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Home >Science >Health >The Covid-19 pandemic put many pregnancy plans on hold. Some women aren’t waiting anymore

Some are betting that a window has opened to resume pregnancy plans before shutdowns return; it isn’t always easy going

On a Thursday morning in May, Kristyn Hodgdon entered a doctor’s office and laid eyes on the nitrogen tank containing the embryos that might one day become her babies.

Pandemic restrictions in her Long Island town were easing at the time and vaccination rates were climbing. But at that moment, the 32-year-old still wasn’t ready. She decided to postpone trying for her third baby.

“I had been working from home with my two toddlers for about a year with no child care," Mrs. Hodgdon said of her decision. “It just felt like a mental overload that I couldn’t put myself through."

Mrs. Hodgdon’s dilemma is occurring throughout households and in doctors’ offices around the world.

Some women who put off planned pregnancies during early lockdowns are continuing to hold out as they wait for stability. The rise of the Delta variant has only increased their concern.

Other women who once paused are rushing to accelerate their childbearing plans. Many are increasingly aware of the ticking biological clock that may make further postponements risky. Some of these women are betting that a tiny window has now opened for them to resume their paused pregnancy plans before shutdowns return.

Renee Haines, a mental health counselor in Columbus, Ohio, said the availability of vaccines convinced her to start a postponed pregnancy.

She and her husband initially postponed plans of becoming pregnant due to fear of the effects of Covid on a newborn. Then, Mrs. Haines, 33, felt her job was in jeopardy when her workplace faced financial constraints in 2020.

In January, Mrs. Haines learned she would be among the first Americans with access to the vaccine given her work in healthcare. She and her husband began trying for their second child in February.

“I think a vaccine is a protection. It’s not a cure-all," Mrs. Haines said.

Data on any increase in pregnancies isn’t yet available given most governments and hospitals measure births. Any increase would come on the heels of historically low birthrates last year.

Tomer Singer, the medical director of Shady Grove Fertility in Manhattan, said he’s seen a surge in patients since March and April, when most adults in the tri-state area began getting access to the Covid-19 vaccine.

“There’s almost like the feeling of a lost year," he said.

Shady Grove Fertility hit an all-time high for new patient scheduling during the month of June, tracking a 34% growth compared with June 2020. His fertility center is part of US Fertility, the largest fertility center in the nation, with 42 locations across the country.

Fertility specialists say that patients are resuming family planning for many reasons. Some families are trying again because they have a newfound sense of security. Others feel that time is running out.

“A couple months here or there is not going to make huge differences, but can six months to a year make a difference? Yes, it can," said Kimberley Thornton of Reproductive Medicine Associates of New York.

Arden Cartrette, 28, gave birth to her first child two weeks before pandemic lockdowns hit her hometown in Siler City, N.C.

Mrs. Cartrette had suffered complications getting pregnant the first time, so she and her husband knew they wanted to start trying for a second child as quickly as possible. Even under that pressure, they held off until she received the vaccine.

“Once I got vaccinated, I felt more comfortable," said Mrs. Cartrette, who works as a doula for women who have had miscarriages. She knew nursing mothers could pass the vaccine antibodies on to their newborns through breast milk, so she planned to begin trying as soon as the vaccine was in sight.

“My son actually weaned off of breast-feeding right before I was vaccinated, so he didn’t get any of the antibodies from breast milk and that’s always kind of been something I regretted," she said.

Women are born with all the eggs they’ll ever have. As women age, their fertility decreases: Experts name that fact of life “advanced maternal age," which they say begins at 35.

Still, healthcare providers and fertility specialists said many patients are unaware that fertility can start to decline around age 30 and nosedive around age 37. Dr. Singer said that some doctors are noticing their patients’ sense of urgency and are making referrals straight to him, rather than doing preliminary fertility testing themselves.

“They’re calling me, [saying] ‘OK, I have this 36-year-old. They’re very nervous, just do everything up front’," Dr. Singer said. He takes around a week to do a full work-up on his patients, which can include semen analysis, fallopian tube tests, an ultrasound, and tests measuring the hormones FSH and AMH.

Discussions about intrauterine insemination, or IUI, and in vitro fertilization, or IVF, may follow. He said fertility treatment is being sought by both women with and without partners, including those looking to get pregnant now and those wanting to preserve their options for the future.

For the would-be parents of the pandemic era, unpredictability is the lesson learned.

Back in Long Island, Mrs. Hodgdon more recently decided to go forward with a possible pregnancy.

She had been diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome at age 27 and had taken quick steps at the time to preserve her fertility. She was elated when the recent frozen embryo transfer resulted in pregnancy. Then, she suffered an early miscarriage last month.

“That, to me, makes me feel like I shouldn’t have waited," Mrs. Hodgdon said. She is concerned about the quality of the embryos she has left.

“It’s such a gamble," she said.

Mrs. Hodgdon takes some comfort in knowing the Covid-19 vaccine she received decreases the risk of serious illness. Because her twins are too young to receive doses, she sees getting vaccinated herself as the best way she could protect them—and any future sibling.

“I’ve done everything I could by getting the vaccine, and if things start shutting down again, it’s like, I can’t hold off forever," Mrs. Hodgdon said. “I want another child."

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