Bridget Braud wasn’t about to let COVID-19 get in the way of having another baby.
The 32-year-old Madisonville woman had faced some health issues, including a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis in 2019, and doctors had finally given her the go-ahead to conceive her second child. On top of that, it takes meticulous planning for a teacher to line up maternity leave with summer vacation, and Braud knew that would leave her pregnant in the middle of a global pandemic. But the Mayfield Elementary teacher proceeded — with caution, of course — anyway.
“Because of the MS, I really didn’t want to wait any longer, but I was so torn because of the coronavirus on what to do,” she said. “I consulted with my OB and my neurologist, and they both said it’s (COVID-19) either going away soon or not going away for a while, so either way, I shouldn’t put my life on hold for it when it’s something I really wanted at that particular time.”
Braud found out she was pregnant in June and is expecting a baby boy in February.
But this is just one story of many on the north shore as the number of pregnant women is seemingly increasing following COVID-induced lifestyle changes and stay-at-home orders. Many families found themselves working and schooling from home, and many couples who typically wouldn’t have quality time together had their crazy schedules screeched to a halt.
The Natural BirthHouse in Covington is already feeling the effects of a forthcoming surge, said Brittany O’Quinn, a certified doula and office manager for the facility. The birth center offers women an alternative to a traditional hospital experience, which O’Quinn says has become even more appealing given current hospital restrictions. Its patients work with midwives throughout their pregnancies to plan for a natural or home birth. The Natural BirthHouse is already booking up for January, March and April, she said, and midwives are expecting a boom after the first of the year.
O’Quinn said that there is usually an uptick in births nine months after the winter holidays, and interestingly enough, the Super Bowl. This year, however, it seems to be aligning with the March stay-at-home orders. Several patients have due dates in the beginning of January.
“I’ve been doing this for eight years, and it’s definitely noticeable,” said O’Quinn. “September and October are usually the busiest times, but definitely this year it will be starting in January.”
Dr. Gregory Berault, an obstetrician-gynecologist in Slidell, said he has “definitely seen an increase” in the number of pregnancies. He likened the boom to other times when there were power outages that led to spikes in the number of births nine months later. This time, however, the time period is much more broad and the effects will extend into May of next year.
Officials at St. Tammany Parish Health System, Ochsner North Shore and Slidell Memorial Hospital were unable to guesstimate what the coming months will bring in terms of births at their respective hospitals.
One of the moms expecting a baby in January is Slidell resident Leila Perez, who is also a local real estate agent. Perez discovered she was pregnant amid the pandemic, but said it has less to do with free time and more to do with changed habits. The 28-year-old said she was excited when she found out she was pregnant in May. It was a long time coming, and she had been actively trying to expand her family. However, when stay-at-home orders forced her family to slow down and her Coast Guard husband to return home, the couple used the time to dive back into fitness. Getting physically fit definitely played a role, she said. However, the timing wasn’t ideal.
“I’ve learned in time to just let things be as they are,” said Perez, who is due Jan. 10. “If that’s what God set it up to be, that’s what you can handle, this is your timing. It was exciting, nonetheless.”
Still, there is some debate nationally over whether or not there will be a COVID baby boom or bust.
A report released in June from the Brookings Institute stated that researchers believe there will be a steep decline in births next year. The report estimates there will be between 300,000 and 500,000 less births in 2021. A fragile economy, fluctuating unemployment figures and historical trends were noted as reasons for the predicted decline. The report examined trends during the Spanish Flu of 1918, and according to data from the time period, birthrates declined by 12.5% with each spike of the virus.
Research from Marie Stopes International suggests otherwise. The organization, which is known for its contraception and abortion services, released a report that stated there may be a rise in the number of unplanned pregnancies. Because medical resources turned toward COVID-19-related issues, many women went without access to proper health care, contraceptives and other resources. In addition, Malaysia’s Karex Bhd, the world’s largest condom manufacturer, said it was expecting a major shortage of condoms after factories were shut down.
But on the north shore where a boom is expected, the debate can only be settled in the coming months after hospitals actually have data.
Dr. Dan Mokry, an obstetrician with Ochsner’s Women’s Health Center in Covington, said it’s business as usual as far as the influx of pregnant women coming into his office. There doesn’t seem to be an abrupt increase or decrease, he said, however, it does look as if there is a bit of a shift happening that would make the end of the year busier than usual.
“Our absolute numbers at the hospital are the same as it’s been, but other than that there has maybe been a little shift,” he said. “Usually summertime is really busy and slows toward the end of the year for babies, and we’re seeing a little shift in that toward the end of the year.”
Regardless, the experience for pregnant women during the times of coronavirus is and will continue to be different as hospitals limit who can be in the delivery room and appointments.
Brenna Wood, 31, of Mandeville, who is expecting her second child after two miscarriages, said anxiety is a big piece of the puzzle as women navigate around COVID threats and restrictions on top of the normal challenge of being pregnant. Her husband has not been able to go with her to regular or ultrasound appointment, and the family has had to make big sacrifices to mitigate the risks.
“I would be really depressed every day of the appointments,” she said. “He sat in the car with our daughter while I went in. They let me FaceTime him at the viability ultrasounds so he could see there’s still a heartbeat.”
But she was terrified of getting bad news with no support in the room. Fortunately, it’s been so far so good for the family. However, they have taken action to keep it that way. Wood said she pulled her toddler out of school and the family has been quarantined for months. She worries about how the hospital experience will be when she delivers in January and the logistics of visitors.
“It’s basically instinctual worries amplified, plus world pandemic concerns,” said Wood. “Not a great mix, but if she makes it here, we will do whatever it takes to keep us safe.”
For first time mom Marlena Bourgeois, 32, coronavirus has taken away the traditional experiences that go along with pregnancy, she said, which has been a disappointment.
“This is my first child, and I can’t help but think how much COVID has taken away from me and my family,” she said. “I will be getting no maternity photos, no newborn photos. I had a small gender reveal with my husband, stepson, mom and dad, but that was it. I had no baby shower. I have literally experienced nothing a normal first time mom should get to experience.”
In the end, though, the Covington mom-to-be said she’s grateful and excited to meet her baby girl in January.
“As much as I would love to experience all those things, the fact of the matter is, I am pregnant. I am pregnant during COVID, and that’s OK,” she said. “This baby being strong and healthy is all that matters to us. She is worth it all.”