COVID-19 May Force Me and Hundreds of Other Mothers to Give Birth Alone
Update: On March 27, 2020, the New York Department of Health issued a health advisory reiterating that it considers one support person "essential" to patient care during labor, delivery, and postpartum care, provided that the chosen support person does not have any COVID-19 symptoms or has potentially been exposed. Hospitals are required to comply with this mandate, the health advisory reads.
I can’t help but laugh at my timing. When my partner and I moved to New York City from Los Angeles last year, pregnancy was not part of our immediate New York plans. Now, I’m 36-and-a-half weeks pregnant with my first child, stuck in a city that’s essentially the U.S. epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, and due to give birth on April 19—when the crisis is expected to hit a peak.
Hospitals in New York are already overwhelmed by the surge of new COVID-19 cases (as of Wednesday, there were over 20,000 confirmed in the state), and many are running out of critical supplies like masks and the respirators needed to treat people who are severely ill. In order to keep its patients and workers safe, Mt. Sinai, the hospital where I plan on giving birth, announced Monday that it would ban all visitors from its maternity and postpartum units, including the spouses and partners of people giving birth. Many other NYC hospitals, including New York-Presbyterian (which runs 13 hospitals in the city), have taken similar measures. Not even doulas, midwives, or other birth workers are allowed. Unless something changes in the next three-and-a-half weeks, I will be giving birth alone.
I understand the severity of this pandemic, and that these things are recommended to protect more people (including health-care workers) from getting sick from this deadly virus. But at the same time, it feels kind of cruel to not give pregnant women another option other than going to another state (which means you won't have your regular doctor with you) or giving birth at home (which comes with unique risks for complications and safety). We're being encouraged to bring tripods and connect with our support person virtually, but that is nowhere close to the real thing in my book.
Multiple health organizations, including the World Health Organization, stress the importance of having a support person present during labor. These hospital rules don’t align even with what the New York State Department of Health recommended on Saturday in its new pregnancy and COVID-19 guidelines: “The Department considers one support person essential to patient care throughout labor, delivery, and the immediate postpartum period,” the guidelines read. Why? Because having a support person present during labor can reduce the risk of unnecessary C-sections and other complications. My partner knows my birth plan, he knows what I do and don’t want to happen, and he is personally invested in making sure that me and our baby are safe. Not being able to have him in the room when I’m in labor... I can’t wrap my mind around that.
Being pregnant can be a very alienating experience on its own... And now you’re supposed to do this thing at the end of this already isolating time that’s completely new, and foreign, and scary, and risky in some cases—only now you’re supposed to do it alone.
If something goes wrong during my delivery, I now don’t have someone to speak up for me and make sure that options are explained to me, I’m not rushed, and that I’m truly taken care of. It’s terrifying, especially because I know that I have a hard time speaking up for myself in a normal situation. It’s my default to defer to someone who sounds like they know what they’re doing. How am I going to be able to effectively advocate for myself and what I want and need when I’m in a vulnerable, painful, difficult situation all by myself?
I've also had to make difficult personal choices due to COVID-19 that will affect my postpartum life. My family was going to fly in from Los Angeles for the birth, and my mom was going to stay with us for a month to help. I asked them to cancel their flights last week. It was the prudent thing to do during this time of necessary social distancing, but it’s going to be so hard to go through this without the help and support of my mom. My partner’s parents live in New York, but our doctors have advised us to not even have them come over at all until social distancing recommendations are lifted.
What gets me is that being pregnant can be a very alienating experience on its own under normal conditions. You feel so not in your own body and not like yourself as time goes on. It’s hard to feel normal ever. And now you’re supposed to do this thing at the end of this already isolating time that’s completely new, and foreign, and scary, and risky in some cases—only now you’re supposed to do it alone.
When I got pregnant, I read so many books, asked all the questions to every parent I knew and every doctor I spoke with, went to a birthing class, made my registry, and tidied up my apartment to get ready. Before all this, I felt like I could at least lean on experts and my family and do my best to feel prepared. But no one could ever prepare me—or any other woman facing this right now—for this outcome.
Thankfully, my doctor has been really great. She called me yesterday to share the hospital’s updates personally and see if I had any questions. Obviously, I didn’t like any of her answers, but it’s nice to have that kind of medical care. It’s reassuring to know that your doctor recognizes that it’s an upsetting situation, regardless of whether or not it’s the scientifically correct thing to do.
There’s nothing that anyone can do that will make me feel better, other than having my partner be allowed to join me in the delivery room. I’ve seen the petition floating around asking New York hospitals to reverse their decision, and I support it. Yet it’s hard to ask to be the exception in the time of a pandemic. I don’t want to be part of the problem—but I do want myself and my fellow moms-to-be to give birth in a safe, supportive environment.
For all the other moms out there who are feeling like I am, I see you, and I hear you. Know that you’re not alone in this—at least not in spirit.
As told to Jessie Van Amburg.
This piece was originally published on March 26, 2020. It was updated on March 30, 2020.
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