COVID-19 pandemic leaves pregnant women feeling isolated, 'invisible'
Pregnancy usually has ups (Strangers hold doors for you!) and downs (Strangers try to touch your stomach!). But what about during a global viral pandemic, when you don't interact with many strangers at all, and no one wants to touch a door knob, much less another person?
Pregnancy during a pandemic is definitely not what you expect when you're expecting.
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Chicago-area couple Jacklyn and Josh Moorman, both 28, struggled with infertility for four years before finding out they were finally expecting what Jacklyn called their "miracle" this past February.
"In the very early stages of pregnancy, I felt the joy and excitement I always imagined," Moorman told TODAY Parents. Then COVID-19 hit the United States in March and she lost her job, putting the couple in financial straits they did not expect.
They have since been dependent on the gifts from friends and family to prepare for their baby, and Moorman admitted that a baby shower by Zoom was "not how (she) ever imagined celebrating the growth of their family."
There have been other disappointments too. "I was never able to wear the cute maternity clothes, go shopping with family members, or have family members feel my baby move and just be together before baby arrives," Moorman said.
Her husband has not been allowed to attend any of her doctor appointments. "I had to sit to hear both the good and the bad news with no one there to hold my hand. And how sad I felt for him to miss out on seeing our miracle baby on the big screen during our exams!" she said.
"We don't go anywhere or do anything, we never see friends, and we spend very little time with family. This pregnancy has been filled with more anxiety, fear, and isolation than ever imagined."
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Moorman's sentiments echo those of many pregnant women she has worked with during the pandemic, said Sarah Gugluizza, a licensed clinical social worker who has both a private practice and provides mental health support to women and families through virtual clinic Maven.
"There is a real sense of isolation, loneliness, and grieving around the whole process," Gugluizza told TODAY Parents.
"Particularly, there's a grieving that's happening by people who've never had a baby before and really had all these expectations around what pregnancy was supposed to be like — who was supposed to support them and milestones like baby showers," she said.
Like the Moormans, Amanda Golden, 32, and her husband, Juan Piedrahita, 42, went through heartbreak that included a miscarriage and a molar pregnancy that developed into cancer before they conceived their "double-rainbow baby" last winter, just before the virus broke out.
They too saw all their fantasies of shopping for the nursery or going to ultrasounds together quickly disappear, and since Golden, who is a school counselor in Port St. Lucie, Florida, hasn't been around co-workers or seen many friends since March and both of their families live in New York, her pregnancy has felt almost invisible.
"That lack of social interaction on many levels is hard for everyone, but especially when you're pregnant," she said. "Usually, people sort of notice and say, 'Oh, wow, you're getting so big,' or 'Oh my gosh, you're glowing and you look wonderful, we're so excited for you.'
"I physically know that I'm pregnant. I feel the baby moving. I'm clearly bigger," said Golden, who has six weeks left until her due date. "But when you don't have those experiences, there are days that I just feel like, 'Am I really pregnant?'"
For Moorman, it's hard and confusing to have conflicting thoughts about the pregnancy and the baby she has wanted for so long.
"Sometimes I wonder, 'Why now?' and then I get so angry at myself for not being grateful and just excited that it's coming," she said.
"But then I worry about what is coming. Is a second and worse wave of corona really in our future? What will having my baby look like? Will my husband be allowed to be in the delivery room with me? Will I have to wear a mask? Will I be allowed to have visitors? And most importantly, will they take my baby away from me?"
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Gugluizza said that in her practice, pregnant women are struggling with these uncertainties surrounding giving birth during a COVID-19 outbreak as well as the questions about what will come afterward.
"I'm hearing a lot of anxiety around if they can have anybody come in their houses unless they get a COVID test and how to handle the discrepancies between people's beliefs about the virus," she said.
"When is baby safe to meet family? How will we avoid not disappointing everyone when we tell them for the safety of our baby we cannot let anyone kiss them or hold them without a mask?" asked Moorman.
And if you think people like to give unsolicited advice to expecting couples during "normal" times, try throwing a viral pandemic into the mix. "It is frustrating that everyone feels they need to give you their opinion on COVID and the associated risks," said Moorman's husband, Josh.
Gugluizza said friends and family can support and help pregnant women in their lives as the pandemic continues by listening to and validating their feelings.
"Normalize for them that they are not overthinking this. It's a very unsettling place to be in, it's a very anxiety-provoking place to be in, it's a very nerve-wracking place to be in," said Gugluizza. "Say, 'I hear you; I see you.'
"Then, say, 'What can we do to help you feel better if we can't change what's going on? Because right now, we can't change what's going on. What would help you feel supported?' If nobody asks the questions to those moms, that invisibility, that anxiety, that not having an outlet — that's where things could turn sour."
She also encouraged pregnant moms to reach out to trusted friends for help and not to be afraid to call the hospitals where they will deliver to ask about tours or online information resources so they can anticipate what births look like with COVID protocols in place.
Golden has found it helpful to make a conscious effort to keep her parents and her husband's mom up to date on her pregnancy and has weekly Zooms with extended family.
"When when it feels like Groundhog Day and you're not interacting with people, it's very easy to just kind of forget that there are people who do want to know and who do want to stay updated," she said.
"I'm trying to remember to send them pictures so that they can stay in the loop," she said. "It does give you that sense of connection to make sure that that they feel like they're involved in the pregnancy, because I'm sure from their point of view too, it's different and it's difficult."
Moorman tries to keep it in perspective.
"Every time I feel my little one kick or move, I am filled with joy, and it's a reminder to myself to just keep going," she said. "To make it though COVID, to make it through the fear, the loneliness, the judgments, and to try my best to embrace this time. The moment this little miracle baby is in my arms will for sure make all these sacrifices worth it.
"This isn't how we ever imagined it being, nor how we would ever want it to be. But it is, and we are here. And we are doing the best we can. That's all we can do."