How the pandemic has shifted the way women are giving birth

May 15 2020, 8:20 am

COVID-19 has thrown a curveball at everyone, but for many pregnant women, giving birth in the middle of a pandemic couldn’t be further from their birth plan.

Virtual baby showers have changed the way that pregnant women celebrate the new chapter with their loved ones. Visitation restrictions at hospitals mean some mothers aren’t able to have more than one support person by their side. In some cities, women are having to give birth alone.

Parents are scared of getting sick; there’s been a rise in interest in homebirths; and prenatal checkups, birthing groups, and prenatal classes have moved to platforms like Zoom and WhatsApp.

Although these changes to the maternity world appear to be mainly temporary, it’s worth wondering if there are some lasting influences for the ways moms give birth in the future.

Visitation restrictions

BC Women’s Hospital is currently allowing one adult support person plus one registered doula during the birth, and one family member at a time can visit after the birth. But visitation restrictions differ by city and hospital and are constantly evolving.

Bonnie Powell, who works remotely for a Vancouver company from Australia and is expecting her second baby this May, says her biggest fear is not having anyone there in the delivery room during the birth — including her mom, who was a crucial support person when she delivered her firstborn.

“I just know how unimaginable the pain is and there’s this point you get to in the labour when you just feel like it’s bigger than you. It’s the people that know you that know what you’re capable of.”

Although the hospital Powell is planning to deliver at is currently allowing birth partners during labour, she worries restrictions will heighten if things with COVID-19 escalate. “If that’s how bad it got, then I would accept it and be understanding of that. But it would be a real mental barrier to overcome.”

A rise in home births

For women who have been planning to have a home birth all along, their decision to deliver outside of a hospital environment seems more like the right decision now than ever.

Vancouver social worker Jessica Dailly, who is planning to have her first baby this June at her home in Vancouver, says her pre-existing aversion to hospitals is one of the reasons she opted for a home birth in the first place.

If I did have to go to the hospital, yeah, I’m a bit worried about the COVID crisis and the restrictions they’re putting on,” says Dailly.

It’s not just women who were always set on having a home birth that are opting for a delivery from the comfort of their homes, though. Dr. Saraswathi Vedam, a professor in the UBC Midwifery faculty, says that the rise in home births since the pandemic started has been seen in both Vancouver and across the globe.

More autonomy

In addition to seeing an increase in home births, according to Vancouver-based doula Michelle Tyliakos, this is also a great time for doulas to teach women how to become more independent in the way they monitor their own bodies during pregnancy.

Tyliakos says that when women are forced to look outside of the traditional medical system for security, they can learn to cultivate their own resourcefulness instead. 

“This might seem kind of radical, but if we can look at things like how to check our own cervix, or measure our fundal height, it actually gives us more empowerment so we know what’s going on with our own bodies,” she says.

Our virtual reality

Bonnie Powell

Both Powell and Dailly, who were planning on having friends and family physically attend their baby showers, are now having to consider virtual baby showers. And the opportunity to receive gifts that often set moms-to-be up for motherhood has also shifted with people’s financial situations.

“It’s not the best time to be accepting gifts. People are losing jobs, getting laid off, and applying for EI, so I don’t expect people who are struggling themselves [to give gifts],” says Dailly.

Apart from baby showers, checkups have also moved online. Powell says, “I had a scan today. The sonographer was in the room with me and doing the scan, and then [the specialist] was at home, watching the images come through and consulting from home on the images he was seeing.”

Whether it’s a shift to more prenatal checkups done virtually, an increase in home births for those who fear a future pandemic, or more women independently monitoring their prenatal progress, changes to the way women give birth now could have an everlasting impact on the maternity world.

And although coming to terms with a rapidly changing healthcare situation is anxiety-provoking for those who are pregnant, it’s also brought some closer together and provided some perspective on the bigger picture.

Dailly says that while her birthing group used to meet in person, they’re now connecting using Whatsapp instead. “We message each other like ‘oh, how are you feeling, oh, I’m craving ice cream,’ so that’s been fun.”

Powell says that at a recent in-person check-up, she saw this woman coming out with a newborn, and I remember thinking ‘there’s really good stuff that happens at hospitals’. It was like this reminder of the circle of life.