Dawn Gonzales and her husband Yang Li were eager to start trying for their third child, but when the coronavirus pandemic hit, the family of four put their plans on hold.
Gonazales has two sons, now ages 2 and 4, so she knew the difficulties of pregnancy. The frequent medical visits that are normal in pregnancy would be stressful during the pandemic, she reasoned. The idea of caring for a newborn while also helping her children navigate school closures, online learning and coronavirus restrictions seemed impossible. She does have some family nearby, but she worried that the risks of the virus would keep them from being able to help.
The final deciding factor: Li is a doctor who treats coronavirus patients. Since pregnant people are considered to be at risk for severe COVID-19, the family decided to put their plans on hold.
"We decided to wait, because of the pandemic," said Gonzales, who had been using Babycenter, a family planning site, to prepare for another pregnancy. She says they've put a third child on hold for a future time: "When things finally settle down and we do have a routine where we don't have to pick up the kids from school at a moment's notice and we have the space, in terms of time and mental energy.'"
Gonzalez's story is echoed across the country: While some predicted quarantine might result in a baby boom, it's been more of a "baby bust," as lower birth rates are reported. According to the Brookings Institute, there could be 300,000 to 500,000 fewer births in 2021.
Dr. Sue Varma, a board certified psychiatrist, said that she expected the lower birth rate.
"I had called it since the beginning," said Varma. "...I know the impact of stress on romance and physical intimacy, and it's detrimental. Unless family planning was explicitly on your agenda and you pushed through it, being in close quarters, more dirty dishes, screaming kids, remote learning, work taking over your home life... is not conducive to sex and procreation."
Varma said that other stressors, like job loss, financial pressure and worries about bringing a baby into the world post-pandemic could also contribute to people delaying their decision to have children.
Freeze Health, a fertility service that helps women decide if, when and where they'll freeze their eggs, said they had a 250% spike in searches about egg freezing from April 2020 to January 2021.
Gonzales said that while she and her husband had been interested in having another child soon, they decided that it couldn't hurt to wait for a year or so.
"I remember saying 'What's a year? Let's push maybe a year, just a year,'" Gonzales said. "I tried to make a very bite-sized decision."
Gonzales said that the decision was easier to make because she already had two young children, though she still felt "a little bit of grief" about putting their baby plans on hold.
"If it weren't for the fact that we have two kids already, I think we would be a little more devastated," Varma said. "We already have our family, we're just growing it, and time really is on our side. We're still young enough. It was a lot easier to come to that understanding than it would be without any kids. ... Waiting a little bit longer is not as hard as worrying that it'll never happen."
Varma said prospective parents should consider some important questions before trying for a baby:
- Are we financially ready?
- Are we emotionally ready as individuals?
- Do we have enough family support?
- Is our marriage or our relationship in a good place right now?
- Is not having a child an option?
- Can we afford childcare?
- What does childcare look like for us?
- Who will stay home if we are in another lockdown?
- If we have another lockdown, who will do the brunt of remote learning?
"I see a light at the end of this tunnel," Varma said. "It's an individual decision ... The risk of COVID will be there, but if we can all possibly be vaccinated, I see a different, safer world to bring the baby into. For me, at this point, some of the other, more perennial issues need to be discussed, (like) readiness, financially and emotionally; but also, what would it mean if COVID quarantine came back?"
Gonzales said that she and her husband are hoping to put their family plan back on track by December 2021.
"It'll definitely happen before the end of the year," she said.