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'Reproductive Roller Coaster': Pandemic Another Twist For Woman With High-Risk Pregnancy

expecting parents
Ryan Caron King
Connecticut Public Radio
Lauren Perrault and her husband, Gabe Peterson, sit for a portrait in front of their Hartford home on March 26, 2020.

One Hartford woman looks at the COVID-19 pandemic as the “icing on the cake” for her challenging pregnancy.

Lauren Perrault, 33, is used to husband Gabe Peterson, 35, being by her side at the doctor’s office. 

“A lot of times, I’m absorbing as much as I can,” Perrault says, “and he’s asking a lot of questions, and I’m constantly thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, yeah, I was wondering that, too.’”

Wednesday morning was the first time he couldn’t go with her to an appointment for her high-risk pregnancy. Health care facilities are limiting traffic to mitigate exposure to the new coronavirus, so he’s not allowed.

“It breaks my heart that he can’t be there to see the ultrasounds with me,” Perrault said. “We get so much out of that, being able to see our baby.”

It doesn’t help that all of her appointments leading up to her planned April cesarean section have been rescheduled three times.

“Honestly for me, it’s felt kind of like the icing on the cake,” Perrault said.

In the frightening age of COVID-19, families expecting babies are going into hospitals where staff may be overwhelmed with patients confirmed to have the virus. That -- along with restrictive visitation policies aimed at mitigating exposure to the virus -- is a cause for concern.

COVID-19’s Impact On Labor And Delivery

Hospitals in the Hartford HealthCare, Trinity Health, and Yale New Haven Health networks allow only one loved one in to support women in labor and delivery.

Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, a Yale University clinical professor of gynecology and obstetrics, believes the staff at Yale New Haven are doing all they can to maintain a sanitary environment for patients.

“Cleaning things like doorknobs and bathrooms and things like that,” Minkin said. “They’re spending a lot of time scrubbing rooms, which is why we’re trying to keep visitors to a minimum to try to make sure we have as much safety as possible for people who really need to be there.”

The website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention includes an information page for expectant mothers. Among the “frequently asked questions” on it is, “How can women protect themselves from COVID-19?” But right now, there aren’t many answers. The CDC’s guidance for pregnant women is to do the same things as the general public to avoid infection.

There is some good news regarding transmission of COVID-19 from mom to baby, according to Minkin, which could serve as one soothing thought to an anxious expectant mother.

“There does not seem to be -- very limited data -- transmission from the mom to the baby, so if, God forbid, mom does get sick, the in-uterus baby seems to be protected,” Minkin said.

After delivery, though, it’s not so great. Minkin said that in order to protect the baby, an infected mother must be separated from her child.

‘Call The Midwife’

Vicki Nolan Marnin, a certified midwife who runs a company called Birth and Beyond, said her phone has been ringing off the hook since the pandemic started.

Marnin points to the concerns outlined above -- stress on hospital staff, restrictive visitation policies -- as reasons home birth service providers like her may see an uptick in business as the threat of COVID-19 persists.

“In February, we probably had eight women for the month of March, and we’ll finish the month of March with about 13 clients,” Marnin said.

She said that all resulted from recent phone calls.

“More people are calling for April and May and June already, deciding that they want to transfer now and not run the risk of waiting to see what’s going to happen with the pandemic,” Marnin said.

Dr. Minkin, the Yale clinical professor, however, doesn’t recommend home birthing, particularly during a pandemic.

“Right now, with emergency services so stressed, it’s not clear how fast somebody could be gotten to the hospital if they need to go to the hospital for something totally unrelated to COVID right now.”

Marnin doesn’t see it that way.

“I’d say we’re taking some of the pressure off of the system, because women who are healthy and low-risk are not going to take up beds of women who might need them,” Marnin said.

In 2018, the CDC said just 1% of births occurred at home.

The ‘Reproductive Roller Coaster’

The past year has been what expectant mom Lauren Perrault characterizes as her “reproductive roller coaster.” The C-section on April 20 will be a year to the day when she got her first positive pregnancy test. But she lost that first baby.

Perrault got pregnant again, but then she developed a condition that could harm the baby during vaginal birth called vasa previa -- thus, the C-section.

“And now, not even knowing whether, after all of this, my husband will be able to be with me during the delivery,” she said.

While Hartford Hospital does allow a pregnant woman to have one visitor, her husband will be shut out if he gets COVID-19.

To cope with all this, she said she’s putting her trust in the doctors and focusing on the health of her child.

The couple are expecting a baby boy.

Frankie Graziano is the host of 'The Wheelhouse,' focusing on how local and national politics impact the people of Connecticut.

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