Sitting on the living room couch, watching the news as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that the state would shut down, Fatimah Cruell grew nervous. Confused and worried, she started thinking of the worst possible outcome.
“My heart dropped,” says Cruell, a mother who was five months into her second pregnancy when COVID-19 hit. At that moment, dropping everything, Cruell began to cry tears of fear and anxiety.
Thinking about the fate of her second child, her mental health began to take a turn for the worst.
“It started with paranoia,” says Cruell as she described how at the beginning of the pandemic she would consciously avoid social events or family gatherings. She also tried as much as she could to shop online. But when too inconvenient, she used Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) as often as she could.
“There was no information on safety measures for pregnant women, so I just tried my best. That stressed me out even more.”
Pregnant women are shown to be more vulnerable to coronavirus outbreaks, like SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV. This is why health care professionals recommend pregnant women take extra precautions during the COVID-19 pandemic, says Massachusetts General Hospital.
Pregnancy During a Pandemic
As the COVID-19 continues to have a significant impact on daily life, pregnant women have had to navigate the past six months combating severe hormonal changes that could now increase their susceptibility to a new virus that has killed more than 800,000 people worldwide. In fact, new studies suggest that “pregnant women with COVID-19 are more likely to be hospitalized and are at increased risk for intensive care unit (ICU) admission and receipt of mechanical ventilation than nonpregnant women.” The article furthers that death appears to be similar for both.
To accommodate the increasing risk of contracting COVID-19, pregnant women across the world are undergoing extreme precautions. Some women are doubling PPE and refraining from social settings, even with social distancing. Additionally, women are being intentional about human interactions while managing an already demanding routine check-up schedule and sometimes emergency doctor’s visits.
Stress During a Pandemic Pregnancy
“I felt paranoid because I was five months pregnant with a four-year-old and I was hearing on the news that if my daughter or newborn were to contract the virus they would be hospitalized without me. That kept me extremely nervous all the time,” says Cruell.
Half-way through her pregnancy, Cruell began suffering from extreme anxiety and depression. Her doctor attributed both to intense stress during pregnancy. Now only one month after delivery, she still struggles with anxiety as a result of her experiences during the pandemic. The reality is, Cruell is not an anomaly.
She is only one of the many women who’ve endured adverse experiences that are a result of spending several months in extreme stress during pregnancy. The effects of being sheltered at home in fear of what may happen to you or your baby if you left can be psychologically daunting. The fear can lead lead to agoraphobia and anxiety in situations or locations that cause panic. Now with the added threat of increased susceptibility to coronaviruses, pregnant women have struggled with extreme mental distress this year. These stem from the heightened safety concerns surrounding routine office visits and faculty visits during labor.
“Not only were my doctor’s visits now uncomfortable with mask requirements and no visitors, I felt disconnected.”
Without the presence and emotional support of her close friends and family members, Cruell had to endure the reality that she and her new baby would not experience the excessive love, hugs, and kisses of the family in a time where they needed them most.
“I had to spend five months of my pregnancy indoors and isolated as much as possible. That hurt. But nothing messed me up mentally as much as having to give birth without my parents and closest friends there to support me.”
Labor During Pandemic
Cruell described labor as extremely emotionally taxing. She couldn’t see the facial expressions of her nurses and doctors and couldnt be accompanied by her closest friends and family with whom she was planning to bring along to cheer her on.
Public health emergencies like COVID-19 have various emotional effects on people, especially those deemed most vulnerable. From economic loss and nationwide resource shortages to social isolation and the infringement on personal freedoms, normalcy has been redefined.
These adverse experiences are heightened during a pandemic. Especially for pregnant women of color who disproportionately have less access to quality healthcare and a healthy distrust of the healthcare system.
“As a Black pregnant woman, you’re already nervous. Now there’s something bigger, deadlier and invisible going around and infecting people. Nobody has answers on how to fix it or really avoid it, besides staying home and being paranoid,” said Cruell.
Black women are two to three times as likely to die due to pregnancy-related causes compared to their white counterparts.Many hospitals and facilities no longer allow patients to be accompanied by guests and mask mandates.
By sharing her story, Cruell believes people will gain awareness of the stress during pregnancy during the COVID-19 pandemic. From her experience, she hopes others will learn more about the mental health conditions many women are currently facing.
“We need to talk more about mental health. It’s important. Pregnant women are hurting right now and we need to do something about it,” said Cruell.
Brianna Nargiso is a freelance writer and journalist in Atlanta, originally from South Florida specializing in all things culture, politics, education and social issues.
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