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Rachel Garrett and her family prepare to give birth during COVID

How coronavirus prompted one Seattle family to change their birth plan

Rachel Garrett wonders and worries about the pandemic's effect on her 4-year-old daughter and her unborn baby. But she's also finding the positives wherever she can.

West Seattle mom Rachel Garrett took a walk with her 4-year-old daughter, Nyla, recently when the weight of the coronavirus hit her. When the two passed the park they often go to, they found police tape wrapped around the swings, a warning to parents to keep kids off the equipment to protect them from catching the virus. That, she says, was the beginning of her decision to change how and where she’s give birth to her son amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

A sobering moment

“We were taking her scooter up the hill and on a path that goes by the playground and I had to tell Nyla that we can’t go to play right now,” says Garrett who is expecting her second child in early June. “And this thought flashed through my head: What if this is the beginning of a before and after Nyla might have only these fleeting memories of what it was like before the pandemic — the freedom and richness of childhood. And the thought that this baby might never even know that experience.

“It was a very sobering moment, sad, and horrifying to me. Is this event going to permanently change the fabric of our everything? I try not go there too much, but I just thought what is the reality going to be for my children? Are they even going to experience the same reality that I did as a child? As my parents did?”

Garrett says she and her husband, Justin, waited a long time to conceive their second child: 

“With everything that’s been going on in the world, and just the expense of having a second child, we waited a while.” They would never have imagined that they would give birth during COVID or any pandemic.

A mother watches as news unfolds

Garrett followed the evolving story as it sprung out of China and didn’t worry much at first but was definitely surprised by how quickly it spread around the world.

“I wasn’t too concerned because I read a lot and it seemed that it wasn’t really affecting children or pregnant women and babies too much,” she says. “And besides, as I and a lot of other moms know — anyone with young ones — we’re kind of like little germ factories anyway.”

She was, however, concerned about her parents, who were supposed to come to Seattle in March to visit. With more and more cases being reported and requests that residents self-quarantine, she called her parents and asked them to cancel their trip.

“I wasn’t so worried about us, but about them,” she says. “My mom has had some health issues that make me a little bit concerned. I mean, just their being over 70 is a risk even though they don’t really think of themselves as old.”

The decision to give birth at home during COVID

Although Garrett had Nyla with midwives in a freestanding birth center, she had decided this baby would be born in the hospital. She’s older, she says, which carries some risks. And with high-energy Nyla at home, she felt she might be more relaxed and hoped to get some good recovery time in before returning home with the baby. 

But as news of restrictions on visitors in hospitals and the CDC’s recommendation that babies be kept away from mothers who test positive for COVID-19, Garrett says she started reconsidering the decision to give birth in the hospital during the pandemic. 

“I would not want to be separated unless there was a strong opinion that the baby was going to be at risk or if I were extremely ill,” she says. “I would not want to be separated just because I tested positive.”

Ultimately, she decided, she wants her husband and her doula with her when she gives birth even amid the COVID panic, and she wants Nyla to be able to meet the baby soon after birth. She transferred to community midwives to manage her birth at home.

The family is not sure how they will manage the weeks and months after the baby arrives. Family was expected to come and help in June, but all those plans are on hold.

“We’re all just having to wait and see,” she says.

Working to keep things normal while preparing for birth amid COVID

In the meantime, the parents are taking turns spending time with Nyla and giving each other space to connect with friends or do work virtually. 

“I think Nyla actually is really happy as a clam,” right now, “but she does miss things like her friends and the playground and activities that she was doing. She went almost overnight from a very social existence of swim class and ballet and school and playdates and birthday parties to nothing. Just trying to explain it to her is challenging. She understands enough to know that things are weird, but doesn’t quite get why when you walk by the playground it’s wrapped up in caution tape.”

Learning to live in lock-down

Besides missing her own friends and worrying what postpartum will be like if the lockdown continues and she can’t access the broad support network that she’s built as a mom, Garrett says she is just trying to be present to her family and with the good things in their daily life. Gardening with Nyla is one example.

“She is getting a lot more unstructured play time, which is, I think, really great for her. She loves that,” observes Garrett. “I feel like in our normal life it’s a lot of transitions. It’s a lot of rushing her from one thing to another. And at this developmental age kids thrive more being able to explore stuff and take their time. So that is one positive from this.” 

Still she wonders about the long-term impact on her “touchy, feely, loving kid.”

“It’s hard not knowing when we’ll be going back to the social richness of her life, and how that might affect her,” Garrett says. “And what the future of her because all of this is very hard for her to understand. Not being able to touch stuff. Is it possible for her to understand right now?”

One thing Garrett is enjoying with her husband being home is getting out for solo walks. It’s a real boost as she waits to give birth amid the COVID scare.

“Exercise has really helped. I’ve done a couple of yoga classes on Zoom, but being online gets pretty tiresome since I am also online for my job. With both pregnancies I’ve really just loved walking outside more than anything,” Garrett, a yoga instructor, says. “So as long as I get out and can do an hour walking around the neighborhood I’m happy.”

COVID-19: A social justice barometer

Another positive? 

“We’re seeing a lot of inequities in our systems now being thrown into stark light as well as stuff that we’ve done to the environment,” says Garrett. “Maybe these things will be addressed. Maybe we’ll see that some of the stuff that we thought we needed or policies that seemed to be right we don’t need and aren’t right.”

About the Author

Cheryl Murfin