Natalie Friedrich weighed in at 6-pounds and 13-ounces when she greeted the world on July 24.

Laura Friedrich holds her first-born child, Natalie, after giving birth during the worst international health crisis in a generation.

Pregnant in the Pandemic

Welcoming New Life In The Global Health Crisis

Laura Friedrich holds her first-born child, Natalie, after giving birth during the worst international health crisis in a generation.

August 2020

BY RASHANAH BALDWIN

Imagine being pregnant during a global pandemic. That’s been 32-year-old Laura Friedrich’s reality since COVID-19 took over all of our lives. Friedrich was five months pregnant when the seriousness of this health crisis began to sink in, back in March. On July 24, Friedrich gave birth to a healthy 6-pound, 13-ounce girl, but not before a very unsettling second half of her pregnancy, given the coronavirus.

Medical experts believe pregnant women are at high risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 because of their uniquely adjusted immune systems, and partly because the coronavirus points of attack the lungs and the cardiovascular system are already stressed in pregnancy.

In the event a woman tests positive before delivery for COVID-19, she’s put in intensive care and on a breathing machine. Following the birth, she and the baby are separated and treated apart. Data from the Centers for Disease Control indicates that 14,681 pregnant women in the U.S. were diagnosed with COVID-19 between January 22 and July 28. 35 deaths were reported.

Presently, there’s limited evidence available regarding mother-to-fetus transmission of COVID-19, transmission during delivery, and transmission during breastfeeding. But we’re learning more every day about if and how mothers with COVID-19 might pass the virus to their children in the womb, and through breast milk. Scientists currently believe that it’s very unlikely that COVID-19 causes birth defects and experts are cautiously optimistic that the coronavirus won’t warp early fetal development.

The Reporters Inc, talked with Friedrich, a nurse in Lake Forest, Illinois, twice both before and after the birth of her beautiful new daughter, Natalie. She and her husband Scott are thrilled to become first-time parents but are obviously concerned about bringing new life into the world during these tumultuous times.

 

Before the baby’s birth:

What concerns do you have about bringing a new baby into the world right now?

I found out I was pregnant right around Thanksgiving. The world was in a different place then. The holidays were upon us, and overall people seemed happy and well. But then came COVID-19. I was put on early maternity leave six weeks early due to virus exposure risks at work as a nurse practitioner. During this time, a Northwestern University study found placental damage and blood clots in women determined to be both symptomatic and asymptomatic with COVID-19 at delivery. So, as my third trimester progressed, my doctor and employer agreed it would be safest to keep me at home. It’s very sad how much turmoil our country is enduring. I do have faith in science and doctors that we’ll come up with a vaccine. I hope that our country can come together and follow doctor-recommended guidelines to keep everyone safe.

How are you staying safe and healthy?

I have sadly had to avoid the gym and other fitness group classes I enjoy. So, I mainly go on long walks with my dog outside and to the park nearby my house. I try to rest as needed. I do indulge in a little extra ice cream and chocolate, but I also make sure to eat a good amount of fruits, vegetables, and proteins.

Scott and Laura Friedrich, during Laura’s pregnancy early this year. The sash reads, “Growing Princess.”

 

What has been your experience with doctor visits during the pandemic
I’ve had significantly fewer doctor visits since March. This has been stressful because this is my first pregnancy. Even for a nurse practitioner, there are things going on with my body I’m not familiar with. I had some supplemental telephone call visits, but they don’t equate to an in-person visit where you can hear the baby’s heartbeat and have the doctor measure your belly to make sure you’re on track.

What has changed with the way obstetrics and gynecology care visits are conducted?

When I do go to the OB-GYN, the environment is more stressful. I understand that for the safety of everyone we have to wear masks and check in through plexiglass. However, it’s less personable and sometimes hard to understand things. I have had to dip my own urine at visits, as medical assistants are concerned about coronavirus being in urine. I’m personally not aware of this, but I also don’t mind testing it myself. I have done many urine tests when I worked as a registered nurse. It’s still strange though. The physicians still do have physical contact, as they need to feel the baby’s position and do other hands-on examinations. Exams do seem shorter and rushed as people overall seem to want to avoid close contact with others.

Are you going to be tested for COVID-19 before delivery? Does your husband have to be tested as well?

I’ve actually been tested four times now. I had a blood test for infection and immunity in my second trimester and it was negative. But then I had an exposure to the virus, so I had a nasal swab through the health department, and it was negative, too. Because my little lady didn’t want to turn, I had an external cephalic version procedure in my 37th week at the hospital, and I was tested again with another nasal swab procedure. Lastly, I had to go back to the hospital due to pain from the unsuccessful version procedure a couple days later and the swab was repeated again negative. They will test me the day of my scheduled Cesarean-section as the baby is still breech. They will not be testing my husband, but if I’m negative, he may be present during the birth and after.

 

After the baby’s birth:

Congrats on the birth of Natalie! You delivered as planned via C-section in late July. How did the delivery go?

Thank you! My C-section was moved to July 24 from July 27. I started feeling a lot of fatigue and cramping, so they moved me up. It turns out I had an amniotic fluid leak, so it’s really good I was moved up. Unfortunately, the C-section did not go well. My spinal anesthesia wore off after the baby was delivered, and I had to be put under full general anesthesia. I also lost about an extra 30 percent of blood than expected. All things considered; my post-operative recovery has been going very well. I stayed three nights in the hospital and was then discharged home.

Did they test you and Scott again for COVID-19? Was Scott able to be in the room during the birth?

I was only tested for COVID-19 via nasal swab. Since I was negative, Scott was able to be present for the birth and stay at the hospital with me afterwards. Once I was put under anesthesia during the C-section though, he was removed from the operating room and was sent with the baby to wait in the recovery room.

What kinds of precautions were being taken during this time in the hospital? In your experience, what was done differently? Did you have any concerns, or did you feel safe?

All staff wore masks and gloves. Other than my husband, we were allowed to have one other visitor during the stay. We decided to have my older brother, who lives nearby, come to meet the baby.

After the baby was born, what kind of precautions did they take with her? Was she tested for COVID-19?

The baby was not tested for COVID-19. The only precautions I noticed were that staff wore masks and gloves while caring for her as well.

What COVID-19 related instructions, if any, were you given by doctors, nurses and the hospital to keep Natalie safe upon returning home?

Before the baby was born, our pediatrician gave a Zoom lecture on precautions for newborns and explained that babies don’t have much of an immune system the first four weeks of life. We will likely allow outside socially distanced meetings, weather permitting, once she is past that four-week mark.

Doting new dad Scott Friedrich with little Natalie, after her birth.

 

Is it possible to social distance with a new baby? Are you keeping Natalie away from people, even her grandparents, for example? Are family and friends meeting her only through Facetime and Zoom, etc.?

Our pediatrician recommended limiting who enters our home and who meets the baby. They suggested allowing only a certain group of people (for example, grandparents, aunts, cousins, etc.), and then those people are the only ones in our “circle” of admittance. Both sets of grandparents are limiting their activities and using masks for any outings. My brother and his family are also following this as he has new two-month-old twins. So, we have a nice “circle” of people supporting us. However, we won’t be able to let friends and other family out of our “circle” hold her. This is obviously very different from what people are used to.

What are your biggest concerns now that you have your bundle of joy, as you begin to raise her in the middle of a pandemic? How do you plan to keep her, and yourself, safe?

We plan to follow recommendations from our pediatrician as she continues to develop. Luckily, she’s been very healthy her first two weeks of life. We’ll limit her social activities until her immune system continues to develop. We don’t plan on having her attend any parties or group activities in the near future. Obviously, my biggest concern is her contracting COVID-19 and becoming ill and my second biggest concern is just overall isolation. Usually with a new baby, after a few weeks you can go out in the community and meet new families, explore library story times, and enjoy baby musical classes. I’m sad that we have to miss out on these activities this year. I’m hoping by next year our country has a vaccine and better treatments so we can go back to a more socialized environment.

Now that you’ve successfully maneuvered through both pregnancy and birth in the pandemic, what advice do you have for other pregnant mothers now?

My advice would be to stay as healthy as you can and listen to your body. I had a feeling something was “off ” the last two weeks of my pregnancy. I kept communicating this with my doctors and nurses, and they were willing to move my C- section up even though my non-stress tests were all normal. It was very critical they did this because, as I mentioned, I had the amniotic fluid leak. Her amniotic fluid was essentially gone by the time I delivered. If I had waited longer to deliver, she could have developed an infection. It was “mother’s intuition” that I knew something was off. Moms should always listen to their gut and follow their intuition.

 

Rashanah Baldwin is a Reporters Inc. Board Member. You can read more about her on our Team Page. She can be reached at

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