People often say there’s no “perfect time” to have a baby. Having a child — whether it’s your first, or your fifth — is a life-changing experience, and when you make that decision, you have to factor in fertility, money, timing, career, housing, and about a billion other factors. It’s pretty close to impossible for all of those things to be at an ideal place at the exact same time.
But what about when there’s a pandemic going on?
“When the pandemic hit I read every article I could find about whether or not it was stupid to conceive at this time,” said Alison Norwich, a new mom in Toronto who had wanted to have her first child for a while. “The general consensus in March of 2020 was a resounding ‘Yes’... between uncertain financials and very unknown health outcomes, it seemed like a terrible idea.”
In the spring, though, she started to feel a little better. She actually didn’t mind that her work hours had depleted, and that she had less of a social life — in some ways it was nice to spend time with her husband and her dog, and a few close friends she saw outdoors, from a distance.
“I think the quiet time was just kind of restorative and made me focus on what mattered and slow down a bit,” Alison told HuffPost Canada.
She wasn’t actively trying to get pregnant, but she wasn’t trying to prevent it from happening, either. In May, she realized she was expecting.
Courtney Pettipas, a teacher who lives in Bracknell, England but is originally from Nova Scotia, wanted a second child. She and her husband planned to wait until the pandemic ended: they really wanted her parents to come to the U.K. so that they could stay with her 2-year-old daughter while she gave birth, and help with the kids during those first few weeks with a new baby. But as time went on, it became clear that wasn’t happening soon, and that it was impossible to know when the pandemic would actually end.
“We talked about waiting, but then realized, waiting for when?”
Pettipas told HuffPost that her sister, who lives in Fort McMurray, Alta., is also pregnant: she’s having her first child later this month.
“When you’re a kid, you’re like, ‘Oh, wouldn’t it be funny if we both had babies at the same time?’” she said. “And it turns out we are, but we’re on opposite sides of the world in the middle of a global health crisis.”
Age was a part of many decisions
HuffPost Canada spoke to nearly 30 new or soon-to-be parents, mostly moms, about their decision to start or expand their families since the COVID-19 pandemic. For many people, it was a complicated choice. Age was a big factor for a lot of them: fertility windows are specific and finite, and many people who wanted kids realized it might be a lot harder if they waited for the pandemic to be over. Others were stuck on the fact that they just didn’t know when the crisis would end. What if it took years?
“We talked about waiting, but then realized, waiting for when? For the pandemic to be over?” said Tara Splinter from Kingston, Ont. “No one can say for sure when that will be and you can’t put life on hold forever. We don’t want our kids to be too far apart in age. We are in our late 30s, so our age was and is also a factor.”
Sacha Leduc from Ottawa said the same thing: she wouldn’t have had a baby during the pandemic if it weren’t for age. “I didn’t want to conceive after 35,” she said.
In rare cases, some advantages
For a few people, the pandemic actually made the decision easier. Krystel Carrier, who works in a military training establishment in Petawawa, Ont. had wanted to have her first child for a while. But Carrier and her partner are both in the military, and have both been deployed around the world. Like many women, she struggled to figure out the right timing so that she wouldn’t jeopardize her career.
Because the pandemic put a lot of military activities on hold, this seemed like a good time. She had been posted away from her partner, but once she got pregnant, she was allowed to work from home.
“This is the most time I’ve spent home, with my family, since joining the military,” she said. “Even though my partner is not allowed to come with me to medical appointments or to ultrasounds, he’s been able to touch my growing belly and talk to the baby, and he took on most of the housework. We would have both missed out on those experiences if there had not been a pandemic.”
But social isolation is a universal experience
Just about everyone we spoke to brought up the difficulties of having to go through pregnancy, postpartum and childrearing with much less social support than usual.
“I found it very challenging to have significantly reduced access to my mum and friends and family who would be a great source of support throughout a typical pregnancy,” said Hayley Bartsch from Langley, B.C. Talking with friends in a physically distanced way, or online, “wasn’t at all the same and was actually really depressing.”
She felt guilty for feeling upset about it, given how much grief and hardship COVID-19 had posed to other people, she said. But that didn’t make it any easier for her.
“I mourned missing the normalcy of those pregnancy events,” she said.
Norwich, in Toronto, had a similar experience. “It was weird how fast the year and my pregnancy went by,” she said. “It’s almost like it never happened, which is kind of sad. The only real documentation I have are a string of ‘bump’ selfies.”
A physically distanced pregnancy also meant no childbirth classes where new parents typically meet other people at the same stage as they are. And Bartsch’s husband couldn’t come with her to any of her medical appointments. He wasn’t allowed to be in the ultrasound room when she found out they were having a boy.
“I worry that he was isolated from what was happening with our son’s development and would not feel so connected to him throughout the pregnancy,” she said.
Since having her baby a few months ago, she’s also thought a lot about the difficult postpartum period.
“Whether you’re dealing with wildly fluctuating hormones or consumed by caring for a newborn, the knowledge that you have support from friends or family is what keeps you going,” she said. “When that support is limited or non-existent and access to in-person resources such as doctors or therapy is restricted, it can lead to poor mental health and the feeling of being left behind or forgotten.”
Pettipas, too, has found it painful to give up on the idea of her parents coming to England from Nova Scotia to meet her new baby when it arrives.
“Knowing that I’m going to go this whole pregnancy without my parents seeing the baby, or contributing to the nursery — it’s tricky,” she said.
“Everything’s gone digital... it’s wonderful that these are still in existence. But if, like me, you don’t really know many other people in the country, it’s a bit daunting to go join another online mother group.”
Now that some restrictions have loosened in their area, her husband will be able to accompany her to the hospital when the baby arrives — something they didn’t initially know would be allowed.
One other change they decided to make: unlike with their first child, they’ve opted to find out the baby’s sex in advance.
“There’s enough unknowns in the world.”
Norwich said she’s been talking a lot to a neighbour, who also just had a baby. “She got pregnant before the pandemic was really a ‘thing,’ but mentioned she’d put it off for a couple of years because of the Zika virus, which is kind of funny in hindsight,” Norwich said. “Maybe there’s really never a good time.”
Here are some of the other responses we received from from new or expectant parents. (Some responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length.)
My husband and I both got laid off at the beginning of the pandemic. We wanted to start trying for a child last year, since we are both 30 and know we have a limited time frame, but we had to wait until we both got employed to start trying again. We got pregnant in August before the second wave hit. We thought we may be in the clear and COVID may actually be a little more controlled, but obviously that was not the case.
After we got pregnant we knew we had to find a house, but that too was impacted by COVID. Fortunately we did find a place, but the moving process was intense due to lockdown and me being six months pregnant at that time. - Emily, London, Ont.
We initially hesitated to expand our family in the midst of a pandemic, but realized as the pandemic unfolded and that we would have no idea when it would end. We will have a three year age gap between our children... we did not want to put of having another child for what could have potentially been years. As a 30-something couple we recognize that our fertility window is not infinite, and felt that putting off trying to get pregnant would be putting our lives on hold further than they already had been. - Rebecca, St. Albert, Alta.
When the pandemic began, my husband and I thought that this would significantly delay our desire to start our family. Healthcare resources are strained and the ability to see and connect with family and other support systems is virtually non-existent.
After many months of observing social distancing, we realized that perhaps this was an ideal time to grow our family. I am currently 12 weeks pregnant and have found it convenient that there are no social events I am currently missing due to pregnancy symptoms. It has been easy to keep the pregnancy private and cherish the time I have with my husband.
It has been challenging to have the sale of all “non-essential” items prohibited right now. I have grown too large to fit into my normal bras and pants. It has been very challenging to purchase maternity items during this time.
I also am worried that the pandemic will continue on for who knows how long and I will not be able to see family or share my first pregnancy experience in the company of my sisters and friends, all of whom live in the U.S. - Cassidy, Quebec City
We were already in fertility treatments [when the pandemic started.] It actually delayed us a few months because our clinic closed for a bit in March and April. - Rosemary, Bolton, Ont.
We had plans to expand our family and the pandemic actually provided an ideal time since I was able to work full-time from home. I am a business development manager and that involved having to travel on the road a lot, however, amidst the pandemic that part of our role was eliminated for safety reasons. For us, it was the perfect time to be pregnant as I was home. - Tina, Ajax, Ont.
“We are optimists. That being said, the pandemic has shook our home a little.”
Our daughters have been each other’s rocks - teaching, playing, exploring and having fun together. The pandemic re-affirmed that family, siblings and togetherness is a value that we will forever appreciate.
We just found out we are having another girl! And are over the moon! Our very own three sisters, who will, without a doubt, move mountains.
We are optimists. That being said, the pandemic has shook our home a little. Our parents live in Ontario and we’re conscious of the risks of them travelling during this time. My husband lost his job. At five months pregnant, I’m returning to work to help resume our family’s position, as my husband continues to navigate a job search in a tough economy.
But all this time with each other and the girls has reminded us of the importance of a big family and more siblings! Siblings will always inspire, uplift, support, encourage and be a shoulder when needed. - Sarah-Lana, Calgary