When you’re pregnant, emotions run high and you’re bound to be just as filled with anticipation and joy as you are with fear that you have no idea what the F you’re getting into. But more than anything, entering into my fifth month of pregnancy, I feel anxious for an entirely new reason.
Once coronavirus hit the U.S., and New York City particularly hard, being pregnant took on a whole new meaning. The uncertainties of childbirth and being a parent were replaced with the unknowns of how this virus could impact me or my baby, or how it would affect my delivery.
I am no longer just a 32-year-old pregnant woman. According to the CDC, I am a pregnant woman who suddenly falls into the category of being “higher risk for more serious complications from COVID-19” due to having a weakened immune system. As if we pregnant women didn’t have enough to be careful or concerned about — like miscarriage during the early months and steering clear of drinking, smoking, sushi, too much caffeine and certain medications, now I had to worry about going OUTSIDE.
To flatten the curve of infections, the majority of New Yorkers started working remotely the second week of March. Both my boss and husband encouraged me to do so even a few days before most people to take extra precautions and avoid unnecessary exposure. I’m going on week three at home working remotely, and there are definitely some perks to this — like wearing sweatpants Monday through Sunday — that I wouldn’t trade for being at the office.
But the realities of being pregnant during COVID-19 hit when it was time to go for my prenatal checkup at Mount Sinai on March 18. My husband and I walked over to the office together and were met with a SWAT team of staffers dressed in hospital gowns and face masks who had to screen us before entering and who were required to take our temperature. Then at the reception desk, my husband was turned away.
“Only patients allowed,” they said, enforcing a new policy that had gone into effect that morning.
I proceeded to head upstairs by myself. This wasn’t the end of the world, but the more unfortunate news was that my husband wouldn’t be allowed to go to my next sonogram appointment either. He’d miss seeing our baby boy swimming around and the in-depth anatomy scan that shows you all of the baby’s parts — the brain, arms, legs, fingers, and toes.
At this time, the hospital also alerted me that the labor policies had changed and you would only be allowed one healthy partner during delivery and postpartum. This news left me rethinking my ideal birth plan, or “birth preferences” as the doula I consulted with would call them. The concept of having a doula in the room in addition to my husband was suddenly off the table. Pregnant women should be allowed to make this decision based on what type of birth they envision for themselves, and suddenly the choice to have a doula was taken away from me.
I set up a call with my prospective doula to tell her the bad news. Jennifer Mayer, the owner of Baby Caravan, sent me new package and pricing options which included “virtual support” via phone, video, or text during labor and immediate postpartum.
While it was nice to see the doula services adapt quickly to the changes, the concept of having a doula on the phone while coping with contractions sounded less than comforting. Imagine the “close ups” that would have to happen to convey how much my cervix was dilating. Cringeworthy.
As if news of having a solo labor partner wasn’t restrictive enough, the bad news suddenly got a whole lot worse.
As of March 24, Mount Sinai joined New York-Presbyterian affiliated hospitals in banning visitors to their labor and delivery and postpartum units, including spouses, in an effort to slow the virus. This means people will give birth alone and parents will miss the birth of their child — one of the most memorable and life-changing experiences of a person’s life.
As for me, this meant I’d potentially be driven to the hospital and wheeled away from my husband in a wheelchair only for him to meet his son for the first time days after his birth. I’m not trying to jump to the worst-case scenario immediately, as I’m not due until August, but just the concept of having to be alone in a sterile hospital room during a time that is expected to be both physically and emotionally challenging while also transformative made me dread my due date instead of look forward to it.
To suddenly face reality that I might have zero control over my birth story left me feeling scared and alone. My husband is my biggest supporter in life, and until now, the concept of going into labor for the first time hadn’t scared me because I knew I would have him by my side; we’d get through it together.
My husband is completely unflappable, somehow maintains his cool in every situation, and knows just what to say to calm me down or make me laugh. On the other hand, I have a low pain threshold and low tolerance for discomfort, so being able to complain to him or just squeeze his hand as hard as possible was my planned coping mechanism.
Experiencing labor and the birth of our first child together was something that I expected would make us grow closer, and something we’d remember forever. I’m devastated to think that this entire experience may be upended and I may have to greet our son for the first time alone — bursting with tears of joy and true sorrow that our little family of three can’t celebrate this moment properly together.
Not only does this ban prevent partners and spouses from supporting their loved one physically and emotionally, but the risks associated with unassisted childbirth are much greater. There will be no one in the room to advocate for the person in labor, and there will be no one to alert staff if something were to go wrong. Sure, you may be able to have your partner or a doula on speakerphone or FaceTime, but good luck getting them to push an alert button or call a nurse down the hallway when you’re in distress. I mean, who’s going to fetch you ice chips when your mouth is parched after hours of labor?
Thousands of people in New York City will give birth in the coming months, myself included, and we deserve to have a safe and supported labor. We must all step up and speak up in light of these draconian measures being taken to disrupt our healthcare and a person’s right to labor with a loved one by their side.
Although thousands of parents and non-parents alike have urged Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio to intervene, de Blasio has deferred to the medical community and is avoiding involvement, according to the NY Post.
Giving birth is scary enough without our right for comfort and proper care being taken away. No one should have to forego a support system during a time of national crisis. In fact, now’s the time to reassure pregnant women that everything will be okay and that we will get the labor support we need and deserve.