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Kamloops, Okanagan women face additional pregnancy challenges during pandemic

Kaelyn Kraushar with her husband Trevor, newborn Georgia and daughter Macey.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Capri Kimberly Photography
December 16, 2020 - 7:00 AM

Kaelyn Kraushar gave birth to her second child at Vernon Jubilee Hospital eight weeks ago but both her pregnancy and birth were vastly different from her first because of the pandemic.

The Lake Country woman has no real complaints since baby Georgia appears happy and healthy, but the experience was a product of the time.

“My first pregnancy, we had lots of people in the house, lots of friends coming to visit and there was none of that this time which wasn’t terrible, it was just very different,” she said. Her other daughter Macey, is three.

“The level of care was also very different (during pregnancy). Doctors didn’t want you coming in all the time. They were trying to limit in-person visits and make sure everyone was being safe so (there were) a lot of phone calls instead of in-person exams so I was very thankful this was my second pregnancy because I was less stressed out as everything was less new.”

At Vernon Jubilee Hospital, no family or friends could visit, which Kraushar said she was prepared for, but “even now I feel a little bit mopey because her grandparents aren’t spending time with her and the baby stage is so short, and by the time the vaccine and the pandemic lifts, she’ll be a totally different kid.”

Macey wasn't even allowed to see her new baby sister until Kraushar was discharged 24 hours later.

Kraushar said she got pregnant just prior to the pandemic, so it wasn’t a factor in her and her husband's decision to have another child, but it led them into uncharted territory.

“No one knew how it affected babies or our toddler at the time,” she said.

READ MORE: Pregnancy and COVID-19 examined by Canadian research network

Being in the unknown was “very nerve-wracking,” she said, adding that her doctor initially told her to avoid going out and to get food dropped off.

“You have so many different opinions,” she said. The doctor is telling you one thing, the nurse is telling you another and your family and friends are telling you other things, which is still happening, she laughed.

The hospital also seemed quieter.

“I’m not sure this is because of COVID but they had locked the hospital doors and there was supposed to be someone manning the door and there wasn’t anyone. I had six minutes from the time I was in the car to when I had my child, so I almost had her on the doorstep, because no one was there, so luckily a guy came though,” she said. “But I don’t know if that was a symptom of the pandemic or just bad timing but it was definitely really different.”

Friends and family have only been able to see baby Georgia at a distance so far.

Three-year-old Macey Kraushar holds her baby sister Georgia Kraushar.
Three-year-old Macey Kraushar holds her baby sister Georgia Kraushar.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Capri Kimberly Photography

“We’ve done a few of 'holding baby up in the yard,'” she said, adding that Facebook and video chats have been good ways to stay connected.

Looking back, she would have waited a year to have a child because of the pandemic and her advice to other soon-to-be moms would be, “to stay on top of your mental health. There’s really great resources now for online counselling and support (for) definitely first-time moms, stay on top of (your mental health).”

Tracy Armstrong, a doula based out of Kelowna, teaches prenatal classes at Okanagan College.

She said while the actual birthing process at hospitals hasn’t changed during the pandemic because certified doulas are still allowed inside the hospital, pregnancy has become more isolating for women.

Her classes have switched to an online format.

“There’s a lack of connection with other pregnant individuals, but the online classes have been really great, people have accepted that there are no in-person classes and next best thing is online and my last several classes have been full,” Armstrong said.

“That being said, I think women are having a better postpartum period because they’re cocooning with their babies. They’re really taking this rest period in the first six weeks after having their baby because we’re isolated. So my guess will be that these babies are more bonded to their parents because they’re alone with the baby.”

Cocooning is where parents spend more time with their baby alone.

“Cocooning after birth is something we don’t often get the chance to do because we have so much going on in our lives, so to be able to take that one-on-one time is really precious,” she said.

Karla Karcioglu, from Kamloops, is currently pregnant with her first child and she’s due in May 2021. She said navigating the healthcare system was already difficult and only exacerbated by the pandemic.

Karcioglu has been living in the city since roughly 2010 and during this time, hasn’t been able to get a family doctor.

“I have always been a person who had to go to clinics,” she said. “That was one immediate concern of mine heading into this.”

She started seeing a naturopath, to find alternative options from bouncing around to clinics.

“I would like to have a conventional family doctor, it’s not my intention to substitute,” she said, adding that having a naturopath provides a more consistent person who is able to know her and look after her needs.

In connecting with the Thompson Region Family Obstetrics Group, she will only have a maternity doctor for a limited time, and after that she’ll have to use walk-in clinics.

“Even that initial step seeing a pregnancy doctor... you’re kind of on your own to figure it out,” she said.

READ MORE: B.C. baby of mother in coma from COVID-19 is 'strong and healthy'

Karcioglu wanted to have a baby since she was three years old and weighed out the pros and cons with her significant other on having one during the pandemic.

“My thinking was kind of 'why wait'? You don’t know how long the pandemic is going to last for, you don’t know how bad it’s going to get, you don’t know if this is one of many to come and it’s really one of those things where you start looking at your whole life plan and say ‘if I bump a baby back one year, what does that look like for everything else in my life?’” she said.

They also considered what would happen if she or her partner or both of them lost their jobs.

“In the end we felt we had good job security and could make it work even if one of us got laid off. I feel terrible for any new parents or anyone newly pregnant navigating a job loss due to the pandemic,” she said.

“The other consideration is just because you’re trying, doesn’t mean you’re going to get pregnant. You have to start that process at some point to find out where you’re going to end up.”

The couple knew there would be additional challenges with the pandemic, but other than finding information, Karcioglu hasn’t experienced a significant challenge other than navigating the healthcare system.

“We knew it would be another thing to navigate and we did a best-case worst-case scenario… and I don’t think I would change the plan at all (looking back),” Karcioglu said.

“I don’t think I’m far enough yet that it’s been too bad… it seems like I’m not seeing doctors too frequently, it doesn’t seem like there’s massive delays or the system seems stressed yet,” she said, adding she was told the maternity clinic may move locations from Royal Inland Hospital if COVID-19 cases increase.

“It’s just another weird thing to have to navigate… I’m really interested to see what happens as I get close to giving birth so I’m hopeful the high number of cases will have tapered off by the spring,” she said, adding that she does have a concern about resources available in the spring and whether the healthcare system will be stretched thin.

At the Maternity Care Westside in West Kelowna, manager Deanna Pearson said typically births in the Central Okanagan follow numbers worldwide with the busiest time of season being in September as more people typically become pregnant in the winter months and during the holidays.

May and July 2021 are anticipated to be busier than usual, and compared to previous years, the clinic is busier this year, but not “astronomically so,” she said.

“It’s definitely tied to the economy, numbers went down when the economy was going down and people were losing these jobs in Alberta. In Kelowna, because of how people were feeling financially, weren’t having more kids but we still had a few months that were quieter and December has been quiet and (pregnancies would have occurred in March at the beginning of the pandemic for December babies),” she said.

While the clinic anticipates May and July to be busier, which Pearson said is unusual, a lot can change before then. 

“I wouldn’t say there’s anything that’s connected to (the pandemic) because we always have years that have busier months than others, but May (2021) was a bit of a surprise because historically that’s not a busy month,” she said.

READ MORE: Could isolation from coronavirus inspire a new baby boom? History suggests... maybe

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