Once all the Netflix is watched, the books are read and the workouts are complete, there’s only one thing left to do in quarantine: make a baby.
As terrifying as bringing a child into a post-coronavirus world may seem, experts predict a baby boom roughly nine months from now, as panic-fucking has become an important pillar of quarantine self-care. Plus, it wouldn’t be the first time people started making babies in response to a crisis: The spike in births in New York and New Jersey nine months after Hurricane Sandy, and in Houston after Hurricane Harvey, suggest that sadness and horniness make for fertile common ground.
“Birth rates will likely soar with this pandemic, as humans tend to do what they like the most when they’re locked inside their homes for any length of time,” explains physician and reproductive specialist Paul Turek, who was a consultant for the CDC during the Zika and Ebola crises.
The thing is, conceiving right now isn’t a great idea. If the collapsing economy and health-care system weren’t reason enough to wrap it up, the unknown complications that accompany conception at this moment outweigh the reward. Last week, in fact, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine cautioned against making a crisis baby, arguing that there are too many risks related to coronavirus and reproduction still being sorted out.
First, though, despite what you may have heard from early reports in Wuhan, China, indicating that COVID-19 could “theoretically” impair men’s reproductive health — mostly because the receptor the virus uses to infect cells can be found in the testes — that doesn’t appear to be the case. “No documented cases of testicular infections have been noted during this pandemic,” Turek says. “So this might be where the ‘theoretical’ and the ‘real’ part ways.”
That said, coronavirus can temporarily hinder male fertility via fever. Because akin to how hot tubs can affect a guy’s ability to conceive in the short-term, a fever can overheat the testicles and reduce sperm production as well. The good news is that once the fever breaks, your swimmers rebound to normal. “It’s fully reversible,” Turek promises.
Meanwhile, for women who don’t already have coronavirus, pregnancy can make them more vulnerable to it because pregnancy naturally weakens parts of the immune system. (It does so to keep the immune system from attacking the baby as a foreign body.)
But again, it’s mostly otherwise good news (so far, fingers crossed) as Turek and other doctors don’t anticipate an increased risk of miscarriage for pregnant women with COVID-19, at least based on data on other coronaviruses such as SARS and MERS. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has warned, though, that pregnant women who get it may have a higher risk for pre-term birth and other complications (with the proviso that more research needs to be done to conclude if the infection is the direct cause).
In terms of the baby itself, experts are similarly optimistic that mothers won’t pass on the virus to their unborn child. Once more, though, there’s a big caveat given that the sample size of the study where this opinion is drawn from was all of nine pregnant women. In any event, the virus wasn’t found in amniotic fluid, the babies’ throats or in breast milk. Along these lines, there’s also little evidence of any birth defects linked with coronavirus during pregnancy.
All of this, of course, is promising for anyone who is already expecting, but people conceiving in real time need to take epigenetic risk factors into account. (Epigenetics essentially refers to how environmental and lifestyle variables affect gene expression — specifically, which genes are turned on and off — and like DNA, epigenetic issues can be inherited.) “This matters for sperm because whatever happens to sperm ends up being present in our kids,” Turek explains.
Since the coronavirus takes about two weeks to recover from on average, Turek doesn’t expect it to pose a direct epigenetic risk, but the collective stress from a global pandemic might. For example, psychological trauma and poverty have been found to leave lasting epigenetic marks on children, and with soaring unemployment, possible death of family and friends and an indeterminate amount of isolation in our near future, it doesn’t bode well for quarantine progeny.
In other words, panic-fuck responsibly.