Giving birth can be scary for a woman at any time, but now the coronavirus pandemic is creating even more fear and causing more women than ever to choose home births.
Jeni Rector, a midwife with the Village Midwife in Newport News, said the number of women coming to her for services has nearly doubled since the coronavirus outbreak. In a typical month, Rector said she would see anywhere from two to six women.
Now she’s attending to 10 or more.
“These levels are certainly not something we want to continue long term,” Rector said. “But we get it, women are scared. They’re seeing all these different regulations and it’s no joke.”
Rector said it was very rare that two women might go into labor at the same time but now it’s something midwives like herself have to plan for.
While the volume continues to increase, Rector said she and three other midwives have come together to help serve women in the area while making sure the midwives aren’t spread too thin.
Tammi McKinley, clinical director of Hampton Roads Midwifery and president of the Virginia Midwives Alliance, said women are coming to midwives to do home births because the current reality just seems too precarious.
“There’s this perception that they’ll go into the hospital and get sick,” she said. “And other people are concerned about having their support system, not having their doula or partner able to attend.”
Many of the women hadn’t originally planned to give birth at home with no pain medication and that can be a huge trigger for anxiety.
“It’s a big shift for these women,” McKinley said. “There’s this motivation to stay out of the hospital and protect your child so they have to make this decision quickly. They have to change their entire mindset and for the ones that are due soon, they have to be ready for it.”
Chrissy Owens, a midwife with EVA Homebirth LLC, said talking the women through the pain medication anxiety is an important part of getting them to a home birth because if the women are too nervous, they could back out and go to the hospital at the last minute. She said she explains to women that sometimes sitting in a pool of warm water can be just as soothing and that being surrounded by loved ones and familiar objects can be a comfort.
She added that a lot of work has to be done for women who are far along in their pregnancy to make sure the proper records and information is being transferred from their previous doctor. On the plus side, the rise in home births has also decreased the burdens on hospitals.
Home births are only options for women with low-risk pregnancies, McKinley said. If a woman has diabetes or other health conditions, then they would have to go into a hospital.
“Not everyone is a candidate for out-of-hospital birth,” McKinley said. “We do a screening process to decide if a patient is able to do a home birth because being scared of the hospital is not a good enough reason if there’s serious risk involved.”
When performing home births, midwives are taking extra precautions to protect their patient, the babies and those in attendance.
McKinley said she hasn’t been limiting the number of people that are attending a home birth but she is screening them for coronavirus symptoms and wearing proper personal protective equipment, such as masks and gloves.
But Rector said midwives are having trouble getting access to additional PPE. She said when she calls the Virginia Department of Health to request more, it seems that there’s confusion on where midwives land in terms of importance.
“They just don’t know where to put us in the hierarchy of important things,” Rector said. “An emergency room nurse is probably more important, so the first line of defense for us is a thermometer.”
With all of the confusion and stress surrounding the coronavirus, Rector said work has become extremely stressful because some patients are starting to become hysterical. While the most important aspect of their work is delivering a healthy baby, Rector said another large part is attending to the mental health and concerns of the mothers.
That’s why it’s important the midwives in the area are working together to provide the best possible care during an uncertain time.
“We just have to keep in mind that women have the right to do what they want with their bodies, first and foremost,” Rector said. “Right now everything is being limited for them and women are scared and need to be reminded that people have their backs.”
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