This time last year, lockdown was in full swing as a result of the rapidly spreading coronavirus — and just like that, people's plans for 2020 came to a crashing halt. This included weddings, vacations and many more special occasions that were meant to be shared with loved ones.
The pandemic also shifted perspectives and timelines around parenting and threw a wrench into family planning as a whole. For those having trouble getting pregnant, it posed a whole new slate of problems. Blair Nelson, the co-founder of Fertility Rally, an inclusive space for those "riding the roller coaster of infertility or building their modern families in a non-traditional way," faced a pandemic-related setback on her personal fertility journey.
"Before the pandemic, [my husband and my] next step was to travel [from Austin, Texas] to Colorado for a fifth IVF cycle as our 'Hail Mary attempt,' but when COVID-19 hit, that option was taken away from us, forcing us to make the decision to do our fifth round locally," she tells Yahoo Life. "Luckily, it worked and we are pregnant with our first child, but having the option taken away and our plan shifted due to something out of our control was anxiety-inducing and frustrating."
Nelson knows she's far from alone.
“Literally every single woman in our [Fertility] Rally family and broader infertility community was affected by the pandemic in some way, whether it was canceled or delayed cycles, no longer being able to travel for treatment, being unable to visit their gestational carrier, financial strain due to layoffs... the list goes on and on," Nelson says.
One of the main dilemmas was the fact that countless fertility clinics and doctors' offices were forced to close their doors or only see minimal patients due to stay-at-home orders. Subsequently, this caused issues for people with infertility problems who were relying on assisted reproductive technology (ART) to grow their families. "Family planning for this population came to a screeching halt, at least for the first few months when the country and world were trying to get their hands around the pandemic," says Nelson. "Cycles were upended and people were told their medical procedures were 'elective,' so COVID-19 really turned this population on its head."
Alison Prato, who co-founded Fertility Rally alongside Nelson, says the fact that infertility treatments were suddenly considered elective was definitely one of the hardest pills to swallow for those struggling to get pregnant.
"For so many in this community, the pandemic meant that clinics closed and treatments were canceled or postponed, which was devastating to so many and difficult on a lot of couples and infertility warriors," she says. "There is so much waiting with infertility and ART already."
Prato adds, "Frustrations grew high [because] infertility is a disease — no one chooses to go through this."
Frustrations grew high [because] infertility is a disease — no one chooses to go through this.Alison Prato
“We built our community because of a need the pandemic created. We saw early on a need for community and support amid all of the changes COVID brought upon our population," Nelson explains. "We have also seen the community overall really come together to rally behind each other during this time. We empathize with each other and support each other more than ever."
While traditional norms around family planning have been changing over the last decade, the pandemic made it clear that a "new normal" is widely accepted and here to stay.
According to an April 2021 in-depth trend report by Modern Fertility and Zola, 46 percent of people surveyed reported that the pandemic forced them to change their plans for becoming parents, with 31 percent saying it delayed timelines for having kids.
However, what family planning looks like or when it happens has changed for many. Seventy percent of people surveyed don't believe it's taboo to have a kid before you get married. And on top of that, 27 percent said they don't feel like they need a partner to become a parent.
"We found 1 in 5 couples who were planning a wedding ended up considering just having a kid," says Modern Fertility's co-founder Carly Leahy. "When I went to get my wedding dress last year, the woman working there told me all of her brides are pregnant right now, so it's clear that so many people have had to rearrange their timelines because of the pandemic."
As it turns out, Leahy was no exception. The pandemic forced her to delay her wedding three separate times before she and her now-husband finally decided to elope with some close family and friends. Prior to the elopement, she'd taken out her IUD to begin trying for her first child, and lo and behold, she found out she was pregnant two weeks before the wedding. "I never would've pegged that I'd be pregnant on my wedding day, but it's all worked out even though it wasn't what we expected at all. I'm having a baby girl in just a few weeks now."
Leahy strongly believes the pandemic accelerated trends that were already happening. "We've seen these shifts in the last decade, with more people having kids in their 30s and electing to parent on their own," she says. "I think the pandemic ended up serving as this kind of liberating blanket excuse to do things in your own way because you have so little control."
I think the pandemic ended up serving as this kind of liberating blanket excuse to do things in your own way because you have so little control.Carly Leahy
Raira Ank, 27, and her fiancé decided to start trying for their first child ahead of their wedding — which was scheduled for March 2021 — as a way to have some agency over her fertility status. "In December 2019, I got back the results from my Modern Fertility Hormone Test and learned that I have a low AMH, or low egg supply, which my doctor told me wasn't a huge issue but could make it take longer to conceive," she says. "So we were like, we know that we'll get married when it happens, but there's no reason for us to keep waiting to try and get pregnant. Let's just start trying now."
The pandemic, however, put their plans in a tailspin, and they held off. Knowing they could have a slightly more difficult time conceiving, Ank and her partner began trying to get pregnant in January 2021 ahead of the nationwide vaccine rollout. While they considered postponing their big day because of COVID-19, their venue wouldn't let them reschedule their wedding date. They went through with a smaller and more intimate wedding in March.
While Ank admits it was hard having to give up her initial "big wedding dreams," she says she ultimately wouldn’t have had it any other way. "As a bride, you of course envision what your wedding day will look like, so accepting that it was going to be very different was difficult at first, but it ended up being perfect. I wouldn’t change a thing now."
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