This week, several hospital networks in New York City announced they were banning partners from all of labor and delivery rooms, leaving potentially thousands of pregnant women to deliver their babies alone.
The city has emerged as an epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S., and its mayor has warned that half of all residents there could come down with COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus.
“We understand that this will be difficult for our patients and their loved ones,” says the website of NewYork-Presbyterian, the first hospital network in New York City to adopt the policy. “But we believe that this is a necessary step to promote the safety of our new mothers and children.”
HuffPost Parents spoke with a Brooklyn-based couple — who requested anonymity because speaking to the media could put the dad-to-be’s job at risk — who were set to deliver at a NewYork-Presbyterian hospital in Manhattan, about what the no-visitors policy means to them. They are three weeks away from the due date of their first baby.
When did you find out about the new policy?
Mom-to-be: We had a sense that something was brewing. We have a friend who’s also expecting and is planning to deliver at a different Manhattan hospital. She knows someone pretty high up there and mentioned that there was talk, weeks ago, about it coming down to no one being allowed in the delivery room. We were also constantly checking our hospital’s website for their policies, which were changing by the minute. We saw that we couldn’t have an additional support person, and we had hired a doula, who is amazing. So we knew about that change, and we were sad about it. But we were OK.
The way I was self-soothing was by telling myself, “There is just no possible way that it’ll come to an outright ban.” It’s so clear how much having a support person there helps birth outcomes and women’s experiences. I know that keeping this virus contained — and keeping people safe — is important. But I thought this was one of the few things that couldn’t possibly change, because it’s also just too important.
Dad-to-be: We first found out online, through a parenting group. Then in the news. That was all last Sunday night.
What was that like for you guys?
Dad-to-be: It was a very dark moment.
Mom-to-be: Yeah, it was probably one of the darker moments of my life — and my mother passed away six years ago. We just kind of sat there for a long time.
“We did have a moment of thinking that we should just deliver the baby at home.”
Dad-to-be: I was trying to reassure her and say no matter what happens, you’re going to be healthy. The baby is going to be healthy. If I’m not there, no matter what, you can do this.
Then we kind of went into panic mode, but not really. We’re pretty methodical. But we did have a moment of thinking that we should just deliver the baby at home. That is not something that we had ever wanted to do. We know that doing a last-minute change to a home birth is not a good idea. But it still came up.
What did your OB-GYN have to say about everything?
Dad-to-be: We happened to have an appointment scheduled the next morning, so we were in there when the OB office was basically doing damage control. That was ... surreal.
Mom-to-be: Everyone was trying to put on a happy face, but we asked our doctor, “How are you?” She was like, “Well, you know, everyone who has come in today has been crying. And I get it.”
Dad-to-be: She straight-up asked: “Are you fleeing town?” We were like, yup, we’re thinking about it.
She basically told us, good. I love my patients, but I do not give a fuck. No one wants to do this alone. She told us that if we could find a doctor and a hospital elsewhere, great.
So you’re 37 weeks pregnant, and you’re leaving to deliver elsewhere.
Mom-to-be: After we initially heard the news, we were definitely thinking about all of our options. But the moment the OB-GYN said that, we were just kind of like, OK, it’s happening. We have family in upstate New York, and we have some connections to medical providers up there. Our family was great. They immediately sprang into action to see what we could do.
Dad-to-be: We have connected with a nurse-midwife who is a family friend who delivers at a hospital there. She has also helped connect us with an OB. We’re hopeful we’ll get in at least one phone call meeting in before the delivery, but at least we’ve connected with some providers. And we know which hospital we’re going to.
What about the fact that everyone who has been in New York City is now being called to self-quarantine?
Dad-to-be: That was already our plan. We’re renting an apartment through a family friend, and we were planning to leave early partly so that we could have some time to be there and try and be a little bit relaxed. But we also knew we wanted to quarantine.
We think that we are virus-free. We have been home for the past three weeks. Other than walking our dog, we have not left our apartment — except to drive to our OB appointments. And then we just go in and we go out.
We did a heavy amount of shopping before the panic shopping, and I asked to work remotely before everybody was doing it because it was mandated. We have been taking this very seriously. We are concerned about showing up and being the case that might expose others, especially during an OB visit or at the hospital.
Mom-to-be: We talked to the nurse-midwife about our plans, and she was so comforting on the phone that she brought us to tears.
Dad-to-be: Of course she could go into labor at any time. But the midwife also reminded us to try and take a breath and relax. These last few weeks before the baby are supposed to be yours. And you want to be able to enjoy them a little without dealing with a pandemic, and moving out of your own home and figuring out logistics. She reminded us that this isn’t just a transactional experience.
There are definitely people who’ll wonder: What’s the big deal? Lots of women have labored alone. Why is this so important?
Mom-to-be: I mean, that’s true? But this is such an emotional experience. Doing it by yourself, in a hospital that’s inundated with cases and stretched thin and where, as much as the nurses might want to be there for you, they’ve got so much stuff to do ...
There are going to be times that women are utterly alone in their rooms. And that’s just devastating. I know these hospitals have not made this decision lightly. But the World Health Organization, still, stands behind this as a right. This is important.
Dad-to-be: I think we could really sense it from our OB. Like, these doctors are preparing to deal with potentially complicated births, with women who are completely on their own, and it makes everything more complicated. A partner on the iPad in a lobby is not really any consolation. To anyone.
Mom-to-be: Now that we’re going, I have this mixture of relief, feeling like I have something to do — just to pack. I’m so grateful to have people we can go to, and family who mobilized so quickly to make this happen. And then mixed with that is a lot of guilt, knowing how lucky we are, and how many women in this city have no choice but to do this alone. We’re very fucking privileged. So that’s been on my mind.
Have you thought about what the postpartum period might be like?
Mom-to-be: We’ve had to make our peace with the idea that maybe our parents are not going to meet the baby in person right away — or that maybe no one is going to see this baby up close until the summer. I think the plan, for now, is that we’re just not letting anyone get near us.
In our heads, we think we’re coming back here and then self-isolating in our apartment, just because it’s our home and we feel comfortable here. But we don’t know what it’s going to be like afterwards. So for now, we’re just taking it like let’s just get this baby out first, and then just go from there. We have really no idea.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
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