“What if we aren’t able to get pregnant?” That’s what Gabby Decker and her husband worried about when they started trying for their first child.
But they did get pregnant. Pretty much right away. And, in a funny twist, they found out on Labor Day.
It would be a picture-perfect beginning to the parenting adventure if you kept the camera focused on this frame. But zoom out, and there’s a devastating global pandemic that’s also part of the story—one that has dramatically reshaped the birth journey, sending expectant mothers and birthing people to doctor’s visits without their partner or family members. Forcing them to learn breathing techniques through a computer screen. Denying them simple moments of joy, like a colorful slice of cake at a gender reveal party.
For Gabby, the anxieties that come with having a baby have been compounded by the anxieties that come with having a “pandemic baby.”
“It’s not the experience that you think you’re going to have,” she said. “The isolation I’ve been feeling at some points has been hard. Doing the doctor’s visits alone, rethinking how to safely have a baby shower… Sometimes I wish I could have a normal pregnancy experience.”
Researchers are just beginning to quantify the toll of pandemic-related stress on expectant parents. Previous studies had already shown a considerable increase in mental health issues in the general population, with more than 40% of U.S. adults struggling with mental health or substance use earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s a significant difference from late 2019. By some estimates, the prevalence of anxiety and depressive symptoms is now three to four times higher than pre-pandemic levels.1
Add in a pregnancy, and things only get more complicated. One recent study of 500 pregnant women in the United States showed pandemic-related maternal stress is radically altering the pregnancy experience.2 Several other studies reveal higher rates of depression and anxiety in those who are or have been pregnant during the pandemic compared to their pre-pandemic peers.3