Pregnant women are switching their birth plans in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Nicole Crescenzi/News Staff)

Pregnant in a pandemic: Expectant B.C. moms change birth plans due to COVID-19

Many mothers switch to home births, while others head to the delivery room without expected support

Expectant mothers across B.C. are changing their birthing plans in light of recent hospital policies responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Victoria woman Nadia McTaggart is expecting her first child in May, and had planned on having her baby at Victoria General Hospital alongside her midwife, husband and doula.

Since March 16, however, Island Health has changed its hospital policies to only allow one guest in the delivery room with the mother. Doulas are not provincially or federally recognized as health practitioners, and so expectant mothers will have to choose between their partners, their doula and anyone else they’d planned on having in the room.

ALSO READ: More than 2,000 UVic students asked to leave dorms in response to COVID-19

As a result, McTaggart decided to switch from a hospital birth to a home-style birth at the Roundhouse Midwives farm instead.

“I’m a health care worker myself and so I see the precautions being taken firsthand, and appreciate and understand them,” McTaggart said. “I trust the steps that are being taken to keep birthing moms, their babies, and other patients safe…. [But] it’s anxiety-provoking for me just as it is for many others in our community.”

McTaggart isn’t the only one making this kind of switch.

“I would say our members are experiencing a 25- 50 per cent increase in home births,” said Alixandra Bacon, president of the Midwife Association of B.C. “The college of Midwives of B.C. is looking at ways to increase the workforce by bringing in non-practicing and retired midwives into practice.”

Midwives are recognized as health care professionals across B.C., while for doulas it’s a hospital by hospital, region by region decision. The Royal Columbia Hospital, Langley Memorial Hospital all are limiting it to one person, while others like the BC Women’s Hospital in Surrey, the Richmond Hospital and Ridge Meadows Hospital are allowing one person plus a doula, as long as the doula has ID.

“Hospitals are having issues with family members pretending to be doulas so they can be in the delivery room,” explained Samantha Garcia, director of publications and publicity at the Doula Services Association (DSA) of B.C., adding that the DSA has seen a significant uptick in a request for home births.

“Some want more people present at birth, and others think staying outside of the hospital is a good idea, both for themselves and to leave those hospital beds available for people who don’t have an option for home births.”

ALSO READ: Pregnant B.C. woman stuck in Wuhan, the epicentre of coronavirus outbreak

For now, doulas and midwives are encouraging parents to stay at home for as long as possible during the early stages of labour so they can be present; after that, some doulas are switching to digital services through mediums like FaceTime to try to still be supportive of people going to hospital.

“It’s not the same, though,” Garcia said. “Most people have very likely not met their doctors or nurses before, and emotions are extremely high, and now they can’t have their doula with them who’s the person they built a relationship with.”

For Victoria resident Xan Brown, she has no choice but to go to hospital for the birth of her second child , since she had complications in the delivery of her first child which resulted in an emergency c-section. As a result, she has continued fears about birth which make a doula an instrumental part of her delivery experience.

“Having to choose between my husband and my doula has caused me a lot of stress and anxiety,” Brown said. I honestly sat down on my couch in shock and had a massive hysterical cry because it instantly brought up a lot of my feeling of being completely alone and scared at the hospital with my first birth… It’s a day to day process of getting prepared for this birth in ways I wasn’t expecting.”

On top of this, Brown’s mother won’t be able to travel from the United States due to border closures announced on March 18.

ALSO READ: Trudeau says border between Canada and U.S. likely to close Friday night

Kelly Favro is also afraid that her mother won’t be present for the birth of her miracle baby; when she was 20, Favro was told she wouldn’t be able to conceive, but at age 36 discovered she was pregnant. The baby’s father and Favro have a co-parenting relationship but are not in a romantic relationship, so Favro’s biggest support was supposed to be her mother, who would alternate visitations with the baby’s father.

“I am scheduled for a C-Section May 23, but am terrified now because my mom cannot be part of the recovery with me,” she said, adding her mom just made a 20-hour road trip from Florida to Ontario before the borders were closed. “My mom has chronic bronchitis and I am worried she won’t be allowed in at all.”

Also adding to the fear is the lack of information on if or how COVID-19 could affect pregnant women and infants, with the Centre for Disease Control saying it is unknown, and the World Health Organization and BC Centre for Disease Control not publishing official documents on the topic.

In the meantime, birth specialists encourage expectant mothers to try to balance out their plans as much as they can in these trying times, and to remember that at the end of the day a beautiful baby will arrive.

“Advocate for yourself, but also be respectful that we’re working in uncertain times and that hospital staff are doing the best they can,” Garcia said.

For the most up-to-date information on COVID-19 in B.C., visit bccdc.ca.

nicole.crescenzi@vicnews.com

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