Giving Birth in the Time of the COVID-19 Pandemic

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“You’re having the baby in July? I’m sure by then, things will be normal,” said an acquaintance of mine in March. Prior to the time of the stay at home order, it seemed like a great time to be pregnant. Suddenly, I had to turn appointments into telehealth appointments, where the best the OBGYN could do was ask from Google Duo on my phone, “Are you bleeding? Anything weird going on?” I’m lucky that our 20 week appointment was in February, because my husband wasn’t able to go to any other appointment after the pandemic started.

How Would the Virus Impact My Pregnancy?

When the Stay At Home order started, I began to have intense anxiety about how the virus restrictions would impact the pregnancy or if I would catch the virus and have some serious complication. My doctors told me that they hadn’t seen issues occurring with pregnant women because of the virus as far as preterm labor or other negative outcomes. I had arguments with people on the internet who told me frankly that my doctors were “stupid” for saying that because they felt that pregnant women were the most vulnerable. I felt that it didn’t help me to be extremely anxious when I was doing everything I could to protect myself and I tried to stay away from that negativity.

Our Labor Experience

I went in to labor and delivery with this baby (my second) a bit after 38 weeks when I was five cm dilated and having contractions. With this pregnancy, I was Group B Strep positive, which made me extra nervous because I was told that ideally, they’d like to get me some antibiotics prior to delivery. I had gestational diabetes but it was well-managed with diet and exercise and the plan was to just see when I went into labor on my own. It appeared that this bun was done. I was told to come back later because they didn’t want me to stay at the hospital and wait for the contractions to get closer together. They don’t like people to have a long stay at the hospital because they felt it increased my chance of getting the virus. I didn’t want to go into labor too fast and miss the window for the antibiotics, though.

I came back two days later when the contractions were five minutes apart. Those two days of latent laboring felt like an eternity of not sleeping or functioning normally because of contractions. I worried that I was going to have my baby on the toilet or in some other random place if my body decided to suddenly move further in labor. The hospital staff then decided to take me in and augment my labor if necessary since it seemed like my body wanted to have this baby.

My husband and I wore masks whenever the nurses came in. I took a rapid COVID19 test. It felt like the nurse stuck a feather wand deep into my nostril to touch my sinus cavity, tickling it for 15 seconds while the feather tickled into the other side. I was told to breathe through my mouth throughout the test. I tried to remain calm and not sneeze or mess up the test in any way, but it was difficult. I had been dreading the test for weeks because I have sensitive sinuses. My eyes watered and it was one of the most uncomfortable feelings, but I got through it.

Wearing a Mask

My negative result came in pretty quickly, though it didn’t necessarily change how I was treated at the hospital. Some nurses remained adamant about us wearing the masks continually and others said that since I had a negative test, I didn’t have to wear it when they came in. One of the nurses said to take it off if no one was in the room because she thought it restricted air flow to myself and to the baby. That made me concerned because there were long stretches where she was in the room and it made me worried that I was then hurting my baby by wearing the mask.

I tried to do whatever the staff wanted because I wanted to make them feel comfortable. I thought of it like trying to make the wait staff at a restaurant happy so they wouldn’t spit in my food, only instead of food, we were talking about my body giving birth to a baby so I felt the stakes were high. I didn’t believe that arguing with anyone would help.

As time went on, I felt the labor progressing and I consented to having some Pitocin and having my water broken at the hospital to move things further along. I decided to have an epidural as well. I felt that some of these things were difficult to do with the mask on but I tried to do my best to stay calm and breathe as deeply as I could. I received the full round of antibiotics for the Group B Strep, which stung as it went through the IV.

My labor moved rapidly and within a few short hours, I was fully dilated. My husband had been trying to sleep since this continued through the night into the beginning of the next day and we had to wake him up. Before he woke up, I had a conversation with the nurse on staff about whether I had to labor with the mask on. I was told at that point that the time when I’d be most likely to give everyone the virus was when I was breathing hard on everyone and pushing. My husband’s blue hospital mask had broken earlier and so he put on a cloth mask that my friend had made, which was more comfortable. I brought mine, too. I asked if I could wear my cloth mask instead and the nurse balked. “We have a policy that the staff has to wear a mask at all times. They said you have to wear one too but they didn’t say you couldn’t wear a cloth mask.” I then had my husband get up and grab my cloth mask as I geared up to push.

The Pandemic Delivery

When I had my daughter, we had a midwife in the room the whole time and the nurses generally assisted her with the birth. I asked if a midwife was coming in and was told no, just this one nurse would stay until the very end, when she’d call the obstetrician. Usually a midwife and obstetrician would be at the hospital but as I understood, they had the midwife stay home and respond to phone calls from patients and the obstetrician handled in-hospital needs. My thought is that this reduced the amount of people in the room during labor, thus reducing the amount of people to give or get the virus.

I could tell my body had mobilized itself to get this baby out. I felt like I was going into Beast Mode. The epidural was pretty strong this time so I couldn’t feel the whole contraction when each one came, but I generally could tell when a peak occurred and I pushed. I pushed three times when the nurse called the obstetrician to come in. I thought, “Woah, that was fast!” When the doctor came in, she said, “Look down, here’s your baby!” Before I knew it, the baby was out. My first photos with the baby include me wearing a mask. The staff moved out of the way to take a few pictures of our faces without the masks on.

We moved to the postpartum room later and similarly, we asked the staff how they felt about the masks. Some were fine if we didn’t wear the mask when they were further than six feet from us. Some felt safe since I had a negative COVID test. Others asked me to immediately put the mask on all the time. The staff mainly ran tests on the baby and I to make sure we were doing okay and answered questions about taking care of the baby. They ran almost all tests on him in our hospital room and didn’t take him out except to have the pediatrician check him. The nursery was closed. We knew ahead of time that no visitors were allowed. My husband could go grab snacks in the snack room but couldn’t leave the hospital. No photographers came.

Headed Home

We were told that they tried to get patients home about 24 hours after a vaginal birth for their own safety, though we could stay if we wanted to or didn’t feel ready. My husband and I felt like it didn’t benefit us to stay since we would be more comfortable at home and could rest without people checking in on us all the time. I had a sense throughout the experience that the hospital staff wanted to get us in and out of the hospital as fast as possible. Every decision was made with the virus in mind and that seemed to me to be the first consideration.

This account is my own, not to say that this is “typical” of what women will experience with delivering during a pandemic. I don’t intend to comment my personal views on how hospitals are handling the restrictions and regulations of the pandemic.

The world situation certainly colored my experience of labor and delivery. I have another child that was born two years ago and that experience was vastly different. Overall, I had a positive experience because my labor was safe and quick. The fine details changed because of the virus restrictions. I’m not sure if the way labor and delivery went would have been different under normal circumstances and I can’t comment on that with any certainty.

Things seemed quite different during this pandemic from my first birth experience. Overall, I’m happy that everything turned out well and we are healthy and enjoying our little family. I’m sure my future grandchildren will want to hear about the experience and I hope it’ll seem like a strange time in history to them.

If you’re delivery during COVID, I hope this gives you some insight from the experience that we had. Be sure to read on, as you adjust to being home during quarantine and the gift of a newborn at this time.

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Kristen Scharf
Kristen Scharf is originally from Dayton and attended the University of Dayton for her Bachelor's and Master's degrees (Go Flyers!). She came to Columbus after she got married in 2015. As a native Daytonian, her inspiration for writing for the Columbus Moms Blog comes from Erma Bombeck. She is a licensed school counselor and Certified Orton-Gillingham Practitioner (CALP) who is currently at home with her toddler and doing literacy tutoring in the evenings. She is proud to be an Army wife. She enjoys taking her family out around Columbus so her daughter can play with eating utensils in the wild and eat all the varieties of mac n cheese in Columbus. Her current Mom Fantasy is for her daughter to consistently call her "Mama" instead of "Elmo" or "Dada".

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