MINNEAPOLIS — Natasha Givens gave birth on the day of a new milestone at the Twin Cities hospital where she delivered her baby boy.
It was the first day of new restrictions at M Health University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital for delivering mothers amid the spreading coronavirus.
Mothers could now only have one person accompany them, she and her husband, Danny Givens Jr. were told when they arrived March 13 for Natasha’s planned cesarean birth.
That meant neither her parents who’d flown in from out of town, nor the couple’s three other children could wait in the hospital. The photographer they’d hired to document the birth had to be canceled. None of their loved ones could visit their hospital room to meet Icon Blaze Givens after he was born.
“We were hoping to be surrounded by family after the process and just even having a time of prayer as a family,” Danny Givens said. “But there was none of that.”
In addition to new rules for labor and delivery, pregnant women face changes to clinic visits, in-person access to their doctors and midwives, baby shower cancellations due to social-distancing, and rigid guidelines for keeping themselves and their newborns safe after birth.
The changes, and the awareness that more could be coming, have brought anxiety, disappointment and sadness for many new parents as they lose even more control of a situation they already have little over to begin with, according to local ob-gyns, midwives and other medical professionals.
There is hopeful news, though. While research is limited and COVID-19 hasn’t been around long enough to understand its impacts on women in early pregnancy, initial studies suggest pregnant women who get the virus don’t develop severe symptoms the way they can with influenza and other respiratory illnesses, and that they don’t pass the virus along to their babies in utero, said Dr. Laura Colicchia, a perinatologist with Minnesota Perinatal Physicians who specializes in high risk pregnancies.
“Thus far the data is pretty reassuring,” she said. “They’ve tested amniotic fluid and umbilical cord blood and (didn’t find it) and none of the babies at time of birth were positive.”
That’s from a study of nine mothers who gave birth in China, Colicchia said, adding that preliminary data out of Italy and the United Kingdom suggests the same findings.
Still, pregnant women are considered high risk given how other respiratory illnesses tend to present more severely in them and the limited research, she added.
“So the CDC is still … recommending women take social distancing measures — hand-washing, staying 6 feet away from others, avoid large gatherings (like baby showers), work remotely when possible and stay away from any known patients with coronavirus or other respiratory illnesses.”
There have been instances of newborns contracting the virus shortly after birth from positive mothers, Colicchia continued, but to date there have been no infants who have died from the virus, nor small children.
“So even though babies could become infected most babies do seem to do very well, Colicchia said.
That said, infants should be protected. Mothers with the virus should use good hand hygiene and cover their mouths and faces with masks when close to babies, or potentially have another caregiver for the baby immediately after birth.
COVID-19 has not been detected in breast milk so far, which means mothers should still breastfeed or pump and bottle feed while taking other precautions, Colicchia added.
Even mothers without the virus are advised to take precautions after birth, to protect both their recovering immune system and their baby’s new one, said LeeAnn Hubbard, an ob-gyn who serves as the medical director at Regions Birth Center.
“As hard as it is in that newborn period, we are recommending they don’t have any visitors … that they basically go home and quarantine,” Hubbard said.
It wasn’t until post-birth that Natasha Given realized the extent of the new world order she was living in.
She had some trouble scheduling her son’s first newborn check-up because of changes clinics are implementing around visits. When she arrived, staff were wearing masks and nurses were very hands-off. Her son’s circumcision was delayed because it’s not essential. And she had to push her doctor a little to get a second-check-up for her son after it was discovered he’d lost weight since birth.
“It really scared me, honestly,” Natasha Givens said. “I am thinking this is a newborn baby. We have to make sure that this baby is thriving.”
On top of everything, the new mom, who is an avid planner, said she’s struggling with baby blues, which some health care professionals said mothers should be extra vigilant for during these uncertain times.
“I just can’t believe my son was born on the first day the hospital was locked down. It’s like … what kind of world is it going to be now.”
Some pregnant women worry the restrictions could be even more rigid by the time they give birth.
The anxiety has led to spikes in inquiries at birth centers and among midwives who provide home births.
Emme Korbil, a midwife who owns Trillium Midwifery Care, normally fields one or two calls a week from women exploring home births. Lately it’s been more like five a day, she said.
Pat Hinck, a midwife and the director of midwifery at the Minnesota Birth Center, said the center has seen a “huge influx” in interest.
The birth center, a free-standing clinic not connected to a hospital, is allowing two visitors at births.
Both are only options for healthy mothers, and Colicchia warns against abandoning plans for hospital births as labor and delivery outside of them come with their own risks.
Pregnant women share fears, advice
Emily Allen, due in two months, said the pandemic has made her on edge about everything — from where to deliver to who will watch her older child when she goes into labor. The original plan was grandparents to help, but they are older and in the high-risk category. For now, she is still planning to deliver at Abbott Northwestern Hospital; but other options are on the table.
“If something really bad happens and you need an ER, the hospital is where you want to be. But … add in a global pandemic and it’s kind of shifting the map on where the safest place to be is right now,” Allen said.
For Danielle Indovino Cawley, a Bloomington woman with a high-risk pregnancy due in September, the hardest part has been the loss of control.
“You already have no control with pregnancy. I know that because I’ve had two losses … but now you have no control over anything in your life,” she said. “How can I prepare for what to do 13 weeks from now when I don’t even know what will happen in three weeks.”
To stay grounded, the women are leaning on partners, friends, coworkers and supportive employers. They are also focusing on the baby.
Katie Kolodge of Minneapolis is due with her second child April 17. She and her husband are having another girl.
“That is the best part,” she said. “My husband and I were joking yesterday that she is definitely going to have her own special story being born under these circumstances … We can’t wait to meet her …. and just be on the other side of this.”
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