The pandemic has strained healthcare resources across the country and world, and as a result even the best-laid birthing plans are being upended. Faced with the possibility of giving birth in a hospital overrun by ill patients, some soon-to-be parents are desperately seeking out new healthcare providers, are considering home births, and are even inducing labor early to escape a situation that seems increasingly desperate.
Hospitals are struggling to find solutions too. Despite social distancing orders, pregnant people still need prenatal care, especially in the third trimester. But right now, every visit can feel like a gamble. “We’re trying to space out appointments a little bit to decrease [the amount of] patients in the waiting room,” says Jeanne S. Sheffield, MD, director of the division of maternal-fetal medicine and professor of gynecology and obstetrics at Johns Hopkins. Doctors are also relying on tele-health to reduce the necessity for in-person visits, and to hopefully minimize the spread of the viral disease.
In March, this desire to curtail patient traffic in healthcare facilities led some hospitals in New York to announce that they’d no longer be allowing partners in delivery rooms. But on March 28, the office of Andrew M. Cuomo, the governor of New York, put out an executive order ensuring everyone giving birth in the state could have one partner present.
“We understand there are complications of coronavirus, but there are also serious complications of pregnancy to consider, such as high blood pressure, or preeclampsia,” Dr. Chien notes. ”And if you’re weighing the risk of having one of those complications versus catching COVID at the hospital, I’d probably say the risk is greater for your typical complications of pregnancy. That should be a consideration in what you decide to do.”
Of course, the possibility of contracting coronavirus while pregnant or during delivery, or passing it to their newborn, is weighing heavily on the minds of soon-to-be parents, especially since the effects of the virus are still not fully understood — particularly for pregnant women and fetuses.
The limited research available indicates that those who are pregnant aren’t more likely than anyone else to develop severe COVID-19 symptoms. Still, other viruses within the coronavirus family such as SARS and similar infections such as influenza, may pose higher risk for those who are pregnant, Dr. Sheffield explains.
“COVID is a respiratory virus, and we always worry about those viruses in pregnant women, especially in their third trimester,” Dr. Sheffield adds.
All across the country and the world, expecting parents are wrestling with these massive decisions and anxieties. We spoke to eight people about how they’re making tough choices — and how they’re staying hopeful as they bring a child into a world that’s currently in unprecedented turmoil.