What to Expect When You’re Expecting During a Pandemic
Things look different right now. That’s true for everything from how we access groceries to celebrating birthdays, but it especially includes what it is like to be pregnant.
This guide has the most up-to-date information (as of May, 2020) from the data currently available and hospitals in the Washington, DC area.
One Support Person Per Birthing Person
Private hospitals in New York City made waves in March when announcing policies that only permitted a birthing person - and no support people - in the labor room. This was overturned relatively quickly by an executive order by Governor Cuomo in the face of public outrage. “Evidence suggests that, in addition to regular nursing care, continuous one-to-one emotional support provided by a partner or support personnel such as a doula is associated with improved outcomes in labor,” said Dr. Christopher Zahn, the vice president of practice activities for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
The policies remain, however, that only one birthing person may be permitted to accompany a birthing person during labor, meaning many folks are unable to bring a doula or other members of their labor team as they had planned.
Rapid Testing and Continued Monitoring
It is current policy at most hospitals to perform a rapid test on every person who enters the Labor & Delivery ward, including the birthing person and their chosen support person. A birthing person cannot be turned away once they have arrived at a hospital and are in active labor, even if they test positive for COVID. Different hospitals are recommending different things if the partner tests positive, however. Some locations are asking for a back-up support person to come in. Some locations are allowing a partner to be present if they test positive and are not showing symptoms, as long as they are monitored and wear a mask. It may be a good idea to ask that your doula or a trusted family member or friend is on-call as a back-up support person.
Continued monitoring is also something that you can expect, depending on your rapid test diagnosis. It likely will not be very distracting and may include hourly temperature checks.
Wearing Masks During Labor
If you are planning to give birth at a hospital right now, be prepared to be asked to wear a mask. This is true whether or not you are showing symptoms or test positive for COVID. Since you and a birth partner will have gone through a rapid test you may be wondering why you need to stay masked, even if your tests come back negative. Hospitals are implementing this measure to protect you from hospital staff, who are interacting with a high volume of people on any given day.
To get ready for this, I recommend becoming as acquainted with mask-wearing as possible. Doing some household tasks in a mask. If you’re able to do anything that gets your heartrate up, like prenatal yoga or a long walk, practice doing so in a mask so you can feel what it is like to experience increased breathing with your mouth and nose covered.
Contacting Your Doula via Zoom
Although only one support person is currently permitted to accompany a birthing person into the hospital, doulas can still provide a lot of support! Having a doula on speakerphone or video call to guide a birthing person through contractions, suggest labor positions, and explain procedures can still be very helpful. “She was a sounding board…that voice, and logical support from start to finish,” said Kimberly Sherman, who received virtual support. “[Her doula] never left my virtual side. She heard all the advice the nurses provided and talked me through options for labor support.”
“Having access to doulas becomes even more important as changing and shifting hospital policies limit a person’s ability to advocate for the kind of birth they want,” says Jordan Alam, a Seattle-based independent doula and program coordinator for Open Arms Perinatal Services.
Partners are Taking on More Than Ever
Many partners of birthing folks are taking on a few extra roles during COVID. They are comforting the birthing person during labor, but also acting as the photographer or videographer, they are taking on some of the roles a doula may have in providing comfort measures, they are becoming advocates for the birthing person, they are sometimes the only person allowed to be with the baby following birth. As much preparation as a birthing person is doing for labor, partners need to be doing preparation to make sure their emotional needs are met while juggling some extra responsibilities.
It’s Okay to Grieve
I was talking with a pregnant person recently who told me they feel silly for being “so bummed” that their birth photography couldn’t attend their birth. They were having their second (and last) child, and hadn’t had any photos captured of their first birth. They expressed something I’m hearing a lot of pregnant people express right now: that because many people are in worse situations, they feel it is selfish or wrong to be sad.
I’m here to tell you: It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to be mourning the plan you envisioned for your birth. Maybe it includes having a photographer, videographer, and whole team of support people and you’re having to cut it down to one person. Maybe you wanted to birth in a tub and are being faced with not having that as a possibility. Maybe you hate masks and never want to wear one again - especially during birth. Grieve that loss, and allow yourself to feel whatever it is that you are feeling. We will all get through this, a few small steps at a time.