Doctors in masks - pregnant health workers

Pregnant And On The Front Lines

While some quarantined civilians complain about struggles with boredom and cabin fever, there are countless heroes on the front lines of the COVID-19 battle who are risking everything every day. This includes many pregnant doctors, nurses, medical staff, and caregivers in the United States and throughout the world.

Many hospitals in the United States have devised policy in response to CDC guidelines. However, guidance for pregnant health workers regarding use of PPE and interaction with patients is not uniform across institutions. The CDC advises that pregnant women have a higher risk of severe illness when infected with viruses from the same family as COVID-19. And, while mother-to-child transmission of coronavirus during pregnancy is unlikely, after birth a newborn is susceptible to person-to-person spread.

Some expectant mothers are staying on the job out of necessity. They have financial and professional concerns, and the facilities they work for provide little paid time off or maternity leave. However, many health care providers are acting out as sense of inalienable duty to their patients, to their colleagues, and to the world. They are upholding a solemn commitment to the ethical principals they learned during their medical training. Here are a selection of stories sourced from around the United States.

Cheverly, Maryland

Three of the emergency room doctors at University of Maryland Prince George’s Hospital Center are pregnant, the Wall Street Journal reports. Dr. Elizabeth Clayborne, Dr. Tu Carol Nguyen, and Dr. Michelle Callahan came to a joint decision to stay on the job because they felt that the absence of all three of them would cause a significant burden on the rest of the ER staff. Administration has given them shifts that are somewhat less risky, but all three have been exposed to COVID-19 patients. When possible they work alongside other physicians who can handle intubations and resuscitations – procedures that carry the highest risk of coronavirus exposure for doctors.

I feel my baby kicking all the time while I’m working. It is a reminder that I’m not by myself when I’m serving on the front lines.

Dr. Clayborne

Houston, Texas

CNBC recounts the situation of Dr. Sonia Singh, an internist at Memorial Hermann Health System. She was 33 weeks pregnant in late March and had modified her schedule so that over 80% of her patient consultations were via internet. Her husband, Dr. Harman Kular, is a critical care doctor and pulmonologist at the same hospital. They have set up a cleaning station in their garage for when they return from work.

Hamilton, New Jersey

The Independent profiles Heather Hodnicki, a nurse at an in-patient acute rehab facility in New Jersey. She is expecting her second child on June 29. Although she has ongoing concerns, as of March 26 she was still working with patients, none of whom have tested positive for COVID-19. Notably, Hodnicki has used her popular Instagram account as a platform to spread positivity and reassurance to other pregnant mothers. In regular posts, she offers personal updates, coronavirus safety tips, and spiritual guidance. In one post, she writes, “I am choosing Peace over Panic, Faith over Fear, Wisdom over Worry.”

San Antonio, Texas

In a March 24 New Yorker essay, Rachel Pearson describes her experience as a pediatrician during the pandemic. She is a doctor in the UT Health Physicians, a health care system comprised of specialists and primary care physicians from the faculty of the School of Medicine at UT Health San Antonio. She points out that, while only about 2% of COVID-infected children have required hospitalization, that proportion is far higher than that for influenza. So far, her colleagues have helped her avoid taking extra shifts at the hospital. However, she struggles with a moral dilemma – continue to provide a critical service to humanity, or shield her own child from potential harm.

I want him to know that… while he was forming, cell by cell, doctors and nurses across the world risked their lives to help strangers. Even when our societies did not take the steps needed to protect us, we did not abandon the sick. I want my son to know that certain moral duties are worth risking death—though, certainly, I hope not to die—and that the kind of life where you have such a duty is, finally, a life worth living.

Dr. Rachel Pearson

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