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What’s it like to be pregnant amid a pandemic? New and prospective mothers share stories

Across the U.S., expectant parents and those who have recently given birth are confronting an unanticipated layer of stress due to coronavirus. Health care providers have had to rethink how best to offer prenatal care at a time people are being told to stay home. And some hospitals have barred visitors -- including partners -- during delivery due to the virus’ contagiousness. Amna Nawaz reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now we look at how the coronavirus outbreak is affecting soon-to-be-mothers.

    Nearly a million women in the U.S. are expected to give birth in the next three months. With health resources stretched thin and changing guidelines, many pregnant women around the country are finding themselves increasingly on edge.

    Amna Nawaz has this report.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Deborah Barak is due tomorrow. She and her partner live in New York, now the U.S. epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak. After several years of trying to conceive, this will be their first child.

  • Deborah Barak:

    It's been a struggle just to get to this point. My partner and I have dealt with some fertility problems and miscarriages. So, what should be just, like, pure joy for us, it just has this added layer.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Across the country, expectant mothers and those who've recently given birth are grappling with this new normal.

  • Alexandria Jordan:

    The pandemic has changed my pregnancy.

  • Hannah Beltre:

    It made everything a little bit more complicated.

  • Janice Jackson:

    It's just going to be — it's just going to be us.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Health care providers have had to rethink how best to deliver prenatal care in the middle of a global pandemic.

    For routine visits, many doctors are limiting in-person appointments, instead relying on telemedicine. During delivery, several hospitals have restricted or eliminated any visitors, including partners in some cases.

  • Hannah Beltre:

    It's completely empty.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Outside Chicago, Hannah Beltre recently gave birth to her daughter, Paola (ph). This delivery, she says, was a world away from her first.

  • Hannah Beltre:

    This time around, going into labor with just like three nurses at the nurses station and nobody walking the hallways. Like, you didn't see any other moms. You didn't see any other dads. And it was really just a very surreal, like, creepy situation.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Even harder, she says, is celebrating a new life while thousands around the world are mourning.

  • Hannah Beltre:

    You want to look back on these moments in your life and be happy about it and excited because you just brought this new human into the world. And they're beautiful. And all I'm going to think about is the fact that all these people were dying.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    For Alexandria Jordan, a physician's assistant in Cleveland, Ohio, the stress lies in the uncertainty. She's due on July 4, continues to work in a hospital, and is worried for her own health and the baby's.

  • Alexandria Jordan:

    I had this moment of severe anxiety, where I just was so scared that I was going to get this disease from work.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    A phone call with her O.B. calmed her for the moment. But a call with him the next day made her even more anxious.

  • Alexandria Jordan:

    He goes: "Just so you know, I'm actually being — in the emergency room being tested for coronavirus right now."

    I said: "What?" And then there's my stress level going up.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    In Alpharetta, Georgia, just north of Atlanta, Janice Jackson and her husband, John, will be caring for three children when their baby arrives in June.

    As with their older children, they'd planned to rely on family traveling in from out of state to help. Now they don't know how they will manage.

  • Janice Jackson:

    Who do you turn to when you have no one? Is there a possibility that I'm going to have to give childbirth by myself, because my husband's going to have to be home with my two older children?

    And that's a scary thought just thinking about it, because you need a lot of support after you give birth.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Another unknown? The effects of COVID-19 on pregnant women and their babies, including if the virus can pass from mother to child.

    Dr. Kjersti Aagaard is professor of maternal fetal medicine and obstetrics and gynecology at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children's Hospital.

  • Kjersti Aagaard:

    So, what we don't yet know is, what is the disproportionate risk for women of either requiring intensive care unit? Is it going to occur while they're pregnant, just after they deliver? What is the risk of death among pregnant women?

    We don't know that.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, says pregnant women might be more susceptible to viral respiratory infections, including COVID-19.

    A World Health Organization study of nearly 150 pregnant woman in China found they do not appear to be at higher risk of severe disease.

    But Dr. Aagaard says, caution is key.

  • Kjersti Aagaard:

    I think that women understand that those decisions are never made lightly. They're made with the acknowledgement, again, that we just don't know yet some of the key aspects of this virus. And we have to err on the side of, how can we be most safe with a mom and her baby?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    But for some women, black women in particular, a safe childbirth was a concern even pre-pandemic.

  • Tollie Elliott:

    What we know about maternal mortality, in particular with African-American women, it crosses all socioeconomic strata.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Dr. Tollie Elliott is an OB-GYN and chief medical officer of Mary's Center, a community health organization in Washington, D.C.

    He worries that a health system already biased against women of color could fail them even worse under the strain of a pandemic.

  • Tollie Elliott:

    When the health resources are stressed at a maximum, it really does become a problem, because now you have a lot of people trying to get to a finite number of resources.

    The rest of the world doesn't stop. Clinical things still happen. Heart attacks still occur. Babies are still being born. And women still need our help.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    For some of those women, there is solace in the fact that they're not alone.

  • Deborah Barak:

    They're just so — so many people going through this exact same experience right now. It sucks, but I think mothers are strong. And this moment will be over at some point.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Amna Nawaz.

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