Conceived and born in a pandemic, the first quarantine babies are arriving
by Ashley Fetters  /  Dec. 24, 2020

“Katy Dobson and her family have taken to calling her 2-week-old boy, Atlas, a “coronial.” Atlas’s time in his mother’s womb coincided almost perfectly with the nine months that the United States has spent battling the coronavirus pandemic. He was born Dec. 8 in Pensacola, Fla., 38 weeks into his mother’s pregnancy and almost 39 weeks after the surreal Wednesday in March when Tom Hanks announced he had tested positive, the NBA suspended its season because of transmission concerns, and the World Health Organization officially declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic. When shutdowns began in the United States back in March, almost immediately there were titters and murmurs of the baby boom that would materialize nine months later. All that free time for cohabitating couples to stay home alone together, surely, would result in overflowing maternity wards come December, the speculation went. At the same time, others wondered whether worries about the devastating effects of the pandemic would cause some couples to put their plans to conceive on hold, leading to a “baby bust” in December and January. In some cases, like Dobson’s, the former is precisely what happened: Her husband, tattoo artist Aaron Walker, 31, went into self-quarantine several days before Florida’s stay-at-home orders went into effect March 30. He was suddenly home with Dobson all day every day, “and it happened, like, that week,” Dobson, 27, said with a laugh.

It’s still unclear what’s happening on a national scale. Some hospitals and midwife groups, such as Brigham and Women’s in Boston and Brooklyn Homebirth Midwifery in New York, have reported no notable change in numbers of patients expecting in December and January, while Michigan Medicine in Ann Arbor has seen about a 10 percent decrease. The Birthing Gently doula collective, which has locations in New York City, Boston and Charlotte, has noticed a 30 percent increase over last year in clients due in December and January. The National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, doesn’t expect to release the nationwide birthrate data for late 2020 (and settle once and for all the whole “boom or bust” question) for another six months. But what’s clear now is that the first wave of pandemic babies — covid babies, coronials, pandemi-kids, whatever you want to call the micro-generation of children conceived, carried and born during the covid-19 crisis — is making its way into the world, and their parents have experienced pregnancy in a way that few others in modern history have. Their nine-month journeys toward parenthood have been lonelier and more dystopian but at the same time more private and physically comfortable than those of people who embarked on the same adventure as recently as last year.

Dobson had a feeling that trying for a baby in March might mean she’d still be living through a pandemic when her baby arrived. But having experienced a miscarriage in February and multiple others before that, she didn’t want to wait. Dobson’s prior miscarriages, she said, meant her prenatal doctor visits were more frequent than most patients’; she saw her obstetrician every two weeks for her entire pregnancy. New covid-19-related policies meant her temperature was taken at three different checkpoints at each visit. Social distancing requirements and new occupancy limits meant Walker was able to attend almost none of her appointments. “My husband had to stay in the car for every single one,” she said. “So he never really got to be there for me. And it was a very stressful time, because of our history.” She wasn’t allowed to record any videos in the office, and found FaceTime all but useless in transmitting the imagery of an ultrasound machine. So Dobson absorbed virtually all the progress updates and news about her pregnancy alone. Dobson found pregnancy overall to be a more solitary experience than she would have liked. Her parents, who live 250 miles away in Birmingham, Ala., agreed to keep their distance out of caution — which caused heartache all around when Dobson briefly went on bed rest. “My husband was having to do everything,” she said.

Even Dobson’s brother, who lives in Pensacola, saw her only twice during her pregnancy. When she was 34 weeks pregnant, “he stood outside in my driveway with his mask on and he goes, ‘Man, you’re big!’” Dobson was unable to attend any birthing classes before she delivered Atlas; they weren’t offered nearby during the pandemic, she said. She had no baby shower, no shopping trips for nursery supplies or baby clothes, no gender-reveal party. Her mother, she said, sent her friends and relatives a note requesting that in lieu of a shower, they send gifts and cards with a few words of parenting advice through the mail instead. (A Zoom shower, she said, was out of the question: “Our Internet’s not the greatest down here.”) Dobson took a few photos of her growing belly along the way but didn’t share them on social media. Because of their past miscarriages, Dobson and Walker didn’t tell anyone they were expecting until her pregnancy reached about 20 weeks — and with no social engagements for most of the year, some of her acquaintances didn’t know she’d even been pregnant until she announced Atlas’s birth.

Many women have expressed amusement and bewilderment at the new possibility of a “secret pregnancy” while working from home during the pandemic. Although she doesn’t work, Dobson still enjoyed the extra privacy that lockdowns and social distancing measures provided. “It was pretty easy to hide it, you know, not being around other people,” she said. “I thought that was very nice.” Plus, “I didn’t have to go anywhere or entertain people while I was feeling, you know, down and sick,” she added. “And whenever I did go places, nobody tried to touch my belly.” There were other upsides, too, to being pregnant in a time when few people were interacting with anyone outside their own homes. Had the world been normal, Dobson would have wanted to take a pre-baby vacation, for example. But the two months she and Walker spent mostly homebound before Walker returned to work in May provided a more substantive “babymoon” than they would have been able to achieve otherwise. Like every new parent who has given birth in the past nine months, Dobson had to adjust her expectations for the day of delivery — and manage those of her family. Walker was allowed in the hospital delivery room the day Atlas was born, but no other visitors were permitted. Dobson’s mother was disappointed, Dobson said, but she herself was slightly relieved: At the time, multiple relatives were sick with covid-19. As Dobson and her nationwide cohort of new moms transition from pandemic pregnancy into pandemic parenthood, some of their unique struggles will fade away and be replaced by the more ordinary challenges of raising kids. But the loneliness, the lack of emotional and practical support that characterized their pregnancies, will probably linger, at least until the vaccines become available to the public: Dobson will limit Atlas’s contact with people outside their household for at least another few months, and for as long as the country is still actively dealing with a pandemic, she said, “we don’t plan to take him anywhere.”

One day, Dobson imagines, she’ll explain to Atlas why for the first few months of his life, only two people — his parents — ever held him or fed him or rocked him to sleep. She will explain to him that he met his great-grandmother via FaceTime while she was in the hospital recovering from covid-19. She’ll tell him the story of Dobson’s parents driving for four hours to meet her in the parking lot of her brother’s apartment and spending an hour gazing at their new grandson through a car window before heading back home. She’ll explain why his aunts and uncles and grandparents, at her request, sent over close-up pictures of their faces: “To be able to show him so he recognizes people without the mask on,” Dobson explained. But as he grows up, Dobson mused, perhaps Atlas won’t think anything of the masks that show up here and there in his baby pictures. “I think the mask thing is definitely going to start sticking around during the flu season,” she said. Throughout her pregnancy, Dobson has kept a journal; in the future, she wants to be able remember in vivid, specific detail the conditions that will shape little Atlas’s early life. Because while it’s a strange, challenging time to be a parent, she said, it’s also “a weird time to be a baby.”

Naming Babies ‘Covid’ and ‘Lockdown’ Because Birth Trumps Death
by Rakhi Bose  / April 03, 2020

“First, a baby girl born in Uttar Pradesh was named ‘Corona’. Then another boy in UP was named ‘Lockdown’. And now, twins born in Chhattisgarh have been named ‘Corona’ and ‘Covid’. When asked why they named their newborns after a deadly virus that has already killed 50,000 people across the world in just a span of months, the twins’ parents simply said that the names symbolised “triumph over hardship”. The names would serve as a reminder and symbol of the tough times that the parents endured and lived through while giving birth to the children. The Raipur couple isn’t the only one to think that way. Father of baby boy Lockdown who was born amid (you guessed it) the 21-day lockdown imposed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 24 to contain the spread of COVID-19, chose the unusual name as the entire country was in lockdown and bearing the crisis together. Ever since the COVID-19 outbreak in India, names like ‘Corona’, ‘Lockdown’, ‘Covid’, even ‘Virus’ have been doing the rounds across several Indian states. While the choice of names may come as a surprise to many. After all, a virus is not the most auspicious of namesakes. In reality, though, babies are often named after disasters and calamities that impacted the world or made a dent in the history of a place, community or country. Especially those born amid a disaster.

The 2004 Tsunami earthquake that hit several parts of India’s southern tip and other parts of South East Asia left massive debris and destruction in its wake. Homes and entire cities were swept away and over 2 lakh people lost their lives. Among those who did manage to survive, however, were several babies and expecting parents. Thailand’s Od Judet was 8 months pregnant when she was swept up by the waves that grew out of the Indian Ocean. She survived and went on to give birth to a baby girl whom she named (you guessed it again) Tsunami. This a common practice for Americans, who often get creative while naming their annual hurricanes and rightly so as the names invariably end up in the repository of baby names for the so-called “disaster babies”. Unceremonious though it may sound, babies are nevertheless born during disasters. It seems both death and life are unstoppable. In fact, disaster babies have quite a legend to their credit with several researchers attempting to find a correlation between disasters and birth rates. While no conclusive evidence has so far come to light, some studies show that mild disasters that drive people indoors may lead to a temporary baby boom. And it is likely that many of these babies would be named after the disaster.

Granted, the COVID-19 pandemic is neither mild nor a natural disaster in the true sense of the term. But with 10 lakh people currently suffering from the disease, a disaster it is. And like any disaster worth its salt, it is posing a grave threat to life and social order and has driven people indoors like never before. A year from now, it would not be surprising to find a country full of little “Coronas” and “Covids” who lived to tell the tale. It isn’t just Indians. Filipinos are also coming up with virus-inspired baby names like “Covid Lorraine” and “Covid Bryant” amid the pandemic. The latter, in fact, represents not just the coronavirus pandemic but also basketball star Kobe Bryant who passed away in an aircraft crash along with his daughter earlier in the year. Two-tiered symbolism. In a way, naming a child after a disaster or calamity that one survives could be a means to commemorate human victories and cope with tough memories. As mundane as it may be, survival is often a miracle. Especially so when disaster strikes in the face of an alien virus. Outliving crisis and emerging victorious can be a life-altering event and naming a baby who also survived that with its parents, albeit as a foetus, does have a kind of poetic beauty to it. Moreover, names based on tragic events are can be life-affirming symbols of the victory of life over death. With coronavirus currently holding humankind hostage in their own homes, the world is trying its best to beat the sly enemy. And if it manages to outlive the virus, these babies may just end up as symbols of that victory. But not before enduring a lifetime of MEAN name jokes in school.”

The surprising history of the “disaster baby boom” legend
by Annabelle Timsit  /  June 25, 2018

“About nine months after Hurricane Irma, one of the strongest Atlantic basin hurricanes ever recorded, hit Florida and shut down power for millions, the state’s hospitals say they are experiencing a different kind of storm—a mini baby-boom. Osceola Regional Medical Center in Kissimmee has seen just over a 5% increase in births since May, according to Jenni Lash, director of women’s and children’s services at the center. “It’s a pretty common phenomena after hurricanes,” she told Quartz. And not for the reason you may be assuming. As the legends go, major natural disasters and other events that keep people indoors are followed by increased births. That’s why we also have “blizzard babies,” and “blackout babies.” Washington DC even has its own spin: furlough fertility, for what happens when the federal government shuts down, giving federal workers nothing but time—which some apparently use to procreate.

Almost every major natural disaster in the US inevitably has been followed by headlines claiming a spike in births. It was the case for Hurricane Sandy in 2013, the freak snowstorms in Buffalo, NY, in 2015, and hurricanes IrmaMaria, and Harvey in 2017. But the science on this can be pretty shaky. Do disasters lead to increased births? There’s ample supposed anecdotal evidence from hospitals, yet very few studies have been able to prove any causal relationship between natural disasters and birth rates. The seminal paper was a 1970 study by University of North Carolina professor J. Richard Udry, who studied the great New York City blackout of 1965 and concluded that there was no positive fertility effect. Still, other studies with larger sample sizes have reached different conclusions. A 2008 study in the Journal of Population Economics looked at birth and storm-advisory data from 47 Atlantic and Gulf Coast counties over a period of six years. The researchers found that low-severity hurricanes and tropical storms were associated with increased birth rates, while hurricane warnings led to a decline in births nine months later.

Most of this effect, however, was observed among couples who already had at least one child before the natural disaster, leading researchers to conclude that ”the elasticity of demand for children is relatively inelastic for first children but becomes more elastic after couples have their first child.” Meaning that, in general, the timing for having a first child is less flexible than the timing for a second or a third because couples who already have a child are less concerned with preventing a pregnancy. That study appears to support some seemingly conventional wisdom: During low-intensity natural disasters, couples are often stranded at home, with no power, and limited choices for how to spend their time. However, the same medical professionals who note the upticks will tell you that it’s not that simple. ”A lot of it isn’t what you think,” Lash said, laughing. “If the electricity is out at home, then it’s also out at the pharmacy where they get their birth control refills, or their clinic, or their doctor’s office where they get their [Depo-Provera] shots,” she explained, attributing the higher birth rates to the difficulty of accessing birth control during natural disasters.

The first well-documented instance of disaster baby-boom coverage was a series of three August 1966 New York Times articles reporting that a one-day lapse in electricity on the night of Nov. 9, 1965 had led to a sharp increase in births at local hospitals the following summer. In response to those claims, Udry conducted his now-famous study, which found no relationship between the blackout and New York City birth rates. Far from quelling the debate, the Udry study inspired more research. Studies from 2000 to 2015 looked at the question using bigger sample sizes. In 2005 study, University of Oklahoma psychologist J.L. Rodgers found an association between the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and fertility rates in surrounding counties nine months later. That’s not an an anomaly: A 2015 study, which measured the impact of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, found that fertility rates increased in Indonesia after the disaster that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. That’s for two main reasons: Mothers who lost children in the tsunami were significantly more likely to bear additional children and women without children began having children earlier where tsunami-related mortality rates were higher. The available studies don’t really back up what many observers believe to be true about the disaster baby boom. And yet, the myth persists. As Udry stated about the effect of the 1965 blackout, it “is evidently pleasing to many people to fantasize that when people are trapped by some immobilizing event which deprives them of their usual activities, most will turn to copulation.”





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