Being a pregnant medical trainee just got more complicated in the COVID-19 era

As a cardiology fellow in a busy New York City hospital, my life has snowballed into chaos. Just last week, I was a pregnant doctor completing her second trimester, waddling down the halls of the hospital with an echocardiogram machine in tow, taking care of sick cardiac patients. Now a viral pandemic has invaded all remnants of this prior life.

Patients pour into intensive care units with coronavirus. Colleagues serve on the front lines against a new threat. Our cardiology service is now COVID central. This crisis is isolating for the health care worker as our reality has changed quickly. We discuss the pandemic with practicality and pedantic jargon, but inside we are helpless.

Speaking to other pregnant health care workers in my hospital, we are in an emotionally unique scenario that lacks clarity and is incredibly personal. We think about the health of our babies and feel a crippling fear walking into the hospital every day, unsure of what we will face or have to handle. As a doctor, my job is to help as many sick people as possible. Add on the tiny detail of my pregnancy, and I’ve started to question whether I can still do my job and protect my unborn child.

Personally, my mind races with uncertainty, and I’ve started to play the never-ending “What If” game in my head: What if I expose myself to COVID-19 and contract the virus? What if I do my duty as a doctor, only to realize the gravity of my choices later? What if I protect my family first – am I less of a doctor?

My mom recently said, “I think you should stay at home until the virus disappears; it’s too risky for you and the baby.” Her advice brought up the painful reality that I am living in.

“I don’t know what to do, Mom,” I said tearfully. “I’m conflicted – do I choose my profession or sit quietly on the sidelines until the baby is born?”

I know my mother is right. After two weeks on our inpatient service, I am out of the hospital and have peace of mind. I wake up; I feel every kick and roll my baby makes; I bond with him or her outside of the chaos that is coronavirus. This serenity, however, will not last. This weekend, I am headed back to take care of cardiology patients in a COVID contaminated world – the virus is having its own effect on the heart, potentially causing damage that may prove permanent, if not rapidly fatal. I will wash my hands, put my gear on, and take precautions.

My program leadership has been nothing but supportive and will continue to be as COVID reaches its peak. I watch my co-fellows tirelessly working with coronavirus patients, and I try to support them and help patients through virtual work. This decision has reassured me, my husband, and my family. As my little one grows by the day, I can still feel useful and less guilty for the choices I have that others do not.

It is an interesting time to be a pregnant doctor. Just as pregnancy is a miraculous experience, it has isolated me in a time where my skills as a doctor are probably the most crucial. I am hopeful that when my baby is born, he or she may never know what the world has gone through to bring them here. If you are a pregnant health care worker, do not feel alone – the thoughts running through your mind are shared by many other expectant mothers. Read the literature out there; think about what will make you most comfortable; reconcile your skills as a healer and your journey as a mother. Most importantly, talk to your colleagues and supervisors about a plan of action. We are in the midst of a pandemic with unknown effects on our children and us, but we will navigate this together.

The author is an anonymous physician.

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