The lost year: How Covid-19 left many Americans ‘stuck in time’

The coronavirus pandemic forced millions of Americans to cancel major life events: weddings and anniversary celebrations, rites of passage and family events, graduation ceremonies and retirement parties.

But the outbreak also thwarted plans that cannot be easily rescheduled for the brighter months of 2021. In a way, Covid-19 behaved like a thief, stealing precious time that may be lost forever.

In recent weeks, NBC News spoke to people across the United States for whom 2020 might be described as a lost year. The pandemic kept them from growing their families, starting careers, visiting elderly loved ones both here and back in the countries they came from. It deferred their dreams — and potentially reshaped the course of their lives.

The biological clock

When the year began, Amy Schmidt Zook and her husband, Jason, were hoping to try for a third child. Zook went through two rounds of in vitro fertilization, or IVF, a process in which an egg and sperm are combined into an embryo in a lab.

Zook was planning on starting a third round in March, when the American Society for Reproductive Medicine recommended halting new fertility treatments as Covid-19 spread. Zook, 44, learned that her fertility clinic was following suit.

She worried her time was running out. When the clinic reopened in May and Zook was able to embark on another round of treatment, the process did not yield any viable embryos.

Amy Schmidt Zook and her husband, Jason, were hoping to conceive a third child this year.Courtesy Amy Schmidt Zook

“The time lost in the shutdown [may have] been literally the last embryos I made,” said Zook, who lives in Fort Worth, Texas. “I just knew … my eggs weren’t getting younger, and that was probably our last shot at it.”

Zook is one of thousands of people pursuing fertility treatments whose plans were upended by the pandemic — from women trying to conceive for the first time to parents hoping to expand their families.

Zook, an emergency room doctor who is currently staying at home, said she felt fortunate that she had been able to conceive a son and a daughter. She said she had hoped that a third child would help her family feel “complete.”

The halting IVF process, combined with the emotional toll of the pandemic, has left her feeling “hopeless,” especially because women seeking IVF treatment are frequently told by doctors that time is of the essence — and constantly reminded of their biological clock.

Full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak

“We’re obviously thankful for the little miracles we’ve been given,” Zook said. “It’s a weird situation, because you know that you’re super blessed to have what you have. But it doesn’t really change how you feel inside about what you wanted.”

Zook said she does not expect to continue IVF treatment even after the pandemic subsides.

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