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What giving birth in America during coronavirus looks like

As a first-time mother with no idea what to expect, Nancy Pedroza was convinced the hospital was the safest place to have her baby. That conviction turned to doubt when in late March most US states ordered residents to stay home and hospitals and doctors began taking new precautions to protect pregnant women and their babies against the novel coronavirus sweeping the nation.

So, at 40 weeks pregnant, she turned to a midwife to help her have a home birth. She and her partner Ryan Morgan were about to become parents in the middle of a pandemic. “Things were changing so fast,” says Pedroza, 27, who lives with her partner at her parents’ house in Fort Worth, Texas.

She had to go alone to all her visits with her obstetrician where before she had brought either Morgan, her father or her doula, a birth assistant. But what really scared her was the uncertainty of who would be allowed to stand by her side at the hospital when the baby came into the world. She would have to choose between Morgan and her doula.

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The hospital would allow only one and warned her the policy could change and it might bar all visitors. “It was scary to feel like I might have to do it alone,” she says, noting that the doctors and nurses were not the same as those who had supported her throughout her pregnancy. “It’s nothing like having someone there that you care about and cares about you that’s willing to hold your hand and tell you this is going to be OK.”

As Covid-19 puts the globe on pause and changes every aspect of daily life, women are entering motherhood with a mixture of anxiety, fear and frustration. Some countries, although not the United States, have banned everyone from the delivery room. Others are separating women who become sick from their newborns.

By early April, with her baby past due and learning Medicaid would not cover a home birth, Pedroza considered giving birth at home without any medical assistance. She got in touch with midwife Susan Taylor on Facebook, who not only lowered her fee but offered up her own home when Pedroza’s mother became uneasy about the idea of her grandchild being born in her bathroom or bedroom.

But Pedroza was running out of time. Legally the midwife had to transfer Pedroza’s care to a hospital if she went past 42 weeks of pregnancy. A sonogram showed the baby’s fluid levels were low, which can cause complications during birth.

Nancy, supported by her doula, and partner, as she has contractions (Reuters)

After a membrane sweep, visit to a chiropractor, a brisk walk and using a breast pump to stimulate labour, the contractions started. And after several hours in a birthing tub in Taylor’s home, Pedroza started pushing, but the baby’s heart rate suddenly dropped from 130 to 30, so the midwives called an ambulance.

Masked emergency workers put Pedroza onto a stretcher and wheeled her to an ambulance that took her and Morgan to Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Southwest around 1am. Taylor rode with her in the ambulance, monitoring the baby’s heartbeat.

But once at the hospital, her midwives had to leave “Once I got the epidural administered and calmed down a little bit, and realised I’d still be able to do this myself without possibly having a C-section and heard the baby’s heartbeat on the monitor, it brought me so much comfort that I didn’t care I was at the hospital at that point,” says Pedroza, who worked as a massage therapist before becoming pregnant.

She wore a mask during labour and at 5.55am on 8 April a healthy baby boy named Kai Rohan Morgan was born, weighing 8lbs and 5oz. The hospital gave her and Morgan masks to wear any time someone entered their room. Some staff also wore masks and gloves when they helped with breastfeeding and took vital signs.

A licensed midwife takes two-day old Kai’s temperature (Reuters)

“It’s already kind of scary thinking that it’s a possibility that you’re going to be in an environment that is contaminated or that puts you at risk or your baby at risk,” Pedroza says.

“What puts me on edge more is seeing everyone with that attire and being very adamant about wearing it.”

Reuters

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