“But… what if?”
I’ve asked myself that question a few hundred times over the past pandemic year.
We could quarantine for two weeks, get tested, and then visit grandparents! But… what if we pick up COVID on our road trip and pass it on to them?
Our foster son is starting visits with his bio parents! But… what if they unknowingly have COVID and expose him?
Our playdates in the woods with friends are saving our homeschooling sanity. But… what if (despite masks) an errant sneeze sends germs through the air that we then breathe in?
Our family of five has fared well over the last year — we’re healthy, our jobs and finances are intact, and we’re somehow surviving the lack of social contact as we hunker down together, completely removed from workplaces and schools and the homes of friends and family.
But when I saw the double lines on a pregnancy test on the last days of 2020, the weight of the “what ifs” really hit me.
I’m pregnant. What if I get COVID?!
Pregnancy increases the risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19. Pregnant women are more likely to develop respiratory complications requiring intensive care than women who aren’t pregnant. They’re more likely to be placed on a ventilator. They’re more likely to die.
(And this is to say nothing of the hard reality for pregnant women who are Black or Hispanic or who have underlying medical conditions — they are even more disproportionately affected by a COVID infection.)
So you can imagine my delight when I got a call from our foster son’s social worker letting us know their agency might have a few extra vaccine doses for foster parents once all the social workers had received their shots. Would my husband and I like to put our names on the list?
Yes, yes, yes!
I began to have visions of freedom — of airplane travel and indoor playdates and trips to all the museums and libraries we’ve been missing so much. Most of all, I was beyond ready to put my fears of contracting COVID while pregnant behind me.
But wait. I was 11 weeks pregnant. I didn’t even know if pregnant women were allowed to get the vaccine. And if they were, should I really roll up my sleeve and invite an unknown substance into my body while I’m in the middle of giving life to a growing fetus?
You see, I’m more than a little particular about what goes inside or on my body (and the bodies of the three little humans I mother each day). I’m that mom who devours organic spinach smoothies, recoils at the sight of parabens and phthalates on a label, and doesn’t even own a bottle of Tylenol. Also, I have not followed the recommended immunization schedule for my little guys, opting instead to delay some shots, space out others, and even decline one.
But a few minutes of research about the vaccine and pregnancy showed me that not only had pregnant women not been included in vaccine trials, no doctors were recommending it. My dreams of our new life were immediately dashed.
A month later, I revisited the vaccine-while-pregnant research to learn the latest. (If we’ve learned anything during COVID, it’s that the research is ever-evolving.) Just days earlier, the American College of Gynecology and Obstetrics, the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine, and the CDC had made a new recommendation: COVID-19 vaccines should be offered to pregnant individuals who are eligible for vaccination. It was now an option.
But was it the right option for me?
I read every news story and journal article and personal anecdote I could find. The advice was conflicting.
The CDC suggested women talk with their doctors and decide for themselves. The WHO recommended against the vaccine unless a woman was at high risk for getting COVID. Pregnant healthcare workers broadcasted their shot selfies and encouraged others to do the same. The women who had become pregnant during the initial vaccine trials hadn’t shown any adverse reactions. But, of course, in the dark corners of Instagram there were accounts with names like “cv19vaccinereactions3.0,” where claims of negative effects like miscarriage and infertility were being linked to the vaccine.
I made up my mind and changed my mind multiple times a day. I talked to friends and acquaintances who were in the same pregnant-during-COVID boat. (One, a doctor, had carefully weighed the options and moved forward with getting the vaccine; another said her husband wouldn’t let her get it because he’d read that it might be linked to autism.)
Finally, I spoke with the power trio of nurse, midwife, and doctor at my OB/GYN’s office. Though they acknowledged we don’t know everything about this vaccine and even this disease, they felt confident that experts know enough to believe this is a good and safe choice for pregnant women.
They explained the background on the vaccine’s development, the science behind mRNA vaccines, and the data that had been analyzed so far in the few thousand pregnant women who had reported getting vaccinated while pregnant.
So with my mind at ease for the first time in a long time, I made my appointment. I received my two shots at 15 and 19 weeks pregnant, and I haven’t looked back.
I’m thrilled to know that in just a few months, our fourth little boy will join a family that not only loves him but has taken bold steps to be healthy enough to take care of him. More importantly, though, I’m proud to be among the ranks of pregnant women who took a leap of faith to not only protect ourselves and our little ones, but to become part of the solution to a problem that has plagued our worldwide family.