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Couple used transplant experience to help navigate pregnancy during pandemic

Pregnant during pandemic

Kate and Brian Chong couldn't have known they would become parents during a pandemic, but they were more prepared than most for a difficult pregnancy.

Brian donated a kidney to his wife about three years ago and the couple from Coquitlam says they drew on that experience to stay positive while getting ready for the birth of their first child last month.

"Kate and I have learned how to support each other already through those difficult times," said Brian. "If we didn't have those learned experiences, I don't know if things would have ended as successfully as they did for us."

Kate, 35, was diagnosed with kidney disease about a decade ago. She switched medications after the couple decided they wanted to try to have a baby, which led to complications that meant Kate required a kidney transplant.

Brian, 39, was a match and the couple underwent surgery a little more than two years before they became pregnant last October.

Their daughter Adelynn was born four weeks early on June 14 among clinicians suited up in protective gear at St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver.

Kate's immune system is weakened by the anti-rejection medication she takes following the kidney transplant, so throughout her pregnancy the couple stepped up the measures they were taking to protect their health.

But Kate said her anxieties stemmed mostly from the risks associated with kidney disease and pregnancy, rather than COVID-19.

Meanwhile, early results from a Canada-wide survey of pregnant women show expectant mothers are reporting elevated levels of anxiety and depression compared with data on pregnancy and mental health prior to the pandemic.

The survey began on April 5 and the early results are based on responses from nearly 2,000 women, but the study is ongoing and about 4,000 more women have participated since then, said Catherine Lebel, who's leading the project.

"It's scary for individuals to think about getting COVID but I think it's especially scary when you're growing another human being and you don't know how that's going to impact that fetus," said Lebel, Canada Research Chair in Pediatric Neuroimaging and a professor in the radiology department at the University of Calgary.

"We're looking at rates of anxiety and depression symptoms that are three to four times higher than normal."

The survey includes questions about the women's level of concern over contracting COVID-19 and how they felt about the prenatal care they were receiving, as well as their financial circumstances, occupation and relationship status.

The health restrictions imposed because of the pandemic added a second layer of stress, said Lebel, as women reported stronger-than-normal feelings of social isolation. That sense of isolation was associated with higher levels of anxiety and depression, she said, while better sleep and support from partners and social networks helped moderate those symptoms.

Although they're resilient, Brian and Kate said they were sad they could not share their pregnancy with family and friends in person as they would have before the pandemic.

Kate's parents live in Alberta and the couple said they connected virtually until health restrictions loosened enough to allow Kate's mother to visit for a drive-by baby shower, along with physically distant meetings with some members of Brian's family who live locally.

Brian said he also missed hearing Adelynn's heartbeat during several ultrasound appointments that only Kate was allowed to attend, and it's strange not to know what the doctors and nurses who cared for them look like without masks.

Ultimately, though, Kate said she's grateful that her kidney function is stabilizing and Adelynn is doing well.

"For me, Brian gave me this gift so we could provide this gift to the world of Adelynn."



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