By Julianne M. Koch, OD
“Can you please pull your mask up ma’am? The doctor will be in shortly.” I hear one of my staff members telling my next patient. I knock on the door, politely, and enter the room. The patient’s mask is still hanging just above her upper lip.
“How are you doing today? It’s nice to meet you! If you’ll pull that mask up over your nose for me.” She pulls it up a little. It’s still not covering her nose. I give up. We tried.
She is a very sweet lady. She doesn’t seem annoyed that we’re asking her to pull her mask up. But, she also doesn’t seem to be aware of the fact that it’s not over her nose. Furthermore, she is sniffling while she talks.
“Sorry, I’ve had the sniffles for a couple of weeks now,” she says.
I’m wondering what she’s thinking. Does she believe that COVID exists? Or is she a believer that masks don’t work? Or is she completely unaware of what is happening?
Further along in the exam, she notices my belly.
“Oh! I see you’re pregnant! Congratulations!” She says, with a big, jovial smile—a smile that I can now see because her mask has fallen down below her mouth and is wadded up on her chin.
PREGNANT IN THE PANDEMIC
I’m in my third trimester of my first pregnancy. I haven’t slept well because my body is so uncomfortable. I’m exhausted from working in a tiny room with patients who could potentially give me COVID. The psychological stress that pregnancy puts on a person’s mind is amazing. At this point, I wanted more than ever to protect my body and my baby. But I also wouldn’t dream of not going to work.
I read blogs and heard stories about women who had COVID-19 during pregnancy and were just completely fine. I also read new stories about pregnant health care workers who died from COVID. I was haunted by one in particular about a pregnant nurse who finished her shift and died later that night in her home from respiratory failure. I was already having trouble breathing with my baby sitting on my ribs. What would a brand new respiratory virus do to me?
When our office signed up for the COVID-19 vaccine at the beginning of January, I was jealous of my co-workers who were able to get it.
“I can’t get it because I’m pregnant,” I told everyone, and everyone in my circle agreed.
A week later, I was in line to get the first round of the Moderna vaccine with a large number of our office staff. Some people were shocked. What changed my mind?
- My OBGYN was recommending the vaccine for pregnant health care workers because we are more at risk day-to-day for getting the virus. A nurse practitioner at my OBGYN’s office stated that they had seen an increase in placenta issue; the placenta was not providing enough nutrients to the baby in moms who had COVID.
- I researched. I read the entire COVID-19 section of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website and what the studies found. I was reassured that other patients had gone before me in getting this vaccine effectively. Also, I was happy to know that animal studies were negative for the vaccine harming the fetus. Furthermore, the infertility issues were something I would now consider rumours. COVID doesn’t cause infertility, still birth or birth defects in infants like viruses such as rubella or Zika might. If the vaccine is an mRNA marker for the virus, why would the vaccine cause this?
- I asked other pregnant health care workers what they were doing. In the end, I was inspired by those who were vaccinated before me—the emergency room workers, the ICU workers, the women health care workers who were saving the lives of patients daily, while at the same time putting their bodies and their babies at risk.
HAPPY AND HEALTHY
I am now on maternity leave with a healthy, full-term, baby girl. Although she took her precious time to make her arrival, the pregnancy was uncomplicated. I gave birth in a mask. However, there was great relief in knowing I was vaccinated while giving birth at the hospital.
I’m excited that there is continuing research coming out about the antibodies from the COVID-19 being passed from mother to baby. I’m interested to see further research in what trimester is best recommended to get the vaccine in. I’m happy that I can have vaccinated friends and family over to see my baby without masks—including a friend who visited recently who had participated in the early phases of the Pfizer vaccine study and who is now pregnant with her first child. Overall, I’m looking forward to things getting back to a somewhat normal way of living. As for concerns about the long-term effects of a new mRNA vaccine, I have very few because I know I did what’s best for my baby and me in this moment.