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For pregnant women across Tampa Bay, coronavirus heightens stress, uncertainty

From canceled doctor’s appointments to baby showers, expectant mothers have found themselves facing the unexpected.

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Megan Jordan is used to high stress situations through work.

But at 36 weeks into a high-risk pregnancy, her hospital bag packed and car seat installed and a global pandemic in full swing, staying calm has not been easy.

“This whole pregnancy hasn’t been what I pictured growing up,” she said.

Jordan and expecting mothers across the Tampa Bay area have found themselves wondering what’s next as rumors about how COVID-19 might affect pregnant women and deliveries swirl.

While much of the impact is still unknown about whether pregnant women face a higher risk, medical professionals are erring on the side of caution.

Briana Famolaro is due in July. She said she considers herself a bit of a worrywart anyway. She has been tracking the spread of coronavirus for months.

When she initially asked her doctors, she said she was surprised. They told her to wash her hands and practice social distancing.

“I was like ‘oh, that’s interesting,’” she said. “I was taken aback that I didn’t get any more information than I could’ve watched on the news.”

Dr. Madelyn Butler, an OBGYN with the Women’s Group of Tampa, said the lack of research about the virus means physicians can only rely on limited anecdotal evidence.

“The truth is we really don’t know how COVID-19 affects pregnant women with birth defects like Zika for example,” she said.

Dr. Jill Hechtman, medical director of Tampa Obstetrics and an OBGYN who practices at Brandon Regional Hospital, said hospitals and practices are taking extra precautions to keep facilities safe. Still, she said, erring on the side of caution is beneficial as some medications used to treat coronavirus may not be able to be used during pregnancy. Butler said in the event a woman going into delivery tests positive for the virus, she will have to be quarantined from her baby for two weeks.

“As a provider, it’s conflicting,” Hechtman said. “I’ll be the first to admit we don’t have all the information and that is why this is scary. ...I would lean toward the idea that pregnant women are at highest risk. This will make sure their guard is not down and they take precautions.”

The All Children's Hospital Perinatal Deparment shared this image on social media. (Photo courtesy of Jill Hechtman). [Photo courtesy of Jill Hechtman]

Hospitals are currently limiting visitors and only one person will be allowed during the entire duration of delivery and hospital stay for the foreseeable future ― a departure from many mothers expecting to have their families meet the baby in the hospital room.

Some obstetric practices have canceled appointments, switching to telemedicine.

Tatiana Cruz is due in May. Her doctor called her on Monday and asked her to come in the next day. It will be her last appointment for awhile.

“Thank God my pregnancy has been healthy, but I’m 35 so I’m considered high-risk,” she said. “I guess I’ll call in and tell him I’m feeling great, but they can’t check my blood pressure and the baby’s heartbeat.”

Hechtman said her practice is continuing to see patients, and will add telemedicine to supplement, which she believes will be safe for most women.

“You can’t take blood pressure through a camera and I can’t measure their abdomen or look for swelling,” she said. “But we’re just going to do things differently. From the medical perspective, we're doing what we can and making sure the patients are safe.”

Cruz was scheduled to deliver at Mease Countryside Hospital, but said she was concerned as to how the hospital can ensure total separation from other patients in the event things escalate. She wanted to find out if she could deliver at St. Joseph’s Women’s hospital or a hospital that might have fewer sick people. Her providers don’t deliver there, but they told her she could look for a new provider if she was concerned.

On social media, some Facebook groups for expecting mothers saw posts from moms wondering if they should plan to have their children at home or anticipate a shortage of available hospital beds.

Butler and Hechtman strongly refuted the notion.

“Without a question, a hospital is still 100 percent safer than having a baby at home,” Butler said. “The same number of pregnant people are pregnant.”

Hechtman said while nonessential surgeries are being canceled and there are talks of converting operating rooms in the event of an intensive care unit overflow, delivery rooms will be protected.

“That’s just dangerous,” she said. “There’s no way we’d put mothers at risk. I speak for my practice but the whole industry as well: They’re going to be taken care of.”

Still, other concerns exist.

Famolaro had signed up for birthing and breastfeeding classes. They’ve all been canceled. She and her husband are now looking for online equivalents.

“This is my first baby, so I want to do all the right things,” she said.

She had to cancel her baby shower and does not have paid maternity leave. She is wondering what will happen if she has to use her maternity savings in the event of job loss.

Cruz and her husband are self-employed. They also had to cancel their baby shower.

“We hadn’t bought anything for the baby yet,” she said. “I had so many friends who I’ve been blessed with.”

Now, she wonders if she should start stocking up on wipes and diapers in case things get worse. When she’s been to the stores, she’s hardly seen any on the shelves.

Famolaro said she wishes grocery stores allowed pregnant women to shop during the hours reserved for the elderly.

Brittany Rogers is due in May. She works in the healthcare field, which she said makes her a little less anxious than most. Still, she said she’s had to cancel her baby shower, maternity shoot and is uncertain about her employment contract if surgeries continue to be canceled.

“The most important thing is a healthy baby and healthy pregnancy,” she said. “As long as that’s going good then there’s really nothing to be upset about, right?”

Jordan said the only thing she can do right now is wait.

“There’s not much we can do about it,” Jordan said. “It is what it is. This whole thing is bigger than us. There’s no sense in stressing about it, because there is no control over this.”

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