This month marks exactly a year since my first pregnancy. Completely unplanned, out of the blue and destabilising, it rocked the start of 2020 for me. Before ‘lockdown’ became this year’s buzzword and news of a virus killing people in China was just emerging, I was on my very own, self-imposed lockdown, nauseated from morning until night.
My first trimester, like that of many women, was very difficult. I felt isolated, not having told my friends what was happening and completely at odds with who I am. I’m a morning person. I can be found at my desk working from 7am some days and have always been early to rise. During those months, I could barely drag myself out of bed before midday. I felt so unlike myself that I began to question if motherhood was really for me.
I didn’t have a chance to find out. Twelve months on and I have no baby to show for those first three months because I miscarried at the 12-week mark. As I announced to a group of my closest friends why I’d been so sickly and withdrawn for months, my baby’s heart had stopped beating inside me.
Needless to say, it has been a long process of grieving, acceptance and recovery since then, made even more difficult with lockdown imposed just as I miscarried and by endless rounds of antibiotics for chronic UTIs.
As the pandemic progressed, I learned to see the miscarriage as a blessing in disguise. We decided to wait until ‘things return to normal’ to try again. Putting a second pregnancy on hold, we joined the 58 per cent of young couples in the UK that have pressed the pause button on baby-making for fear of post-pandemic financial instability, more isolating lockdowns and the very real worry that life may never go ‘back to normal’ again.
News of the vaccine then, and the promise of a life in which I can go out for dinner with friends, plan a guilt-free holiday and yes, go to a 12-week scan with my husband in attendance gave me hope this week. “The Pfizer Vaccine will reach British soil in just a few short days” read the articles. We excitedly discussed getting back to getting busy.
“Not so fast!” says 2020. As it transpires, and logically so for a vaccine that has been very swiftly pushed through for rollout, the Pfizer vaccine is not recommended for pregnant women and those planning a pregnancy within three months of receiving it. Administered in two doses, two weeks apart, the RNA vaccine will offer up to 95 per cent protection from Covid-19, but not for women planning on bringing babies into the world any time soon.
Public Health England has advised that while there is “no known risk” to pregnant women being administered with the vaccine, “as with most pharmaceutical products, specific trials of the Covid-19 vaccine in pregnant women have not been carried out.” Why would they?
Herein lies my dilemma, and the root cause of my latest bout of insomnia: do I delay becoming pregnant and protect myself from COVID, or become pregnant and run the risk of contracting the virus?
Some might advise that I throw caution to the wind and just ‘go for it’ with the pregnancy because ‘you just can’t plan for these things.’ I am 30, after all, and not exactly in the high-risk category for developing complications from the virus. But after three years of regular antibiotic usage for persistent UTIs, followed by my miscarriage and a gynaecological cyst that landed me in hospital at the very start of my pregnancy, I do worry that my immune system is not up to scratch.
Yes, I could get pregnant and just go into my own self-imposed lockdown again, but the first pregnancy proved one very important thing to me: that I absolutely need the support of my friends and family and a social life to thrive mentally. In one of many studies into the impact lockdown has had on mental health, The University of Glasgow found that young women are some of the most at-risk of experiencing depression and ‘suicidal thoughts’ linked to lockdown, the numbers increasing if, like me, you have a history of anxiety.
Fear and uncertainty
I may be low-risk, but this virus has taken people by surprise. Not getting the vaccine, for me, feels akin to playing Russian roulette. Throw in the results of a recent study that found pregnant women with Covid-19 are at increased risk of being admitted to intensive care and of giving birth prematurely, and my dilemma is hardly a dilemma at all.
And so, like much of this year, I will wait. I will wait for the vaccine. I will wait for the all clear. I will wait for the baby that we now very much long for. After all, I do have time on my side. I’m still only 30 and have a good number of fertile years ahead of me (I hope). But what about the women that have waited and tried for much longer than I have for their baby? The women for whom every passing ovulation cycle marks a dwindling chance of conception. After the many dashed hopes that undoubtedly came before, with this latest blow, I wonder: just what are they expected to do now?