To Conceive Or Not To Conceive: LGBTQ+ Family Planning During A Pandemic

The truth is, there is no right or wrong answer.

“If you wait for the perfect time to have a baby, you’ll never have one,” is the wisdom my grandma shared with me when I told her I wanted to conceive on my own as a single mom by choice several years ago. My grandma was right. While there’s never a perfect time to have a baby, getting pregnant during a global pandemic isn’t the scenario most people would choose to bring a life into. That said, when your lifelong dream is to become a parent, or you feel your “biological clock” ticking, the drive to conceive doesn’t just go away. 

My friends Alyssa and her partner Melanie have been trying to conceive for years. After two heartbreaking miscarriages and many unsuccessful attempts at getting pregnant, their journey of trying to conceive (TTC) was suddenly and swiftly put on hold when the coronavirus pandemic swept through the country. “I am devastated,” says Alyssa, “but Melanie is not comfortable with us moving forward trying to get pregnant while a mysterious virus rages on. She says the unknowns are too risky.” Just how founded are Melanie’s concerns? 

Should LGBTQ couples delay TTC during the pandemic? 

I spoke with some fertility specialists to get the low-down about trying to conceive during the pandemic. Dr. Sara Mucowski is a reproductive endocrinologist and OB-GYN based out of Dallas, Texas; Dr. Thomas Fisher is a board-certified OB/GYN and reproductive endocrinologist in San Francisco; and Dr. Meredith Brower is a reproductive endocrinologist in Santa Monica. They shared their wisdom and expertise when I asked whether those of us in the LGBTQ+ community have — or should be — putting our TTC efforts on hold during the pandemic. 

Early in the pandemic, with so much unknown about COVID, I think all couples were hesitant to initiate evaluation or pursue treatment,” says Dr. Mucowski. “And with recommendations by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine initially recommending delay of evaluations and treatment, even those who may not have wanted to delay growing their families were forced to.” 

Fortunately, that didn’t last long. “As curves were flattened and resources preserved, along with increased awareness regarding minimizing viral spread with wearing masks, social distancing, telemedicine, vigilant cleaning processes, and increased testing capabilities, I think many couples are comfortable moving forward with their care.” 

What are fertility clinics doing during the coronavirus pandemic? 

Many fertility clinics have replaced in-person appointments with a virtual platform and limit visits to only patients to reduce COVID-19 exposure risks. Dr. Mucowski’s fertility clinic has put precautions in place to protect all patients: requiring face coverings, frequent hand washing, limiting the number of patients in the building at the same time, and asking that partners do not come to appointments. 

Additionally, many fertility clinics around the country are not only turning to telemedicine as often as possible but also performing temperature checks for in-person appointments. Many couples who are trying to conceive are not only concerned about the impact COVID-19 may have on their TTC efforts — IUI and IVF cycles run the risk of being canceled due to COVID concerns. 

The truth is, trying to conceive is a journey that comes with many unknowns even during the best of times. Proceeding with any fertility cycle during this time comes with even more unknowns and uncertainties. For example, if you or your partner get diagnosed with COVID-19, your cycle will be canceled and your efforts will be put on hold until you’ve recovered. 

How can I safely proceed with trying to get pregnant during the pandemic? 

Because there are so many unknowns surrounding COVID-19, fertility doctors are unable to provide patients with solid, evidence-based facts for them to make a sound decision about whether or not to proceed with TTC. 

Instead, they can provide advice on how to safely proceed with their TTC journey during the pandemic. “I tell couples who are deciding to move forward with pregnancy and TTC to self-isolate as much as possible to minimize exposure to COVID-19,” says Dr. Meredith Brower. “We’re mindful that these patients need to come to the clinic to get them pregnant and safeguard the environment with safety protocols such as handwashing, wearing masks, and limiting the number of patients in the clinic at any given time.” 

The effects of COVID-19 on pregnancy

Because the virus that causes COVID-19 is novel and was first detected in late 2019, it is difficult to know if COVID-19 patients who conceived around the time that they were infected have long-term pregnancy effects. 

“Pregnant people are more susceptible to respiratory infections, so theoretically, they would be at increased risk for severe illness if infected,” says Dr. Fisher. Fortunately, the majority of women infected with COVID-19 have gone on to achieve healthy and uncomplicated pregnancies. 

“Studies are still lacking since this is a new disease, but in the latest report published by the CDC, the data showed that, although there is an understandably higher hospitalization and ventilation rate among pregnant women, the mortality rate among pregnant women from COVID-19 infection is not higher than that of the general population,” says Dr. Fisher.

No matter the timing, the decision is personal 

Even in “normal” times, determining when to conceive is a very personal decision. If you and/or your partner are feeling too anxious about the uncertainties, it may be best to wait before proceeding with trying to conceive. If you live with depression, anxiety, or other mental health challenges, this should also factor into your decision, as social distancing may make pregnancy and newborn-parenting even more isolating and difficult. 

The truth is, there is no right or wrong answer. Consider why it’s important for you to get pregnant right now and make your decision with the input of your partner and/or closest trusted friends and family. 

“The true impact of coronavirus infection on pregnancy complications and miscarriages still needs further time and research to evaluate, but what we do know is that now, more than ever, we’re finding hope in helping to build families and look towards the future,” says Dr. Fisher. 

Even in a pandemic, life marches along. Humanity’s tenure on our beautiful planet Earth has been punctuated by wars, pandemics, plagues, and man-made catastrophes, and we’ve still found ways to carry on.

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