What is already a time of wild joy and excitation, hormonal fluctuation, existential evaluation, relationship intensity and anxiety becomes all of those things turbo-supercharged with — you know — a global health crisis. Questioning epidurals is scrapped for thoughts on PPE. Choosing a doula involves choosing a digital platform on which you will communicate with said doula while in the delivery room, because she will not be allowed to attend your birth physically.
What if I have COVID when I give birth? What if my baby gets it? What if my partner can’t be there with me?
Let me first acknowledge that this is a lot. A whole lot. Birth plans and sleep deprivation and breastfeeding — or decidedly not breastfeeding — are already big things. To add a thick layer of COVID anxiety — something literally everyone on the planet is struggling with — makes this a really crazy time to give birth. But …
Please take heart. You can do this. You will do this. And while it may not be the birth you envisioned, it will be yours and it will be fine.
You are not alone
Said Whitney H., a new mom in St. Paul, “I was 34 weeks pregnant when schools and businesses closed in mid-March. My biggest concern was that my husband would not be allowed in the delivery room. I was very grateful that he was allowed in the room, and our doula provided wonderful support remotely.”
You may find it unusual, to say the least, to have a COVID test while in labor. It may feel like something out of a science fiction movie to be tended to by nurses and doctors in full suits of PPE, including face guards. Weirdness aside, most expectant parents are grateful for the steps taken in the name of health and protection, particularly if the family is able to stay together. Know that the maternity ward will be meticulously quarantined from where patients are treated for COVID and that most hospitals, birth centers and homebirth practitioners will have protocols in place if a birthing mother tests positive for COVID.
Whitney advised, “In addition to changing protocols, the regulations at my doctor’s office changed with each visit. I encourage pregnant mamas to call their clinics the day before each appointment to ask about any policy changes since they were last seen.” She added, “Maintain an open mind about your provider. We found that providers were furloughed or moved at a moment’s notice and I needed to be flexible about who I saw for appointments.”
In the beginning phases of COVID, homebirth midwives saw an upswing in calls from parents who were nervous about birth during this pandemic. Said Kate Andrew, CPM in Northfield and the South Metro, “I was getting loads of calls … way more than what is typical. Many of the families I spoke with expressed a great deal of fear: I don’t want them to take my baby away, I’m afraid to give birth alone, I don’t want to miss the birth of my child, what if we all get exposed and sick while we’re in the hospital, what if they won’t release my partner or baby?”
Listen to your heart
Midwives pride themselves on understanding that homebirth is not for everyone. When asked if it was harder than usual to assess a woman’s candidacy for homebirth during this frenzy of fear, Andrew said, “It’s actually felt easy to assess who wants to give birth at home and who wants to give birth in the hospital but wishes COVID would just go away. In almost every instance, families come to the realization that their original choices are their true choices and they’ve gone forward, still nervous, but feeling more grounded and in control of their decisions.”
Which brings us to something that you’ll see across the board in reading about birth during COVID, and it’s something mentioned in my chats with both new mama Whitney and midwife Kate. Do not underestimate the value of support, in any shape or form — be it a crew of best friends ready to listen, a willing and informative midwife or doula, your family or your partner. You need to express thoughts and fears and know that you’re not alone.
Said Andrew, “Is fear of COVID or COVID-related policies a reason to choose home birth? Maybe. Giving birth where and with whom you feel safe is a big part of safety during labor and birth as a whole, in my opinion the question is … where do you truly feel safest?”
Wherever you birth, whatever it takes, pandemic parents, feel safe. Find your safety, both mentally and physically. Your care providers, friends, family and local baby columnist have your back.
On a brighter note, COVID is a heck of a good excuse when you don’t feel like entertaining postpartum visitors. When all is said and done and Baby is safe and sound in your arms, enjoy that sweet postnatal quarantine bubble. You’ve earned it.
Jen Wittes is a marketing director, writer, certified postpartum doula and mom
of two living in St. Paul.