Following multiple rounds of fertility treatments, The Oklahoman’s Jacob Unruh and his wife Ashley are expecting a boy in late October. The baby is shown here on March 13. (Photo provided)

I was in Kansas City when the sports world stopped turning.

As Oklahoma State’s men’s basketball team beat Iowa State to open the Big 12 Tournament, the Oklahoma City Thunder and Utah Jazz were pulled from the court 349 miles away in Oklahoma City.

The novel coronavirus was the cause.

I focused on my job, not my fears. Write about Isaac Likekele’s game-winning layup and meet the deadline for The Oklahoman’s print edition. I had to remind myself that my wife Ashley was safe.

For 19 months, we had worked to start a family. Each of the first 18 months brought hope and ultimately tears. It even took three rounds of intrauterine insemination fertility treatments, a process in which doctors place sperm directly into a uterus, to finally work.

Suddenly, joy was replaced by doubt.

There was a strong belief, especially early, that everybody would at some point be infected with COVID-19. What did that mean for a pregnant woman? What did that mean for the fetus? What did that mean for a baby after birth? Would our family and friends even be able to be around us in late October?

In an unprecedented time that has the world shut down due to a pandemic, expecting your first child suddenly became more complicated.

The joy and anticipation are still there. But it’s hard to share with family and friends from a distance. There are also huge moments of disappointment, anxiety and fear.

Only a week or two before that March 11 night, I asked Ashley, who is a nurse, if we should worry about COVID-19. She brushed it off.

Throughout that night in Kansas City, my fears began to set in. I only wanted to get back to Ashley.

Jacob Unruh, a sportswriter at The Oklahoman, and his wife Ashley found out that she was pregnant in February after 19 months of trying to expand their family. But with the coronavirus pandemic, the joy of their first child arriving is surrounded by uncertainty and fear. (Emily Jewell/Empressions Photography)

***

Valentine’s Day was supposed to be simple.

I spent the better part of the day in the office working on a story about the bond between former Oklahoma State basketball stars Bryant Reeves and Terry Collins. I picked up flowers for Ashley on the way home. A card and a six pack of Mountain Fork Brewery beer awaited me on our kitchen table.

But it was the card that will forever make February 14, 2020, a day I’ll never forget.

The cover read: “Still together after all these beers.” 

On the blank inside, Ashley wrote: “Unfortunately for me I am going to have to quit drinking for a while because I am pregnant!”

I cried as I read the rest of her note. I still cry when I read the card.

The journey was tougher than expected.

When we got married in 2013, we made the decision to hold off on having children. Ashley went back to school and we wanted a few years of just us. We traveled to 26 states, attended games at a dozen Major League Baseball stadiums and visited more than 225 craft breweries.

In 2018, we planned a huge West Coast road trip as a final hurrah.

That didn’t work.

So last year, we planned a New England road trip as a second final hurrah.

Still, no luck.

We turned to fertility treatments. They had no explanation for our struggles. 

Frustration, doubt and anger often followed. It seemed to affect Ashley more and more, and I felt helpless.

After multiple rounds of intrauterine insemination fertility failed, Ashley was trying to get accepted into an in vitro fertilization clinical study. But then we got the good news on Valentine’s Day.

The third time was truly the charm.

The Oklahoman’s Jacob Unruh and his wife Ashley pose for a photo in front of a large bobblehead of former Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda at a Dodgers game on July 4, 2018. The couple traveled the country to more than a dozen Major League Baseball games, more than 200 breweries and 26 states before Ashley became pregnant in February. (Jacob Unruh)

***

I became a road warrior in my first year covering OSU.

Some weeks, I made the hour-long trek north on Interstate 35 to Highway 51 into Stillwater three times. Some weeks more.

There was also travel out of state for college football and basketball games. Texas. Iowa. Kansas. Missouri.

At times, I felt like I was on the road more than I was home. Such is the life of a sportswriter. 

That was supposed to be the consoling part of quarantine — being home as our lives changed.

Sitting in my car on March 31, the full weight of the pandemic hit me. Ashley was inside OU Medical Center’s clinic. I was sent to my car to wait due to the hospital’s new visitation policy due to COVID-19 that did not allow visitors inside certain buildings.

I had spent a few weeks cooped up at home, slowly going into a depression without sports, travel and friends around.

Seeing or hearing from our baby was all I had wanted.

I’ve since been to an ultrasound inside The Children’s Hospital and we’ve elected to keep our next ultrasound at the same building. At other appointments, we’re limited to possibly FaceTime if I can’t be there.

But we’re also limited in all interactions.

The CDC believes pregnant women have the same risk as non-pregnant adults. But so much is unknown. Pregnant women are at a higher risk for severe illnesses such as the flu.

A study conducted in Switzerland attributed second-trimester miscarriages to COVID-19. Even stillborn babies’ placentas tested positive for the coronavirus. 

Our doctors and nurses have still offered little guidance, other than social distancing, hand washing and wearing a mask in public. Research in America is simply scarce.

“Some experts are advising caution and suggesting that pregnant women may be vulnerable to more serious illness if they get COVID-19,” Harvard Medical Publishing wrote. “However, this is not based on any evidence from COVID-19 cases, but on historical data from other viral infections. Given the lack of evidence, we recommend that pregnant women continue to practice social distancing and excellent hand hygiene.”

Now, we’re faced with tough decisions.

The state is reopening in phases. We are not comfortable sitting in a restaurant or going anywhere without a mask. We avoid large crowds. We haven’t seen most of our family since the holidays.

We don’t even feel it’s possible to attend my little sister’s wedding with possibly 150 people in June. If so, it’s likely I’ll go alone.

An abundance of caution might seem silly to some. But it’s the only way we know how to navigate a pandemic and pregnancy.

The Oklahoman’s Jacob Unruh and his wife Ashley announced their new addition on social media on April 17, nearly six months ahead of the expected birth of their son. (Jacob Unruh)

Jacob Unruh is a sports reporter for The Oklahoman. He covers Oklahoma State University after a six-year tenure covering high school sports and the Oklahoma City Dodgers. Follow him on Twitter at @jacobunruh

The Coronavirus Storytelling Project is a collaboration between the Oklahoma-based Inasmuch Foundation, the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame and Oklahoma Watch to help state journalists who have been furloughed or displaced as well as those in struggling community news organizations. The Inasmuch Foundation has pledged $50,000 to launch the project and provide five $500 grants to those accepted into the project each week for the next four months. Apply here. Stories and photos are available for republication with appropriate credits. To republish, contact Mike Sherman at msherman@oklahomawatch.org.


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Jacob Unruh

Jacob Unruh is a sports reporter who joined The Oklahoman in 2011. He covers Oklahoma State University after a six-year tenure covering high school sports and the Oklahoma City Dodgers. Follow him on Twitter...