Allison Harris had a plan to have her two oldest daughters help catch her new baby and cut the umbilical cord, while her son stayed by her forehead wiping the sweat from her brow. Her youngest daughter, who has special needs, would wait elsewhere in the hospital but would come to see the baby soon after delivery.
That plan is now shot, as local hospitals are prohibiting visitors to limit the spread of the coronavirus. Birthing mothers are the one exception to the rule, but they are allowed only one support person. The same policy is in place at both Sarasota Memorial Hospital and Bayfront Health Port Charlotte.
“As a mother, you have this beautiful birthing plan set up in your mind,” Harris said. “They all were wanting to be a part of this birthing experience. It’s super frustrating because you’re only allowed to have one support person in the room with you.”
Hospitals in some regions, like New York City, have prohibited all visitors for labor and delivery patients, requiring mothers to give birth alone.
“I think that’s my greatest fear, because you walk into this journey with your husband, your partner,” Harris said. “It’s a life you’ve created together, and when you want to bring that child from your body into this world to take their very first breath, the first thing you want is for them to be able to see.”
Giving birth in the time of coronavirus is uncharted territory. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states on its website it doesn’t know if pregnant women have a greater chance of getting sick or whether a pregnant woman with the virus can pass it to her baby during pregnancy or delivery.
“I’m scared,” said Jessica Dicarlo, a Port Charlotte mother, who is expecting her second child in August. “This is just a really scary time. I’m especially afraid to go out for things I need. I’ve been telling my husband to go and get the stuff. I’m scared somebody’s going to touch me.”
Dicarlo has limited her errands to doctor’s appointments and only sees close family members.
“Other than that, we don’t invite anybody over,” she said. “I’m not doing the stuff I used to do, just isolating myself. I’m wearing gloves and masks and using Lysol and hand sanitizer until my hands get dry.”
Like Harris, she’d like to have her daughter at the hospital when her new baby is born, but that most likely won’t happen.
That’s one reason Devon Bowen, of North Port, is glad she’ll be having a home birth when her child is due in September. She worries for mothers who may need help getting the baby up for feeding or going to the bathroom, and hospital staff being overworked, too busy to quickly respond, or spreading the virus to the mother and baby.
“It just makes me more secure in my decision to have an out-of-hospital birth because I know I’ll be able to have my husband with me,” she said. “Our exposure will be low because there’s no hospital staff coming in and out of the room constantly that could have been exposed. We don’t know how this is going to affect newborns or women who are postpartum in recovery.”
Harris said a home birth is something she’s joked about with a good friend who works as a doula, but there’s little availability for midwifes in May, when her baby is expected. She’s also considered a high-risk pregnancy due to her youngest daughter’s special needs and a miscarriage she had before this current pregnancy. She wants to be sure a neonatal intensive care unit would be available if needed.
Until her due date, she’s staying home, and her husband takes extra precautions when he comes home from work each day. As a service provider for Caliber Collision, his job is considered essential.
“He comes directly in the garage, strips his clothes, and gets in the shower before he’s able to hug us, because we don’t want to get invited into any of his germs he could be carrying,” she said.
In addition to urging everyone to stay home to avoid exposing the most vulnerable, Harris said she hopes the community brings more awareness and support for mothers experiencing postpartum depression after having their babies during the pandemic.
“It’s very daunting,” she said. “These moms giving birth during this time are going to need all the support they can get, even if it’s just a phone call to check in because you’re still practicing the social distancing.”