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(Image: The Olson-Stalwick Family)
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Expecting During a Pandemic: The Olson-Stalwick Family

Originally, the idea was to write up one article about welcoming a baby during the pandemic. We put the call out on social media hoping for two or three responses, and waaaaaaay more flooded in! We realized people were feeling alone, wanted to tell their stories, and that this may be a good weekly outlet for others going through similar circumstances, and to give hope and power (even if it's through the screen) that you're not alone! Whether you're expecting, already welcomed a little one, or had to put your fertility treatment or adoption proceedings on hold due to COVID-19, we'd love to hear from you and share your story in this weekly feature on Seattle Refined. Email Kateneidigh611@gmail.com or reach out on Instagram @June.In.January to be featured.

Ashley and Beth live in Des Moines and have been married since May 2019. The couple describe their wedding day as a perfect reflection of what they love to do in everyday life: a party filled with food, music, dancing, singing and LOTS of laughing around a fire with friends and family. Always loud and around a fire, any time of the year - that's Ashley and Beth. The couple own a food truck in Seattle, and started trying for a baby in March at home with the help of a sperm donor. They're expecting their first child come February 2021.

Seattle Refined: Ok - let’s set the stage. It’s March 23, 2020 - and the Governor just issued the Stay Home Stay Healthy Order. Where are you in your journey at that point?
Ashley Stalwick: Beth and I own a food truck with a couple of our dearest friends. When planning to get pregnant, we set a *hopeful* timeline for ourselves that would enable me to continue working through the busy summer season and set me up to give birth and take time off in the winter. Erin and Jenny (our business partners) had their second child towards the end of our first year in business and it worked out as well as it could have so, we had goals! Start trying in March/April and hope for the best. I had started tracking my ovulation and made an appointment with a fertility clinic set for April. Then COVID. Erin and I are the primary, daily fuel behind ‘Wich Came First, and noticed a change in the volume in business as word of COVID spread. We came to the decision that we would need to temporarily cease flipping eggs until further notice around St. Patrick’s Day.

Take us forward from there. What were you thinking/feeling? What kind of prep/worries did you have that you didn’t anticipate having?
We had always wanted to try to conceive at home at least once, giving us an opportunity to feel involved and somewhat in control of such a personal and important journey. I had hoped to get one appointment in with the doctor prior to trying in order to make sure I was doing everything I could to optimize our chances, but everything was shut down and clinics were only taking virtual appointments. Being self-employed, my insurance is costly and provided little to no coverage for fertility, and there were no discounts for taking a virtual appointment. That did not feel beneficial to us, so my wife turned to her favorite form of research when it comes to DIY - YouTube! There are lots of lesbian couples and single moms sharing their stories this way and we found lots of vital information. Our favorite and most helpful came from a woman who calls herself Mama Bethie - given that Bethy is a nickname we use often (and that she conceived on her first try), it felt like a sign!

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Share with us what you’re willing to about the process and your levels of anxiety to have this all happening during the pandemic.
We decided that a known donor was not the route for us, so we researched donors online with NWCryobank, made our choice and placed our first order in April. Yes, the cryobank can ship to you at home! The tank stays charged for seven days, covering the window of ovulation you have been keeping track of over the prior months. Queue our researched methodology. While we did not stay pregnant on the first try, I definitely noticed differences in my body for a few days and experienced my first ever late cycle. Research and conversations with friends who have been through this process told me that this was common on the first try and often indicated this was our bodies preparing itself for what is to come. Since we were still very much stuck at home with a pandemic, we decided to try again at home with the same methodology and Success! We were pregnant!!

What have been your biggest joys during this time?
We feel so fortunate to have conceived this baby at home. I feel very lucky to have always had a very regular cycle and to be able to rely on that regularity. So many women need the help of modern medicine to conceive and we are so lucky to have access to that level of care if we need it. We know that in these pandemic times, when so many couples have had their conception journeys grind to a halt, that we are beyond blessed to have found ourselves on our way to being parents.

What are your biggest fears/worries during this time?
As lesbians, we have been alongside this process with friends for years. For some, it meant a couple of rounds of IUI, for others several years of trying to conceive and concluding with several rounds of IVF, some successful and some not. Some had brilliant insurance coverage, relieving the stress of how much this process can cost, and some were not so lucky. COVID has brought additional woes to families in the midst of their fertility journey, women on months of hormones, days away from embryo transfers, all being told to stay home and wait due to clinics being closed.

Anyway it sounded clinical, full of tests and tracking and hormones and bills. As someone whose anxiety is triggered by a lack of control and all the things that COULD happen, I worried I would stress myself to death, making it harder for my body to focus on what I needed it to do. I am also acutely aware of how lucky I am that we were able to put our business on pause; allowing my business partner to care for her family and me to stay home, limiting our exposure to COVID and the stress that comes with that.

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When your child asks you about what it was like having him/her during the Pandemic of 2020, what are you going to tell them?
That he was a joy and a light in a dark and stressful time for the world! And thank him for giving one of his moms a job to do while she was stuck at home not able to work.

Final Update: Where do things stand now? How is the entire family?
We have a little boy due mid-February 2021 and we are all so thrilled!

For people whose loved ones are giving birth, pregnant, bringing a baby home, or pausing their fertility treatment right now - what can you do to support from afar?
Not everyone’s journey is the same and there are several ways to start a family. Be encouraging and hopeful for them regardless of what they envision for that journey; you never know what will work out for them or when! On that note, try not to hound them too much for details - they will share if/when they are ready.

And to other families reading this, going through something like this themselves - any words of encourage, support or advice?
Don’t be afraid to try new things! Almost every medical professional I have encountered since becoming pregnant sounds surprised that we did this at home with banked sperm. It is not the “norm” and we do not allege to know that it will be what works for everyone. But it’s COVID what’s normal anymore?!

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