Preparing to Give Birth During the Coronavirus Pandemic
Fact-checked by HeHe Stewart, Doula and birthing expert. HeHe is the founder of a Maternity Concierge, Doula and Birthing Service in the Boston area.
When a woman gets pregnant, so many questions run through her mind: Will it hurt? How much weight will I gain? Will I poop during labor? One question that likely never crossed any woman's mind when they got the news about being pregnant is whether she will be forced to birth alone, with limited pain relief, and possibly be separated from her baby at birth due to a global pandemic.
Though this is nothing any of us have ever prepared for, this is the internal monologue happening for millions of women across the globe today.
COVID-19 has impacted every single aspect of life for so many Americans - and the process of childbirth is not immune to the effects of this infectious disease. Birthing classes all across the country are being cancelled one after the other, leaving thousands of couples feeling lost and unprepared for birth. At my practice, we are seeing an influx of women considering home birth as an option. Women are feeling forced to birth in conditions that they never imagined in their wildest nightmares. Partners are being screened for coronavirus and risk being turned away should they be found to have symptoms. Newborns are being separated from their mothers immediately following birth if coronavirus exposure is suspected. This pandemic has shaken the very systems that we rely on to keep us safe each and every day.
If you are expecting in this moment, it can feel overwhelming and scary right now. Thinking about bringing a baby into this world with all the chaos can take your breath away. The thought of your partner being barred from entering the L&D by your side might bring tears to your eyes. These are things that are changing for so many women across the nation. I want to help you learn how you can stay in control during this seemingly out-of-control time. Here are the top things to keep in mind as you birth during this pandemic:
Initiate and maintain open and clear communication with your healthcare provider. This includes asking about changes that may have happened to pain relief options and restrictions around the number of support people allowed for your birth during the pandemic. These will vary from hospital to hospital. You’re also going to want to share any worries or concerns you have with your birth team (including your partner and your doula).
Limit what you consume. You can ask your partner or your doula to filter the information about coronavirus and then tell you the main details or just what you need to know. This may also mean unfollowing/unfriending folks on social media or taking a social media break altogether. Be sure that you (or your designated news person) are getting your news from reliable resources to stay educated and updated. The CDC, March of Dimes, and World Health Organization (WHO) are great resources to get your information.
Take a moment to feel the disappointment of the shifting expectations of your birth scenario and then begin preparing for this new plan. This doesn’t have to throw your birth experience off-course completely. It requires you to adjust your sails a bit and to prepare a little differently for these new unforeseen factors. You can still have a gentle and empowered birth experience even though things are happening that you didn't expect. It’s okay to honor the missed expectations that you had for your birth before the COVID-19 outbreak. The most important part here is that you don’t give up or let adverse circumstances control your thinking. You must continue to prepare for your birth and account for the new influences at play.
You may have experienced your prenatal appointments being cancelled due to the coronavirus, even the appointments that seem very essential like ultrasounds and genetic testing. Pushing those appointments even further out may leave you with even more questions. You still have the right to ask your questions.
When the doctor’s office calls to cancel the appointment, you can request that a nurse call you to answer the questions you were hoping to discuss at your prenatal visit. You still have access to your medical team, but please recognize that they are running on very little sleep, very little support, and very little resources. Only call if it is something that can’t wait until the next visit or next time they call you (they should be in pretty constant contact with you for routine updates).
Brace for Some Chaos and Fear at Healthcare Facilities
Right now, the truth is - it’s ugly out there. I’m not going to lie to you…the scenes around most large healthcare facilities look apocalyptic. It’s startling if you aren’t prepared, so go ahead and prepare. Brace yourself for what you’re going to see. It may be tents outside the hospital or security guards and nurses standing and monitoring the entrances and administering temperature checks before allowing people to go in. Many workers are in masks and protective equipment, there's a good bit of chaos, and a there's definitely a general feeling of fear in the air. It’s your job to remain calm and in control of your mindset. Remind yourself that you are not there because you are sick - you are there to have a baby and you were meant for this.
During any visits to your doctor's office or other healthcare facilities, make sure to practice the social distancing and hygiene guidelines mandated by the CDC, your locality, and the healthcare facility.
One of the most devastating impacts of canceling in-person support is the lack of birth preparation being provided to parents. As due dates are nearing, parents across the globe are scrambling to find information to help them navigate this crazy time. From pain relief to understanding the stages of labor and what you need to know about surviving the fourth trimester, The Birth Lounge prepares expecting parents to birth in a pandemic.
Explore Your Options
If this is something that is appealing to you, explore home birth. Call your local midwives, but time is of essence at the moment. Midwives all over the country are seeing steep spikes in inquiries as women are feeling the pressure of new hospital policies and restrictions.
This is a time to focus on yourself and your mindset. Allowing yourself the space to process what is happening, how it impacts your expectations, and how to plan going forward will take some time. New information is shared every day. It seems as if things change by the hour, making this experience even that much more frightening and adding to the feeling of “unknown” involved in the birth process. Remember, you can’t control what happens, only how you respond. That is the most important advice, for now, for how to birth in a pandemic.
You are strong. You can do this.
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