visitors could see mom and baby after delivery). So her husband will be in the delivery room — with a mask — and she says she’s concerned she will likely have to give birth in a mask, too.
On Their Own
“I have to acknowledge my privilege before I say any of this. My husband is still working and we have a house — we’re going to be fine. But we also had all these plans in place … I am feeling a lot of grief about not being able to be with my family. My mom’s on the East Coast, all of our parents are on the East Coast. My mom was going to be here when I had the baby and now she’s not.
We’re really going to be on our own in a way that I just had not anticipated. And that feels really daunting and scary and big.”
“I have gestational diabetes and hypertension, which is considered a high-risk pregnancy. So I’ve still had to go to the hospital for some appointments, and my last one, I wasn’t totally prepared for the high level of caution. It felt like I was in a dystopian novel.
It was on Monday, and I got off the elevator and there were two security guards who said, ‘Ma’am. Stop. Put your hands out.” I put my hand out and they sprayed them down and disinfected them. I walked another 5 feet and there was a nurse with a thermometer gun taking my temperature from afar. And then, once I passed her, there was a folding table where they made me take off my mask and put on a Cedars’ mask. And then, finally, once I got past the folding table, I got to the check-in desk, which is now behind a big Plexiglass barrier. We had to kind of shout across to communicate. And even then I didn’t see another patient the entire time I was waiting for 20 minutes (because I was early). It was just me and the ‘gauntlet’ you go through.
And then, the gestational diabetes educator came out to get me and walked me through the building back to her office. Every office was closed. I didn’t see other people in the building. It felt abandoned. When I did see people, it was janitors walking through, wiping door handles and wiping screens, which is great and I felt very grateful for that — but it was just strange. Especially because I haven’t been out at all, not even to the grocery store.”
The Silver Lining
“I’m such an over-scheduler and I tend to be running to four places at once when my life is not on pause. … So I think if COVID hadn’t happened and we weren’t in isolation, we probably just wouldn’t have every single night where we’re watching the ‘Great British Bake Off’ and going on two walks a day with the dog. It’s given us lots of time to be together in a meaningful way that I just don’t think we would have prioritized before the lockdown.”
“It’s the same as my non-pregnant COVID advice: I had to limit how often I let myself on Facebook and Twitter. And I limit my access to information. Because being more informed is not making me feel better. It was making me feel stressed.”
Jenna Selnick is a 31-year-old preschool teacher living in Westwood pregnant with her first child, a girl. Her work closed down the same week her maternity leave started. “It’s been weird to experience my entire third trimester all at home,” she says. She plans to have her baby at Kaiser Permanent West Los Angeles Medical Center — and expects to have a cesarean section because her daughter is currently breech. As of now, Selnick is only allowed one visitor in the room, which will be her husband.
“I was downloading all the new mom apps … and one of them was for first-time moms who are due in May of 2020. And it somehow connected me to a group of first-time moms on Instagram. So I’ve been a part of that group since my seventh week of pregnancy.
The whole group has been having babies this whole time. And it’s been a wealth of information and support. And we’ve had three or four moms have theirs in the last month or so. So, I’m not going to be the only one having a kid during this particular part of the year. That’s been a really great support system.”
Mom Quarantine, Too
“My parents have been super, super fantastic when it comes to making sure they’re safe during this time. My mom actually just was able to, fortunately, get tested so she’s not positive for anything. So I’ve seen both of them a couple of times. I had to for my own mental health, and my doctor OK’ed it. And my mom is actually going to be quarantining with us when the baby comes for a few weeks.”
“No one else is allowed over. I have no problem saying no. I’ve joked with people, ‘We have a balcony that looks out onto the street. We will gladly reenact ‘Lion King’ for you.
Even if we weren’t dealing with COVID, we would still be saying no a lot to visitors. We don’t know who’s vaccinated. We don’t know who is secretly sick like, we don’t know. We have no control over those situations.
We’ve all gotten used to Facetiming — so that’s what we’ll do for now.”
“My biggest advice is just to make sure you have a support system, whether it’s in your house or out in the world of social media.”