Anticipation, anxiety and few answers for expectant mother in the age of COVID-19

Tara and Bryan Jeffrey with their three children, Avery, Hallie and Andrew. Another hockey fan is expected to join the family April 17.

Tara Jeffrey could have never imagined this is how she and husband, Bryan, would be welcoming their fourth child into the world.

In a time which should be full of anticipation, the St. Clair Township mother of three is anxious as she waits for her little one to make an appearance around April 17. Jeffrey is giving birth in the middle of a pandemic.

“It’s very stressful. I am normally an anxious person to begin with, so this has all been very overwhelming. And as things appear to worsen, my worries just grow by the day,” says Jeffrey.

It doesn’t help that Jeffrey is a freelance journalist who has been reporting on the advance of the novel coronavirus in Lambton. “I am hyper-aware of everything that’s happening, here and around the world; every number, news story.”

Jeffrey has been investigating what the risks are as she prepares to deliver in a hospital which cares for COVID-19 patients. But there is not a lot of information on how the virus affects pregnancy.

“Being pregnant in general can suppress the immune system, so I worry about my risk. I don’t leave the house, except for appointments, and I am constantly cleaning. My husband still has to work, so I worry about what he could be bringing home to us; caring for three young kids at home makes this that much more challenging.”

Jeffrey and her children, Avery, Hallie and Andrew, play and take walks in the bush while school is out as part of the effort to stop the spread of COVID-19. But the children also have questions about the virus.

“My youngest asks everyday why he can’t go to Papa and Nana’s house, and that’s hard. I try not to let them see my own stress, but it’s hard not to break once in a while.”

The questions about seeing much-loved grandparents also reminds her that they won’t be at the hospital when the new baby arrives.

Bluewater Health allows only one support person during labour and delivery right now. Bluewater Health Chief of Communications, Julia Oosterman, says that is unlikely to change. But in a world where so much has changed already, Jeffery still worries.

And she worries about who will stay with her children when it is time to go to the hospital.

“We’ve actually had conversations about him staying home while I deliver, which is really hard,” Jeffrey says.

“My fears about labour and delivery are one thing, then there’s added challenge of bringing home a newborn in the midst of all this. I won’t have the village I normally rely on for help.

Jeffrey is not alone in her concerns. Health Canada says right now, there is little information about how COVID-19 affects pregnant women. But officials say throughout pregnancy, women’s bodies change and that can increase the risk of other illnesses such as viral respiratory infections.

The only advice Health Canada gives pregnant women is the same advice it gives the general public, self isolate, keep your physical distance and wash hands frequently.

And while Jeffrey is not alone in her concerns, she’s also not the only one going through this now.

About 1,100 babies are born each year at Bluewater Health – about two or three each day. Each birth is celebrated by the playing of Brahms Lullaby.

 “The concept is to remind staff, patients and visitors of the joy and beauty of new beginnings,” says Krista Turner, Manager, Maternal Child Health unit.

It was a program that started just days before the novel coronavirus changed everything in Canada.

“We never could have imagined nine months ago that this is how I’d be welcoming our fourth child into the world,” says Jeffrey.