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The Stress and Uncertainty Behind the So-Called COVID 'Baby Bust'

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Key Takeaways

  • Delaying pregnancy due to COVID was heartbreaking for many families.
  • Families are now feeling safer to start trying again.

When the world first went into lockdown, people joked about an upcoming Corona Baby Boom. But the reality couldn’t have been further from the truth. With pre-pandemic birth rates already trending downward, 2020 US birth rates took another nosedive.

The stress and uncertainty of a worldwide pandemic stopped many would-be parents from expanding their families. Financial instability, physical isolation, and fear for the health of their baby saw families make a conscious choice to delay pregnancy.

Other families had no choice. In the midst of fertility assistance, services closed and treatments were suspended. Lack of information initially left many health professionals and their patients equally uncertain about the safety of pregnancy mid-pandemic.

Regardless of their individual reasons, most families express heartache, stress, and confusion about their pregnancy delay. Women approaching the age of "geriatric pregnancy" fear the impact this wait may have had on their chances of conception.

But now, with vaccines rolling out and restrictions lifting, the wait for many families is finally over. A recent upsurge in people seeking fertility treatment suggests that families are not waiting any longer.

The Reasons Behind the Wait

Lack of Services

For many families, the choice to wait was not their own. As the nation went into lockdown, the availability of services also reduced dramatically. This was the case for Rhoda Twumasi and her husband. They had been trying to conceive for six years, undergoing numerous failed fertility treatments and heartbreaking miscarriages. 

Amber Lozzi

I was someone who thought this pandemic would last maybe six months. I could wait six months. But now here we are 14 months into it...I’m torn as to whether or not we should keep waiting.

— Amber Lozzi

The couple was set to undergo embryo transfer when lockdown occurred, resulting in an eight-month delay. Twumasi was devastated. “I remember driving home from work the day our doctor told us the transfer would have to be pushed back and sobbing the whole way home.” She says. “I had to pull over at a certain point because the road was blurry.”

Lack of Family Support

Having a baby isn’t easy and to do it alone is even more challenging, especially when there are other children that need your attention. This is why Chelsea Roller and her husband chose to delay having their second child. “I didn’t want to go through all of the doctor’s appointments alone,” she says.

“I wasn’t willing to leave our young son with family or our daycare provider through the duration of my hospital stay,” Roller explains. “I didn’t feel like it was fair to any of us to spend so much time stressing about all of the what-ifs brought on by COVID.” Additionally, she says, “My anxiety would’ve been through the roof throughout the pregnancy.”

According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), lack of family support may increase your risk for postnatal mood disorders. Pre-existing anxiety or depression also increases your risk. So for many people like Roller, waiting for restrictions to lift to access family support was vital before bringing another life into the world.

Job Security and Finances

Jessica Nelson and her partner chose to delay their pregnancy in part due to the lack of family support, but also due to finances. “I got laid off in June of 2020,” says Nelson. “Overall, there was just too much uncertainty about our jobs and finances, but also...I didn't want to be pregnant or give birth during the pandemic, because I wouldn't have a support network.” 

“All of the uncertainty and changing plans caused a lot of stress and anxiety,” she says. “I knew I wanted a second child and started to fear that it might not ever happen. In some ways, I started to mentally prepare for the thought of only having one and being happy with that.”

Experiencing financial difficulties increases the risk of developing perinatal mood disorders. However, establishing financial stability prior to pregnancy is not always an option.

If you find yourself in a challenging financial situation during pregnancy, talk to your healthcare provider. They can usually put you in touch with support services in your area.

“I did start attending therapy (virtually) during the pandemic, which helped me sort out my thoughts and reduce stress," says Nelson. 

Recommendations of Health Practitioners

At the start of the pandemic, so much was unknown about the virus that even some health practitioners recommended waiting. This is what happened to Amber Lozzi. “Our choice to delay was two-fold: One in that we were having issues conceiving but my OB-GYN heavily suggested waiting to make an appointment since it was a “non-emergent” issue," she explains. “Two, I felt it best to delay to keep my family as healthy and safe as possible.”

Lisa Hansard, MD

There's not really the ability to delay childbearing for years for many, many couples.

— Lisa Hansard, MD

Lozzi expresses concerns that are likely echoed among parents-to-be across the nation, “I was someone who thought this pandemic would last maybe six months. I could wait six months. But now here we are 14 months into it, new variants arising, and I’m officially closing in on what would be termed a ‘geriatric pregnancy’...I’m torn as to whether or not we should keep waiting.”

Should You Continue to Wait? 

The decision to continue to wait or to start trying to conceive is a very personal one that only you can make. However, if you look at why you originally chose to wait and what has changed between now and then, the decision may become a little easier.

Availability of Services 

Most services are back up and running, despite restrictions still being in place. Roller admits that although the restrictions are challenging, they are not going to stop her and her husband from expanding their family any longer.

“Honestly, I’m really sad that we have waited over a year to have another baby.” she says, “We are now at the point that we can’t wait any longer. I hope that doctors’ office and hospital policies start to loosen back up. However, I fully expect to go into ultrasound appointments alone, which would be devastating.”

Despite restrictions being truly upsetting for so many families, Lisa Hansard, MD of Texas Fertility Center, explains that restrictions such as social distancing and masking are some of the key factors that enable facilities to stay open and provide service at all. 

Twumasi says she is grateful that access to fertility services was restored when it was. "Thankfully in November of 2020, we were finally able to get started...before everything shut down again and had a successful [embryo] transfer. Our rainbow baby is due this July."

Recommendations of Health Practitioners

As new data becomes available, recommendations around COVID-19 are frequently changing. What was recommended in March 2020, may no longer be completely relevant. Although it’s hard to keep up with the latest recommendations, your health care provider is best equipped with this knowledge to support you in your decisions. 

Current recommendations from health advisory boards include vaccination against COVID-19. Vaccines are now available to everyone over the age of 12 in the U.S.

Hansard says, “The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the CDC, and the American Society of Reproductive Medicine have all come out with a consensus agreement that women should be vaccinated as soon as the vaccine is available to them.”

Hansard reassures all people considering pregnancy that current data indicates the vaccine does not impact their ability to become pregnant, nor does it increase the risk of miscarriage. Additionally, she says, "if you are pregnant and you are exposed to COVID and become infected, that dramatically increases your risk of developing severe disease." Vaccination is recommended to avoid this.

Another benefit of vaccination before or during pregnancy is that it may protect your baby. “What we're seeing now is women who have delivered babies, who’ve either had COVID or been vaccinated, is positive antibody production in their offspring,” says Hansard. “So this immunity, or this safety, is conferred from mother to child, which I think is very reassuring.” 

Family and Financial Support

As more people are vaccinated, restrictions are easing, allowing family and friends to come together and provide support. 

For some people, the wait has been worth it. Nelson, who delayed pregnancy for financial and family support reasons, says, “I'm actually very happy about the adjusted timeline and don't think I would have been emotionally or physically ready to have another child as early as I wanted to originally.”

What’s Next? 

Hansard reports an upsurge in clients requesting fertility treatments. "It may ... be related to just the fact that individuals and couples recognize that COVID wasn't going to be a three or four months event; that this was something that was going to go on for years potentially," she says. "And there's not really the ability to delay childbearing for years for many, many couples."

Additionally, many parents who delayed pregnancy now feel ready to go ahead and expand their families. So although we appear to have seen a pandemic baby bust, a post-pandemic boom may be in the cards. 

What This Means For You

If you or a loved one have been personally impacted by COVID-19, the decision to start a family can be even scarier. It is best to seek the guidance of your healthcare professional for personalized advice.

If you are feeling especially anxious about your decision, speaking to a fertility counselor can help.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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Article Sources
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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Provisional estimates for selected maternal and infant outcomes by month, 2018-2020. Updated March 8, 2021.

  2. Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Mom’s mental health matters. Updated August 12, 2019.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Interim public health recommendations for fully vaccinated people. Updated May 28, 2021.