Deborah Garcia delivered her baby, Elena Batz, in the hospital without family support during COVID-19. She also had tested positive for the virus at the end of her pregnancy.
Each pregnancy experience is distinctive. Some moms are out there planning all the plans with multi-colored pens and To-Do Lists while others are feeling all the feels and squeezing boxes of tissues into tiny pockets of maternity jeggings. Whichever way a mom-to-be chooses to embrace her pregnancy days, carrying a baby in her belly asks her to adjust physically and mentally. Now with the onset of COVID-19, mothers-to-be have to adjust even more.
Elizabeth Quinkert, a certified nurse-midwife and the administrative director for the Tree of Life Family Birth Center in Jeffersonville, Indiana, says she’s seen an upswing in expectant mothers deciding to give birth at her facility instead of a hospital.
“We want everyone to be safe and to keep this as normal an experience as possible for them,” Elizabeth says. With the guidance of the American Associations of Birth Centers and The American College of Nurse-Midwives, the center has put protective precautions in place to offer expectant mothers a labor experience closer to what they had once envisioned when they became pregnant.
All of these new safeguards are there to keep patients and medical personnel protected, but what if COVID-19 strikes while healthy and weeks away from your due date? During her 35th week of pregnancy, Debora (Debbie) Garcia started experiencing initial signs of COVID-19, and soon after she began running a fever and suffering chills. Her doctor advised her to be tested, and after waiting seven days she received a positive result. She went into labor the following day at 37 weeks.
“This was all so new to my doctor that she was trying to find out what the protocol was in the hospital,” says Debbie, who gave birth to her daughter on April 6. “I’d been fever-free for 24 hours, but my husband had to drop me off outside the hospital, and a nurse came out to get me.” The nurse whisked Debbie away to give birth. She was told then that she’d have to deliver the baby alone.
“Everyone was in their gear, and I was surrounded by strangers. There was no one that I knew there who could really support me, but I trusted God and trusted them that the delivery would go fine.” Debbie delivered a baby girl who, due to rising and falling oxygen levels, went to the NICU soon after birth. “The doctors wanted to monitor her to make sure she was OK. She actually tested negative for COVID-19.” After six days, Debbie and her daughter were reunited and she was able to take her newborn home.
Debbie says because her early labor began on the heels of finding out about her positive COVID-19 test, she didn’t have time to prepare. This is why Elizabeth is advising patients to focus on making plans now while knowing the current limitations they might face due to the virus. “This helps them to prepare themselves so they aren’t surprised at the time of birth, and it can help them to visualize their birth under these circumstances.”
“The doctor’s office — it’s a lot different,” says Brooke McNatt, who’s pregnant and due in August. “You have to wear a mask, and all the seats are now six feet apart.” With the COVID-19 landscape ever-changing, Brooke receives an email prior to each visit to alert her to any new office rules. Right now, only one guest is allowed to accompany her on her visits.
Brooke has her preparations in place. When she heads to the hospital for her scheduled C-section, her husband will be the one person with her. “My husband and I are both taking extra precautions and following the rules. I’m trying to protect my family so we can keep COVID-19 out of our home,” she says.
Motherhood is an adjustment all its own. Becoming a mother in the midst of a pandemic is asking expectant mamas to adapt and stretch as never before. Like Debbie says, “Life can change in a blink of an eye. To give birth to a healthy baby in the middle of a pandemic is truly a miracle. I value every minute with my little one, even breastfeeding in the (early) hours when I haven’t gotten much sleep.”