Masks. Telehealth appointments. Cancelled birth classes. Forced isolation. For mothers preparing to give birth in the year 2020, things have looked a lot different than they did not all that long ago.
The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has turned the birthing experience upside down, filling what would normally be an exciting, joyous time with anxiety and uncertainty.
Jennifer Brilliant of Indianapolis — who was 30 weeks pregnant with her third child when we talked in May, just as coronavirus restrictions were beginning to lift across the country — had complications with her first two pregnancies. “A lot of me felt like this was a chance at a normal pregnancy, and I quickly realized that wasn’t going to be the case,” she says.
Early on in the pandemic, before testing was available, she got sick. “It was scary, because they didn’t do an ultrasound or flu swab,” she says. “I felt like I was on an island, and I was worried about the level of care that would be available.”
Brilliant’s feelings of uncertainty are not unique to pregnant mothers during this pandemic. On one hand, quarantine restrictions have provided time for extra rest and preparation for baby, while at the same time throwing in new hurdles to pioneer. Perhaps one of the hardest things about pregnancy during the time of COVID-19 has been not knowing what to expect day-to-day. With government guidelines and hospital policies changing seemingly every day in response to the mysterious and unpredictable disease, pregnant mothers have had difficulty making solid plans for their prenatal care and birth.
So Let’s Get Talking
Now more than ever, communication between you and your care provider and support team — along with a healthy dose of flexibility — is critical. With the conversation changing every day, here are some things you should consider discussing with your partner and birth team as you prepare for birthing day.
Many care providers are adjusting their office spaces and schedules to minimize the risk of disease spread. You may be asked to space out your in-person appointments or do appointments that don’t require lab work via telehealth. During the most restricted times, partners haven’t been able to attend ultrasounds. If any of these things don’t feel right, ask your provider about options. Maybe you can continue visits in-person on a normal schedule, or allow family members to participate in other ways, such as calling in to appointments or viewing the ultrasound via video chat.
What it will be like to show up to the hospital in labor can perhaps be one of the most nerve-wracking parts of planning for birth during COVID-19. Pregnant moms have had many concerns: Will I be alone at birth? Where do I enter the hospital? Will I get tested for COVID before I can enter? Policies on entrance procedures, the visitors, movement through the hospital, and the duration of your stay will differ among hospitals and at different stages of the pandemic. If you have concerns about anything, talk to your provider more about your options.
As testing capabilities increase, many hospitals, like Brilliant’s, are scheduling COVID tests for Cesarean sections and inductions, and are performing tests on laboring women when they show up at the hospital. Hospitals typically have a separate birthing space and restrictions for COVID-positive mothers, so discuss with your provider ahead of time if you have concerns.
Bringing Home Baby
Talk to your pediatrician prior to birthing day about when and how to introduce baby to family and friends. Some families are choosing to do drive-by visits with the baby on the front-lawn, while others may be more comfortable allowing visitors in the house if they’ve quarantined or follow certain hygiene practices. It’s always a good idea to talk to your pediatrician about signs of newborn illness, but with the risk of COVID, it’s particularly important.
Don’t overlook your own prenatal and postnatal mental health as you navigate pregnancy and birth, recommends Tamrha Richardson, a doula and director of Circle City Doulas in Indianapolis. In-person supports, such as birthing classes, new-parent groups and family visits, are limited during the pandemic, and this can take a mental toll.
“Postpartum support is so important, but here’s a situation where we should be socially distancing,” Richardson says. “Yet our mamas need that care and support.”
Talking to your provider about virtual birth classes and support groups, and doing things like having a friend set up a meal train, can help to make you feel less alone. Also, by learning the signs of postpartum depression and setting up lines of support ahead of time, you can easily get help if you need it.
Remember the Big Picture
Preparing to give birth is a profound and intimate time for your family. As you go head-to-head with changing hospital policies and other obstacles to your ideal birth, remember that many of these things are put in place to help keep hospital workers and you safe. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have a voice. Continue to ask questions and advocate for yourself and your baby. If that means switching to a provider that better aligns with your concerns or birthing at home because it makes you feel safer, that is OK and things many mothers-to-be are doing during this time. This is your family and your birth — and no virus, not even COVID-19, can take that from you.
Check out these resources to keep abreast of the COVID-19 and how it will affect your pregnancy and birth:
- Periodically check your hospital’s website for updates on their COVID-19 policies.
- Get the latest coronavirus guidance via the CDC and American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists.
- For a resource page listing the latest in COVID-19 research as it relates to pregnancy and birth, check out Evidence Based Birth.