Giving Birth in the Age of COVID-19

This is a very anxious time for everyone, but imagine having another life that you have been nurturing for the last nine months within you, and now you are about to give birth while facing the risk of contracting a serious and sometimes deadly virus. That is the situation our patients are facing every day with courage and grace.

At Women4Women OBGYN, our physicians, Dr. Anne Marie Reidy and Dr. Allison Warren, and Certified Nurse Midwife Tiffany Golub have been offering advice and reassurance since day 1 about how to navigate this situation. We started implementing enhanced safety protocols the week of March 18, including limiting patient exposure by cancelling non-emergent gynecologic appointments, including routine annual appointments, cancelling elective surgeries before the hospital mandate came out, requiring patients to sanitize their hands on arrival and again on entry to the clinical area, limiting visitors, standardizing more rigorous cleaning protocols, etc. etc. We have only made these policies more comprehensive as the situation has evolved. We have been in communication with our patients via email, text and social media about this and other COVID-19 related items every step of the way. Our patients have repeatedly thanked us for our serious approach to the pandemic. They have told us how safe they feel in our hands.

The other area of understandable concern for patients is the hospital and their delivery experience, as there have been many changes there over the last 4 weeks. We deliver solely at Huntsville Hospital for Women and Children. Governor Ivey has mandated only one visitor per patient during labor and delivery, and it must be the same person throughout their stay. We have clarified confusion as to whether that person has to stay at the hospital the entire time – the answer is that the support person is allowed to leave and come back, but must be re-screened for fever on re-entry to the hospital. Other questions have included: Are there still childbirth classes? Not right now. Is there a newborn photographer still? Not right now.

All these changes may make it “seem like you might be missing out on something,” according to one of Dr. Anne Marie Reidy’s patients who delivered recently, Nicole Gibson, an RN at the Heart Center. “But that’s not the case. This is our third child and this has actually been our best birth experience because we have had so much uninterrupted bonding time. We haven’t had to worry about different people interrupting us in the room and visitors dropping by all the time while we were there.”

Nicole had also voiced some concerns about the safety of delivering at Women & Children’s during the pandemic and possible exposure to the virus. Recently the American College of OBGYNs issued a joint statement together with the American Academy of Family Physicians and American College of Nurse Midwives re-affirming that hospitals remain a safe place to deliver. We discussed this statement and the many safety measures in place at Women’s & Children’s. Nicole was also assured that we would discharge her as early as possible; we are often discharging our patients on the first postpartum day. After her delivery Nicole said most of the staff wore masks while she was there, and that she felt comfortable throughout her stay.

For many of Tiffany’s patients, they plan to have an unmedicated birth and many use a doula. While it’s typically beneficial to spend your early labor at home, this has been encouraged even more during this time. While at home, patients can labor in a comfortable environment and use their doula as originally planned. Once they come to the hospital in active labor, they can continue having doula/family member support via technology: facetime, conference calls, etc. A woman and her OB provider develop a special and unique relationship over the course of pregnancy that continues into her hospital stay/birth. This continuity of care over time is an important aspect of prenatal care which was emphasized by the Joint Statement put out by the governing bodies for OBGYNs and Midwives mentioned above.

One of Tiffany’s patients, Danielle Bentley, had this to say about her experience: “When I chose Women4Women I had no idea during delivery the world would be in the middle of the fight against COVID-19. I am so thankful I had those at Women4Women supporting and caring for me and my baby during pregnancy. I delivered at Huntsville Hospital and was impressed with the safety standards and precautions implemented…Overall we had an overwhelming sense of peace, safety and confidence in the care we received.”

We know how scary pregnancy and childbirth can be even in normal times. The joy that a new baby brings to a woman and family should not be overshadowed by fear. For each of these moms and their babies, their birth story will be a special one in this historical time in which we are living. While the virus causes an added layer of concern, HH for Women & Children and all of us at Women4Women OBGYN are doing everything in our power to make each patient’s birth experience as close as possible to the one she has dreamed of while still keeping her and her baby as safe as possible.

Anne Marie Reidy, MD and Tiffany Golub, CNM