Changes to daily life, routines, and limited access to services have been a challenge for the entire community since coronavirus swept into the Rio Grande Valley in March.
The spread of the virus has affected some more than others, though pregnant women have been in a particularly tricky situation navigating conflicting guidance, limited access to doctors and hospitals, and in some cases difficult decisions like quitting jobs to keep safe.
Priscilla Rosas, 38, is now 21 weeks pregnant and had to quit her job at a pharmacy to ensure the safety of herself, her baby, and her two children. “We were concerned because we didn’t have the proper gear. Everybody would touch the keypad when they paid for their medication; everyone had to sign,” she said.
The pharmacy was understaffed and Rosas was expected to show up to work. Then, the border shut down and schools closed, forcing Rosas to tell her employer she couldn’t work. An aunt would normally cross from Mexico to help babysit and could no longer do so. “Plus, my parents are in their 60s and they’re high-risk. I didn’t want to be leaving my kids there, especially if I was going to work not wearing the proper gear and then spreading it to my parents’ house.”
Fortunately, Rosas’ husband is employed, though the family is just beginning to feel the financial strain of less than half their original income. Rosas has applied for unemployment and SNAP benefits for the first time in her life. Her insurance could have been impacted, but wasn’t, as she was able to access federal healthcare for pregnant women.
One of the primary challenges for pregnant women in the community has been conflicting safety guidance from doctors and public health officials. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently states that there’s no data showing that COVID-19 affects pregnant people differently than others but goes on to say they’re at greater risk of getting sick from other respiratory viruses than people who aren’t pregnant. As the virus is new, research is still developing.
Also concerning was that it appeared not all hospitals were prepared to supply staff with adequate PPE when the crisis began. Rosas heard from family members working in labor and delivery units at different hospitals that newborns were testing positive. “I was hearing this at this time it wasn’t even in the news,” she said.
Thalia Paz, 31, is a nurse and has worked throughout the pandemic. “We all wish we could stay home with our families and take care of our kids and ourselves. We can’t. People should be more considerate about that and keep us in mind,” she said of her situation.
Paz was unsure if the virus would be able to cross the placenta and was also worried about bringing it home to her nine-month-old son and husband. Paz was in her first trimester and worried that contracting COVID during such an integral phase of development could harm her baby despite reassurance from doctors.
She described learning to live with the fear and adapting to new precautionary measures but worries that everything re-opening means people have let their guard down. “We come in through the garage, we take off our shoes and clothes, and we go straight to the shower before sitting on anything or touching anything. That’s a norm now.”
For Susana Perez, 38, accessing healthcare was an issue. She found out she was pregnant during quarantine and initially thought she had a stomach infection. Due to a condition with her uterus, she didn’t think she was able to get pregnant. It also causes bleeding, which lead her to worry she was having a miscarriage. She had to wait several days to see her physician as he didn’t want her to go to the hospital. “You have to go to the doctor by yourself, wear the mask, and wait outside. I wasn’t feeling well. I have to try to find somebody to watch my kids, try to go to the store and get prenatals,” she said.
Perez was sick, holding down a full-time job, and taking care of her two autistic children. Her husband works out of town and the children are dependent on her for everything, including home schooling and meals. “Right now, since it’s just me, I have to go buy groceries and I’m scared to go outside because I’m 38, I’m pregnant, I have two kids at home, and I don’t want to bring anything back. I wipe down the cart and pray for the best,” said Perez.
For those women without complications, limited healthcare access wasn’t as big of a challenge, and social distancing in doctors’ offices appears to be keeping patients safe. Megan Taylor is 31 weeks pregnant and a full-time student at Texas Southmost College. Her pregnancy has been healthy, though social isolation and the added stress of home schooling her daughter has been hard. “I’m not a teacher, but I try to do my best,” she said.
Taylor said the most difficult part has been keeping distance from her mom. Due to pandemic-related restrictions she may not be able to be with Taylor and her partner in the delivery room. “She helped me through the first one and it would be really sad if she wasn’t there for the second. I miss that social contact with her. Being pregnant right now, I really need her, Taylor said.