New life amid 1.12 million dead: One woman’s COVID-19 pregnancy

By Blake Weaver

Elijah Grant Crawford weighed 8 pounds and 3 ounces when he was born on Oct. 6, 2020, at just after 1 p.m. – in the middle of a global pandemic. During his first year of life, most people he sees outside his house will be wearing masks.

His mother, Katie Crawford, announced her third pregnancy in January. Crawford’s mother cried tears of joy while her father just sat in shock. Crawford’s eight-year-old daughter, Abby, jumped excitedly as her nine-month-old son, Joshua, crawled around the living room.

Crawford said she didn’t think much of the flu-like virus she’d heard about on the news that week.

“I saw reports of the coronavirus on the news, and my ears didn’t perk up until I heard there was a case in Washington,” Crawford said. “I still didn’t really pay attention. They kept comparing it to the flu, so I just ignored it.”

Two months later, the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic. Much remains unknown about COVID-19 – even less about its effect on pregnancies. While Crawford didn’t have an exposure scare during her pregnancy, she said she felt lonely and helpless in the face of abrupt, potentially long-lasting, changes.

Getting ready for new life amid a nationwide shutdown.

After learning she was pregnant, Crawford spent two months preparing and planning for her new child. She moved furniture around her two-bedroom condominium, while she could still manage, and began budgeting with her husband, Walt Crawford.

She’d recently left her job to stay home and take care of her nine-month-old son. Walt started taking double shifts at Taco Bell, where he works as a general manager.

Cases increased substantially during this time, but Crawford said she still thought it was just a new flu. She remembered the 2009 swine flu pandemic and imagined COVID-19 would spread similarly. Since the swine flu came and went without affecting her, Crawford said she didn’t see any reason to worry.

“I think a lot of panic came from the media reports in the beginning,” Crawford said. “The panic – buying and mask and hand sanitizer shortages – I thought all of it was silly.”

Then, most of the country shut down, including her daughter’s school. Crawford had to create a homeschool environment in her condo while raising her now one-year-old son. Although she was barely showing, Crawford said she already felt the pregnancy’s strain.

“Walt was still working constantly, so we could actually afford this family,” Crawford said. “I don’t want to say that I was stuck taking care of the kids because I knew I wanted to stay at home anyway and loved every minute of it. The atmosphere was just different.”

Her daughter was also feeling the pandemic’s impact.

“We try to play as many games as possible to stay happy,” Abby said. “Mom keeps us focused on the happy things while everything seems sad.”

Facing pregnancy alone and losing supportive social connections

Crawford used to shuttle her daughter to and from school and countless extracurriculars, which gave her time to talk to teachers and other parents. She frequently gathered with a group of parents who shared dessert recipes in the back of the gymnasium while their children played.

“The world suddenly shut down, and I didn’t even get to say a ‘See you soon’ to everyone I saw on a daily basis. I wanted to see my friends and family, but I knew I couldn’t,” Crawford said.  “There was really nothing I could do to fix anything, and that was hard for me. Part of me wanted to go back to work just to feel some part of normalcy.”

During her past two pregnancies, Crawford’s mother, Ellen Cotton, came to her house almost daily to support her. Since she works in a medical support field, she’s had to stay away more often than they both would like.

“It’s hard for me to know my daughter is stuck, and I can’t really go help that often,” Cotton said. “Anytime I’m potentially exposed, I’m anxiously counting down the days until I can go see Katie.”

Each prenatal care checkup reminded Crawford of the pandemic’s painful realities. No one was allowed to come with her – not even her husband. The couple said not being together for Crawford’s appointments, like they had been for her previous pregnancies, was one of the worst feelings.

“I struggled to hold it together those days,” Walt said. “I felt like I wasn’t there for my wife and child.”

Giving birth and looking toward the future.

When the time came for Elijah’s birth, the Crawfords packed two weeks’ worth of clothes and made arrangements for Katie’s mother to watch the kids. They wouldn’t be allowed out of the hospital, and no one was allowed to visit.

“It felt much more like an operation than anything else,” Katie said. “This is supposed to be one of the happiest times of our lives, and it still is, but there isn’t the same energy.”

The doctors and nurses wore extensive personal protective equipment, but the Crawfords did not wear any. They only were asked to do so if they left the room, which they rarely did.

“I was not going to give up a last morsel of comfort when I was about to give birth,” Crawford said. “I rarely wore a mask the last six months, and I’m not going to now unless I absolutely have to.”

Now a big brother, Joshua has developed an aversion to masks and hides from people wearing them. He only responds to someone if they pull their mask down to show their full face – a practice that Katie doesn’t mind but her mother warns against. Abby said she tries encouraging her brother to be comfortable around masks, given that they will be commonplace for the foreseeable future.

“Joshua has spent this year seeing everyone suddenly start wearing masks,  and I think it’s a shocking change for him. He’s so young, but he saw people without masks before, and I think he remembers that,” Abby Crawford said. “Eli won’t have that. He’s just going to see masks everywhere. This is just how it is right now.”

Edited by Ellie Heffernan