By: Kristin Malaer
During pregnancy and afterwards, mothers are faced with making tough decisions. Each has its own set of challenges, as every pregnancy is unique, and this is certainly the case with being pregnant during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As a first-time mom, I was faced with decisions about how much to share, who to be around and how isolated I should be to protect my baby and myself. My husband and I took our birth class through Zoom because he has been restricted from physician appointments and we have been isolated from family and our community of support. Baby showers certainly look different now, and navigating postpartum support is still uncertain. One decision I never expected to make was whether to receive the COVID-19 vaccine while pregnant. Since no one could make this decision for me, I had the option to panic or to be empowered to make an informed decision for myself and my baby.
I would be lying if I said it was an easy decision, or one that my husband and I took lightly. It most certainly was not. In fact, after initially scheduling the vaccine, I postponed receiving the first dose for two weeks in order to do some homework. After taking several steps to gather information and become educated, I went in with confidence and received the Pfizer vaccine at 29-weeks pregnant. As I write this, I have now received both doses of the vaccine. I feel great and remain confident in my decision.
Over the course of those initial two weeks, my husband and I read numerous medical statements on the COVID-19 vaccine and pregnancy. We discussed what we read together following the informed decision-making model taught by Evidence Based Birth. With these statements in hand, I spoke to the following practitioners: my OB-GYN and nurse midwife, a neonatologist, a maternal and fetal medicine researcher, as well as additional colleagues in both health care and research. They offered me perspectives on the data, benefits, and theoretical risks currently available. I attended each of the Memorial Hermann Town Halls facilitated by lead infectious disease physicians. Their insight and regular updates helped me tremendously. I am thankful to be surrounded by the most skilled physicians in their respective fields.
My husband and I also educated ourselves through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on the specific mRNA vaccine technology. We learned that this technology has been around longer than this pandemic and this vaccine has followed the traditional development process. It moved quickly due to the financial backing and widespread focus. We both read the current risks for COVID-19 and pregnancy. What I learned is that although absolute risks are low, there is an increased risk of severe disease from COVID-19 during pregnancy. This includes an increased need for ICU care requiring ventilation, potentially ECMO, and this risk is further increased if the mother has any comorbidities. In my line of work as a medical social worker, I have seen first-hand this level of care and its severity. I do not take this reality lightly.
After reading the information and interviewing physicians and researchers, we put together our “Pro/Con” list and weighed our options. Ultimately the tipping point on this list was one clear answer – getting the vaccine protects our baby through my antibodies. Since there is no approved pediatric vaccine for COVID-19, these antibodies will be protecting my baby during the most vulnerable part of his or her life.
Every parent is faced with many major life-altering decisions. Some of these decisions, as we have learned, do not have a clear-cut answer. The decision to vaccinate may or may not be what is right for you and your family. One thing I have learned through this process is that we all have the option to become educated, weigh the pros and cons in our own situation, and decide accordingly. Although the decision is most certainly a heavy one, the freedom to make that informed decision is empowering, regardless of what you ultimately choose.
We are navigating scary times but this is not the last time we will be called to do so as mothers. This experience has taught me that I am empowered to make tough decisions and do what’s best for our family. Although pandemic pregnancy has certainly had its challenges, I am excited to be welcoming this little one into a world where there is a light at the end of this tunnel.
Kristin Malaer is a social worker in The Heart and Vascular Institute at Memorial Hermann-TMC