August 03, 2020
Dr. Alexa Vitek-Hitchcock was 26 weeks pregnant when Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer mandated closure of dental offices to routine dental care on March 20. By the time she was allowed to reopen her general dentistry solo practice on June 1, she was 37 weeks pregnant.
After five years of fertility treatments and spending the last three months of pregnancy during the COVID-19 pandemic, on June 24, Dr. Vitek-Hitchcock gave birth to her first child, Charlotte.
“Pregnancy and birth during COVID-19 weren’t the experiences that I had envisioned when we became pregnant in 2019,” she said. “But in the end, we still have a beautiful, healthy baby that every day reminds us that life is about relationships and the love we have for one another.”
Along with Dr. Vitek-Hitchcock, Drs. Daniel Hall, of Williamston, South Carolina, and Lauren Vitkus, of Geneva, New York, are new dentists who welcomed a new baby during a global pandemic. Dr. Hall welcomed his son Wes in May, while Dr. Vitkus welcomed her son Patrick in late June, about three and a half weeks early. Meanwhile, Dr. Seth Walbridge, of Allenton, Pennsylvania, and his wife are newly pregnant — about 19 weeks.
The four new or soon-to-be parents shared their experiences, including offering advice to other new dentists, on what to expect while expecting in the age of COVID-19:What have been the biggest challenges while expecting or giving birth during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Dr. Hall: COVID-19 has changed so many aspects of life for everyone. You anticipate having your family in the hospital with you when your child is born, but those days are gone. Showers are virtual, “first looks” are over FaceTime, and the way you thought you’d welcome your child into the world is no longer an option. But amid these changes is hope. A baby embodies our hope for the future and the possibilities that are at his or her fingers. COVID-19 has changed many things, but it hasn’t changed that.
Dr. Vitek-Hitchcock: Having my dental office be closed for almost three months due to COVID-19. We had planned financially for me to be off from work after her birth for a few months but we of course didn’t plan ahead financially for me to not see patients for the three months leading up to her birth. In those three months prior to her birth, we had planned for me to complete larger restorative cases and see as many patients as possible, but that didn’t occur. When we opened we had to find a place [in the schedule] for restorative patients after three months of closure due to COVID-19 immediately followed by my maternity leave. Patients have been fairly understanding to be postponed three to six months but the loss of production this year is quite significant, making it even more difficult when you consider the expenses of adding a newborn to your family.
Dr. Walbridge: So far one of the biggest challenges has been that our doctor’s appointments have been limited to mostly only my wife. Normally it would be fine for both parents to attend these appointments. Luckily my wife is tough. On a more humorous side note, it seems that ordering furniture for our baby room is taking way, way longer than normal.Dr. Vitkus: The biggest challenge was the limitations in place during my prenatal visits. This was my first pregnancy, so everything was new to us. Some of my appointments were canceled, some were moved to virtual appointments, and after March my husband was unable to attend my in-person appointments with me. My doctor’s office did all they could to make the best of this situation, but it was definitely not what we were envisioning. With that said, my husband and I were able to spend a lot of quality time together when our practices were shut down preparing for our sons arrival, and that special time together was such a blessing.
Once the baby arrives, or if the baby has already arrived, how much time off from work are you planning on taking? How are you balancing work and family in the midst of a pandemic?
Dr. Hall: My wife is a pharmacist, and her corporation provides 16 paid weeks of maternity leave. I own my practice, and I am the sole dentist. I elected to not work during the week of my son’s birth, but that was all. I didn’t think it was fair to make the staff take unpaid time off due to our new addition. One week allowed me to be in the hospital, get Wes and Emily home, and stabilize things enough to go back to the office. We are fortunate to have both sets of parents within 10 minutes of our house, so that made it possible for me to return to work so quickly.
Dr. Vitek-Hitchcock: Because my office was closed for almost three months due to COVID-19, I will only be taking four weeks off from work after the baby was delivered by planned C-section. For the three weeks that we were able to have our offices open prior to my due date, I didn’t schedule restorative patients since I was almost 37 weeks pregnant and could go into active labor at any point. I did go into the office every day up to my due date to do exams and see emergency patients since I felt well.
My husband will stay home a few more weeks with the baby before he returns to work. Although the option of an in-home nanny to care for our newborn will cost more than the original child care center we had selected, we feel that at this time with COVID-19 and the uncertain infection rates that the greater cost is worth protecting her from exposure. I was also told by other professional colleagues that an in-home nanny provides greater flexibility in balancing home and dental practice needs.
Dr. Walbridge: I plan on taking one to two weeks off to give my wife a break during her time away from work. She is a critical care doctor so she has been working nonstop pretty much since everything began. I have it incredibly easy compared to her. I think it is easy for us to take for granted regular working hours.
Dr. Vitkus: I am a solo practice owner of an orthodontic practice that opened three and a half years ago. I had grand plans of being able to coordinate my schedule and patient appointments to allow for an ideal work schedule post baby, but COVID-19 certainly threw a wrench in that. I was thankful to be able to reopen June 1 and begin getting caught up on patients before our son’s arrival. His due date was July 21, but he made his grand debut three and a half weeks weeks early on June 26. I wouldn’t trade these bonus weeks with him for anything. But as a result, our practice schedule had to be further rearranged. I’m thankful to have an amazing team at my office who helps me be able to balance the practice and my personal life. I took three and a half weeks off and have returned to the office part time. My husband, who is also an orthodontist (in a different office), is able to be home with our son this summer on the days I work in my practice.
For other new dentists planning on starting a family, what piece of advice or knowledge can you provide on what they can expect while expecting in the age of COVID-19?
Dr. Hall: Things will be different. And that’s OK. You are having a baby, and that’s still a wonderful, miraculous occurrence, even amid COVID-19. Yes, you will have only mom at some doctor appointments. [As for the partner], you’ll have to be in the parking lot or on speaker phone during those checkups. But it’s worth it. You will love your new addition, your family will be thrilled, and your life will change for the better.
Dr. Vitek-Hitchcock: As with most everything in life, there is never a “perfect time.” My advice would be to prepare yourself to receive prenatal care without your support person being able to go to appointments with you, except the 20-week ultrasound where you can find out the gender. This means no grandparents or other family at ultrasound visits to share in the excitement with you.
Also, be prepared to not be allowed to have any visitors at the hospital when the baby is born. Depending on how many COVID-19 cases are there locally at the time you give birth, be prepared to not be able to have a spouse or support person in the delivery room with you. After birth, your pediatrician may recommend only allowing the same [certain number of] people who are following COVID-19 guidelines to be able to hold the baby in your home for the first four to six weeks or longer if cases are on the rise, meaning very few visitors to see your newborn. In the beginning, I struggled with not being able to celebrate the birth of our long-awaited child with others.
The excitement that I had for bringing our child into this world and sharing her with others has been squelched by COVID-19 and its safety restrictions. Obviously, we are following them for her safety but I do grieve what we and our families are missing out on because of restrictions. But on the flip side, my pregnancy and her birth have created joy in an unsettling time in the world. Although it might be virtually, she has brought excitement to many friends and family. They long for the day that they can hold her and snuggle her but for now protecting her with social distancing/home quarantine is key.
Dr. Walbridge: Advice I would give to anybody expecting during this time would be to plan a little further ahead than you normally would. Obviously, it takes way longer than normal to receive furniture that you may order. First world problems mostly.
Dr. Vitkus: Life is always full of surprises, whether it be COVID-19 or other events that impact your life! Surround yourself with the right people who can help you navigate uncertain times. Certainly, consult with medical professionals if you are considering expansion of your family during the COVID pandemic. In regards to your practice, ensure you have the right team and support people in place to help you navigate and balance your work and personal lives.
Any other advice?
Dr. Vitek-Hitchcock: There is never the “right time” or “perfect time” to have a baby. Your patients will be understanding of your time off and if they are not, then they might not be the patients you want in your practice. Your patients will be as excited as your friends and family for you to have a baby. Since we were closed 3 months, my patients said that they felt like they were missing out on my pregnancy journey and wanted to share that with us. You will be amazed at how many people will be supportive of you having a baby. Being very transparent with your patients is important, for example your due date, what your plan is for while you are gone, etc. Your practice and patients will be there when you return. You might financially have less, but it will be worth it. My hygienists have worked during my short maternity leave. Ask for help from others.
Dr. Hall: Let me tell you what I wish I had heard: You can’t control a baby. And while you know that, as a dentist, you need to hear it. We spend so much of our day establishing order amid chaos while we treat patients. But with a baby, sometimes you just have chaos. Don’t beat yourself up. [For first time parents], try to remember that neither you nor your baby have done this before, you’re all learning this together, and it does get better. I promise.