Dreams of a baby put on hold

Plus: Myrtle Beach in a 'crawl-walk' phase for Memorial Day travelers; N.C. releases guidelines for sleep-away camps; New N.C. Covid cases still rising; Charlotte Symphony tunes up for August concerts

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LEDGER IN-DEPTH: Hidden Health Crisis in Charlotte

For weeks, we’ve been surrounded by coverage of the havoc caused by Covid-19: the deaths, the hospitalizations, the economic catastrophe that’s been unfolding around us. In the meantime, major healthcare crises are unfolding, too — ones that are happening quietly, with little public attention, but with very real effects on lives of people across Charlotte. This story is the third in a Ledger series exploring the hidden healthcare fallout from the pandemic.

Covid-19 halted appointments at Charlotte fertility practices, upping the stress for women longing to get pregnant. ‘I’m running out of time.’

By Cristina Bolling

It had been Amanda and Lee Cooper’s dream to have two kids within two years of each other, so when their first child turned 8 months in the summer of 2016, the couple made a decision: Let’s start trying for baby number two.

Their son, TJ, had been a surprise, but Amanda Cooper wasn’t shocked when a year went by with no pregnancy. She knew she suffered from polycystic ovary syndrome and hypothyroidism, two conditions that can make it hard to conceive.

She consulted doctors who started her on fertility medications, and she went back to work to bring in more money for fertility treatments, logging overnight shifts at a hospital as a certified nursing assistant.

She suffered a string of chemical pregnancies, or very early miscarriages, and grieved month after month as pregnancy tests came back negative.

Amanda Cooper, shown here with husband Lee and 4-year-old son TJ, has been longing for a second baby since TJ was 8 months old. Her infertility treatment was delayed during Covid-19, like that of many women trying to conceive.

In early March, things were starting to look up. Amanda’s body was sending signals that it was ready to accept a pregnancy, and April seemed a good time for an intrauterine insemination, where a doctor would inject sperm directly into the uterus, which ups the odds of getting pregnant.

But then, the coronavirus pandemic hit. Cooper’s fertility doctor, like others across Charlotte, halted most procedures in mid-March. She was told she’d have to put her treatments on hold, with no end date in sight.

An optimist, she tried to focus on what she could do instead of what she couldn’t.

“I did a lot of meditation, gave up dairy, got more exercise; anything I could do to improve my health,” said Cooper, age 29. “I’ve been putting my body through this stress for four years.”

Added anxiety: For women struggling to get pregnant, every month brings a potent mix of anxiety, hopefulness and potential heartbreak. Covid-19 forced medical providers to halt many women’s courses of treatment, causing them to lose time and money, and adding to the feeling of hopelessness in their longing to get pregnant.

“In the world of fertility, these women and couples have waited so long and have struggled for so long, and I think there’s this pressure like, ‘I’m running out of time,’” said Dr. Ashley Eskew, a reproductive endocrinologist with Atrium Health.

In mid-March, the American Society of Reproductive Medicine put a moratorium on all non-emergent cases, Eskew said, and doctors like her had no choice but to close their doors to most patients.

Women who were already undergoing “stimulation,” or intensive chemical prepping of their bodies for in vitro fertilization, were allowed to continue, but other patients had to wait. (In vitro fertilization is when mature eggs are retrieved from a woman’s ovaries and combined with sperm in a lab, and the resulting embryo is transferred to a woman’s uterus.)

“We had patients who were basically ready to start their cycle and had to be told, ‘We have to put this on hold,’” Eskew said.

Feelings of loss: Johanna Hyland, a licensed clinical social worker who counsels women and couples dealing with infertility through her practice, Healing Heart, has been hearing firsthand the anxieties of women struggling with yet another setback on their road to motherhood.

“There’s very little that my infertility clients can control. They’ve planned and budgeted around these cycles, and a lot of them have been abruptly stopped,” Hyland said.

“That’s been especially hard for those clients who have taken medications and they’ve done injections, and then the clinic closes. Not only have they put their bodies through a lot, but their hearts, too.

“They didn’t just jump to IVF, they started trying naturally for awhile, and may have suffered miscarriages. Many of them tried less invasive interventions like acupuncture,” she said. “They finally get treatment and feel like the ball is rolling, and then — it’s just stopped.”

Compounding the sadness these days, she said, are the posts so many parents are making on social media complaining about having to care for their children 24-7 during the pandemic.

“When you’re trying so hard to have a baby and you hear people say, ‘It must be so easy to not have kids — you can do your workouts whenever you want!’ you just think, ‘If only I had a baby right now, I’d spend all my time and energy and love on that.’”

Restrictions are lifting: During the last two weeks restrictions have slowly been lifting, and last Monday, some doctors like Eskew were able to resume most procedures and appointments.

But for many doctors, it’ll take months to reschedule the backlog. And for women who have been carefully monitoring ovulation, the lost months feel like missed opportunities to finally get pregnant.

When they do go in for their appointments, they’ll find new protocols.

Eskew’s office is requiring women to be tested for Covid-19 before egg retrieval for IVF. Women also have the option of taking a coronavirus test before starting to take the medication to prep their bodies for IVF.

In some practices, women now have to wait in their cars until called into an exam room, and in most offices, partners aren’t allowed into appointments to prevent the spread of coronavirus. So women are having to undergo procedures and receive news — good and bad — alone.

Finally, some hope: Cooper called her doctor’s office as soon as she heard that North Carolina was entering Phase 1 of its reopening, and asked if she could start the process for the intrauterine insemination she was hoping to have back in April.

She was told she could come in for an ultrasound appointment to check the status of her ovulation within a few days. “I literally burst into tears,” she said. “I’m like, ‘We might have a baby this month!’”

Last Tuesday, she and her husband and son drove to the doctor’s office. Amanda and TJ waited in the parking lot while Lee gave a sperm sample.

An hour later, Amanda went in for the insemination while her husband and son watched “Zootopia” in the car.

“I wished my husband had been there to hold my hand,” Cooper said. “I kind of feel like I made the baby by myself.”

She won’t know for two weeks whether the process was successful, or what going through a pregnancy in the time of Covid-19 will be like.

“Will my husband be able to be there for the ultrasound?” if her pregnancy test comes back positive, she wonders. “I want him and my son to be able to share in these moments.”

How to help? Hyland, the counselor, gives these tips for talking to friends or family members going through infertility:

  • Ask the question, ‘How can I support you right now?’ “Some people want a friend checking in, and others want to be left alone until they share the news,” Hyland said. “So that’s the best question you can ask, so that they can be in charge. They might say, ‘I’d like you to not bring it up unless I share.’”

  • If you have to share the news of a pregnancy with a friend who’s struggling with infertility, do it privately. “I recommend you do it one-on-one, not catching the person out in public place. It’s often nice to make a phone call or send an email or a text to say, ‘I wanted to share this with you, and I know you’re trying and I want this so badly for you too.’ Just be sensitive to their situation.”

If you’re struggling: Eskew, the physician, has this advice for women and couples struggling with infertility during Covid-19:

  • Reach out to a mental health professional. The severity of anxiety and depression among women going through infertility are comparable to that of a patient given a terminal cancer diagnosis, studies have shown. One in 8 women will struggle with infertility but it’s often not talked about, leading many to feel alone in their sadness.

  • Focus on what you can control. “I’ve been telling my patients to continue to focus on you and take care of yourself because those things matter in the long run. Don’t think it’s going to be never and that there’s no hope. Tomorrow’s going to come and you’re setting yourself up for your best success now by taking care of yourself, by eating healthy, getting outside, exercising, doing those things that have been associated with reproductive health. That’s going to give you something that is in your control.”

Reach managing editor Cristina Bolling at cristina@cltledger.com.

Previous articles in The Ledger’s “Hidden Health Crisis” series:

Today’s supporting sponsors are Neatbooks:

and MadPark Designs:

Memorial Day beach trip? Cheap hotels, but ‘not 100% open’

For years, it’s been a tradition that the Memorial Day weekend is the start of beach season, when Charlotte empties out and heads to the coast.

This year, it’s going to be different.

Tourism officials usually love to talk about how awesome their destinations are. This year, the tourism industry has been decimated, and official are tempering that natural enthusiasm with the need to set realistic expectations. Myrtle Beach tourism folks tell The Ledger they’re not quite sure how many travelers will be making the trip this weekend.

“We are open for business, but we are asking people to travel responsibly,” says Karen Riordan, CEO of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber. “We are not 100% open yet. We still have a long way to go. This is a crawl-walk phase before we run, and we are kind of toddlers right now. We are somewhere between crawl and walk.”

Crowds this weekend: That’s not stopping a lot of people who are ready for the beach. The Myrtle Beach paper reported Saturday that “you’d never know there was a global health pandemic happening as the atmosphere reflected a normal summer day,” and some restaurants had two-hour waits. The mayor of Isle of Palms, outside Charleston, said Saturday “was the busiest day he has ever seen on his island.”

If your trips to the beach consist of lying on the beach and playing golf, you might notice little difference. But if you want to go out to eat, shop, hang at the pool, shut down a nightclub or go to an attraction, you might have to have patience or plan on something else.

Here’s the skinny from Myrtle Beach tourism officials:

  • Pools: South Carolina allows public pools to open starting today — but at only 20% capacity. If snagging a pool chair was tough before, it could be a lot tougher now … if hotels even have their pools open.

  • Restaurants: An estimated 80% of Myrtle Beach restaurants are open, though some are still serving only takeout. Others have made makeshift patio seating in parking lots, Riordan said.

  • Shopping: The main malls are open — Tanger Outlets, Broadway at the Beach, Barefoot Landing — but not all stores are open.

  • Attractions: Attractions, like Ripley’s Aquarium and the Hollywood Wax Museum, are still closed, but tourism officials expect South Carolina’s governor to announce they’ll open soon.

One other big Memorial Day change: The traditional Bike Week has been postponed.

Cheap rooms: There are plenty of lodging deals to be had, with some beachfront hotels going for around $100 a night. Travelers are booking hotels within a day or two of arriving, so it’s hard to know how crowded things will be this weekend, says Stephen Greene, CEO of the Myrtle Beach Area Hospitality Association.

“Traditionally, it was a big weekend across the board,” he says. “Now, we don’t know. Everybody is trying to feel out the comfort level of the traveling public. What are they comfortable with?”

#MyrtleBeach area @scstateparks were full Saturday as #tourists arrive on the #grandstrand ahead of #memorialday amidst the ongoing #coronavirus pandemic.
May 17, 2020
Good ole time 😂 @highclass.tc
May 17, 2020

In brief:

  • N.C. cases rising: North Carolina is one of only eight states in which new daily coronavirus cases are increasing, according to a new analysis by the New York Times. But other data remain encouraging. Full analysis in the Ledger Covid-19 Data Room.

  • College Covid schedule: The University of South Carolina plans to cancel fall break and end in-person instruction before Thanksgiving because of a forecasted spike in Covid-19 cases in December. (USC)

  • Mecklenburg job losses: Nearly 43,000 Mecklenburg County residents filed for unemployment insurance in March, according to a new analysis of state data by the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance. The biggest job losses were in leisure and hospitality (14,300); trade transportation and utilities (6,400); educational and health services (5,200) and professional and business services (4,600). The Alliance and other organizations have a new Covid-19 dashboard with loads of economic data related to the pandemic. “People are hungry for information given how unique our current economic situation is,” explained the Alliance’s Chuck McShane. (CRBA)

  • Sleep-away camp guidelines: North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services has released guidance for overnight summer camps to operate safely during Phase 2 of the reopening, which could start as soon as Friday. (WBTV)

  • Church leaders proceeding with caution: A federal judge on Saturday blocked N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper’s order banning indoor church services, but more than 75 Charlotte-area faith leaders have signed a statement saying they’ll approach the re-opening “with abundant caution and intention.” The statement was signed by leaders of some of the city’s largest religious institutions and was spearheaded by Rev. Lori Archer Raible of Selwyn Avenue Presbyterian Church and Rabbi Asher Knight of Temple Beth El. “There’s a push towards the possibility of reopening,” Knight said. “But just because we can return doesn’t mean that we all should.” (Observer)

  • Retail bankruptcy: J.C. Penney filed for bankruptcy protection on Friday. It plans to keep operating but is expected to close some unspecified stores. It has stores in Matthews, Pineville and Concord. (USA Today)

  • Face coverings required in Durham: Durham County is requiring face coverings when people are in “public or private spaces where it is not possible to maintain social distance” and plans to continue its stay-at-home order until further notice. The state and most other counties, including Mecklenburg, only recommend face coverings and are expected to lift the stay-at-home order upon entry into Phase 2 of the reopening, which could happen as soon as Friday. (Durham County)

  • Beautiful music: The Charlotte Symphony on Saturday announced six live performances in August, “including a free concert at Knight Theater Aug. 16 that will include music from the movies ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Pirates of the Caribbean.’” (Observer)

  • McClatchy bankruptcy debts: At the time of its bankruptcy filing in February, Observer parent McClatchy owed money to a number of companies and institutions with Charlotte addresses. Unsecured creditors, according to recent court documents, include the Associated Press ($28,045), the City of Charlotte ($381), Duke Energy ($4,257), law firms Essex Richards ($1,903) and McGuireWoods ($291), Piedmont Natural Gas ($11,320), Travelers Insurance ($3.9M for “workers compensation”) and the Mecklenburg County Tax Collector (undisclosed amount). Records show that in the months before the filing, the company made payments to Charlotte vendors including Hornets Sports & Entertainment ($20,000 total, in two payments in November and December) and the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance ($30,000). (Ledger website for full filing)

  • Painting pooch: A 7-year-old Australian Shepherd named Ivy Kite lives with her owners in Myers Park and creates paintings that sell for up to $500 and are shipped all over the world. She’s also a dog-of-all-trades who can “open and close doors; take off her mom’s jacket; and distinguish a craft beer from a fridge of Heineken, and then bring the desired beer and a bottle opener.” Ivy Kite “only works with high-quality acrylic paint and canvases.” She’s allowed to paint only one day a week to “prevent burnout.” (Agenda)

Loves me some internet

Taking stock

Unless you are a day trader, checking your stocks daily is unhealthy. So how about weekly? How local stocks of note fared last week (through Friday’s close), and year to date:

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The Charlotte Ledger is an e-newsletter and web site publishing timely, informative, and interesting local business news and analysis Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, except holidays and as noted. We strive for fairness and accuracy and will correct all known errors. The content reflects the independent editorial judgment of The Charlotte Ledger. Any advertising, paid marketing, or sponsored content will be clearly labeled.

Executive editor: Tony Mecia; Managing editorCristina BollingContributing editor: Tim Whitmire; Reporting intern: David Griffith