Molly Brubaker had heard the arguments about why it might make sense to hold off on getting pregnant during the pandemic.

There was a lot of uncertainty in the world, people were getting sick, nobody knew when the pandemic would end or what sort of economic havoc it would wreak. She and her husband, Dan, had moved to Cumberland from Boston in late 2019. They hadn’t been able to find an affordable house in Massachusetts and wanted to start a family. Once they were in Maine, the Brubakers decided the pandemic was more of an opportunity than a deterrent. In January 2021, they welcomed their first child, Ella.

“I know people wondered why we should bring a child into the world right now, with the pandemic and all the uncertainty. But I was just the opposite. I figured, we’re at home now, hunkered down in the house, why not do it now?” said Brubaker, 35, who runs an exercise business called Baby Booty Workout. “Who knows what the future will bring? There’s probably never a perfect time to have a baby. You have to go on with your life.”

Mainers have been doing just that, when it comes to starting or adding to their families. Despite predictions of a baby bust at the beginning of the pandemic, Maine births went up nearly 4 percent from 2020 to 2021, after an overall decline of about 9 percent over the previous four years. The number of births during the pandemic makes Maine an outlier compared to many other states, demographic experts say, though the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not yet released a nationwide total for 2021.

There were 12,001 Maine births in 2021 compared to 11,537 in 2020, according to statistics from the Maine CDC. In 2016, the birth total was 12,698.

Parents who contributed to Maine’s 2021 baby bump indicate there are several reasons for it. There are the people who moved here to start families either just before or during the pandemic, the traditional Mainer ethic of carrying on with life no matter what, and the fact that the pandemic and all the problems it brought has prompted people to focus even more sharply on the importance of family.


Demographers charting pandemic births say other factors could be that Maine had lower COVID case numbers than many states early in the pandemic and that the economy may have suffered less than in other states. So people here might have not been facing the same obstacles, like loss of a job and overcrowded hospitals, that people in other states were when they decided to get pregnant in late 2020 or early 2021, said Phillip Levine, an economics professor at Wellesley College in Massachusetts who studies birth demographics.

Ella Brubaker, 15 months, stands on her play set in her Cumberland home. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Tabulating births in the earlier and later parts of the pandemic – not strictly the calendar years 2020 and 2021 – and comparing them to 2019, Maine’s “baby bust” was less than 1 percent and its rebound was more than 5 percent, according to research done by Levine and Melissa Schettini Kearney, an economics professor at the University of Maryland. Their research found that the nation as a whole had a bust of 4 percent in babies conceived between January and May of 2020, and a rebound of 3.3 percent in the rest of that year. Only six states other than Maine had both a bust of less than 1 percent and a rebound of more than 5 percent: New Hampshire, Tennessee, Montana, South Dakota, Colorado and Alaska.


The pandemic seemed to speed things up for some Maine couples who were already thinking of starting a family. That was the case for Heather and Bryan Orr of South Portland, who were in their 30s and not yet married when COVID shut the world down in 2020.

“We had talked about getting married but hadn’t gotten too deep into it. So when the pandemic hit I said to him, ‘I don’t want to die single,’ and he said, ‘Great, let’s do it,’ ” said Heather Orr, 36, a licensed clinical social worker. “Once we got married, we knew we wanted to have kids sooner rather than later. I didn’t want to be 40 having a baby.”

Heather and Bryan Orr with their daughter, Pollyanna, who was born in October 2021. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

The Orrs got married in a small ceremony on Willard Beach in April 2020 and then welcomed their first child, Pollyanna, in October 2021. They have faced some daunting challenges after choosing to have a baby during the pandemic. To keep her safe – because babies are not eligible for vaccines – they have limited the number of people Pollyanna has met to family and close friends. They have been unable to find a day care provider with any openings and are on one waiting list where they are guaranteed a spot for September 2023. In the meantime, they’re getting help from Pollyanna’s grandmother and a part-time nanny.


Those complications are making the Orrs think carefully about whether they want or can afford another child. But Heather Orr says she’s trying to stay positive and figure out ways to meet the challenges of having a young family right now. She suggested the name Pollyanna for the couple’s daughter because the 1913 children’s novel about an ever-optimistic orphan girl is one of her favorite books and represents the way she’d like to live her life.

“That’s my world view,” Orr said. “I want to be the person who says, ‘This sucks. What am I going to do to make it better?’ and not somebody who decides they might as well give up.”

One way to make things better is to bring a little joy into the world.

Brianna and Jon Young of Gorham got married in 2018 and wanted to settle in a little before having kids. In 2019, they bought their house. Then early in the pandemic, they had a discussion about whether to wait for the spread of COVID to ebb or stop. Brianna’s place of employment closed and she received Maine unemployment benefits. But the pandemic made them realize how important having children was to them, especially in a world with so much turmoil and trauma.

Brianna and Jon Young with their daughter Josephine, 15 months, at their home in Gorham. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

They decided not to wait and, in January 2021, had their first child, Josephine.

“I know it sounds corny but (children) are the future, and we can only hope they will grow up to continue to make the world better,” said Brianna Young, 31, a social media manager and assistant manager at a movie theater. “They also bring such joy and laughter, it makes a huge difference in these stressful times.”



At Maine Medical Center in Portland, pandemic babies accounted for a busier birth center in more months of the year than just in the summer, when it typically is. In September 2021, for instance, the hospital had more than 300 births compared to under 250 in September 2019, said Elisabeth Erekson, chair of the hospital’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Summer was busier too, though. In July 2021, the hospital recorded 325 deliveries compared to about 300 in July 2019.

“We always see higher birth volumes in the summer, but in 2021 we saw those high volumes start in May and continue into October,” Erekson said. “For a short period early in the pandemic, some people decided to delay (having a baby), then we saw families choosing to start or expand families and more people moving to Maine.”

Those new residents included people moving back home to be with family and others fleeing places that were more densely populated, had higher COVID rates or were more expensive. And some of them had babies.

Abbey and Rob Gray had been married less than a year and were living in Boston when the pandemic started. Immediately, they both were forced to work from home in a one-bedroom apartment. They had been talking about having kids and didn’t think they could afford a house in the Boston area. Also, Abbey Gray grew up in Cumberland and the idea of being pregnant with family nearby was appealing.

Soon after the pandemic started, they moved to Maine, first to Abbey’s father’s house before eventually buying a house in Saco. Once in Maine, they decided to start their family and had a son, Caleb, in June 2021.  They are planning to have at least one more child and to raise their kids here.


“One of the biggest reasons to move to Maine for me was to be close to family,” said Abbey Gray, 37, who works as a speech-language pathologist, feeding therapist and lactation counselor. “Maine’s a great place to raise a family. The school systems are great.”

Scott and Emily Dresser with their 10-month-old son, Arthur, at their home in Cumberland. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Maine’s recent increase in births is even more surprising when considering that birth rates nationally have dropped about 20 percent since 2007. Even though some measures of the economy, like the stock market and the GDP, have improved in that time, many women of child-bearing age still aren’t feeling confident about the future – economic, political or otherwise – said Karen Benjamin Guzzo, a sociology professor and director of the Center for Family & Demographic Research at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.

“Housing is harder to find, rents are going up, there’s a huge student debt crisis,” Guzzo said. “Before people decide to have children, they want to be financially stable and see a bright future. But a lot of people don’t feel that way now.”

But not all births are carefully planned. Most years, about a third of births are unintended, said Guzzo.

Sophie Sawyer of Brunswick got pregnant less than a year into the pandemic. She is not married and was not planning to have children at that moment. But she had always thought she wanted children some day and figured, at 34, the time to do it was right for her, even with a worldwide pandemic lingering. She had her son, Rhys, in September 2021.

“I felt like it was just the right time, maybe age was a deciding factor,” Sawyer said. “I’ve noticed a lot of other older millennials having babies in the last year or so. Maybe we all figured this was our last chance.”


Scott and Emily Dresser of Cumberland were planning on having children when they got married in 2019. The couple had moved from Massachusetts in 2017 – for Scott to attend the Muskie School of Public Service at the University of Southern Maine – and they felt ready to start a family.

But the pandemic made them think about waiting. It also made them think about how fleeting time can be.

In July 2021, the couple had a son, Arthur.

“We did think it was a little bit of a weird time to be having a child, but we also saw so many people delaying their lives,” said Scott Dresser, 35, legislative aide to the independent and tribal representatives in the Maine Legislature. “We saw this as costing people so much time out of their lives.”

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