Childbirth has changed during the coronavirus outbreak – specifically, who can be present in Novant Health facilities for the blessed event.

To prevent spread of the virus, only one visitor of the birthing mother’s choice is allowed. That has created difficult decisions for some moms. Several have employed a doula during their pregnancy for emotional and physical support. Is the doula chosen as the single visitor allowed in the birth room? Or, is it the spouse or partner? A relative or friend?

It can add stress to a situation that’s inherently stressful. But Novant Health is reassuring families that precautions are being taken to make labor and delivery as safe as possible.

tina hayes mug
Tina Hayes

“These are scary and anxious times for everybody,” said Tina Hayes, a certified nurse midwife who practices at Novant Health Matthews Medical Center. “We are all doing our best to give continuous support and information. That information is changing day-to-day. This is a time when families will show amazing strength and courage as they labor and give birth during a pandemic.”

One strategy to work around the one-visitor limitation is to connect a doula who is outside the birthing room virtually through, for example, FaceTime, Skype or Zoom by using a smartphone or laptop computer.

A doula (it’s a Greek word meaning `woman’s servant’) is hired to provide emotional, physical, and educational support to a mother. Doulas aren’t medically trained to deliver babies, like a nurse midwife or obstetrician.

Doulas aren’t the only support people being asked to assist virtually, Hayes said.

“Sometimes the support person is a parent of the patient, or a sister or brother,” she said. “We recognize that all these people are important team members in the birth process.”

A mother’s labor support person offers everything from emotional support to help with breathing and massage and updating family and friends. Tensions have understandably heightened during the coronavirus pandemic.

Alexandria Montgomery

“We have to acknowledge there are real fears women have,” said Alexandria Montgomery, a certified nurse midwife who practices at Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center. “As midwives, we are used to supporting women in labor, in birth and taking the paradigm that’s often said `there’s nothing guaranteed in labor and birth,’ including these external forces in the time we’re in right now. The nurses and staff are all aware of that. They’re trying to find more ways to be engaged at the bedside as well.”

Every birth is unique, but the goal remains the same for all involved, Montgomery said.

“Be there. See what their needs are, and see how we can meet them,” she said.

Hayes stressed that the visitor restrictions are temporary, and in place for the health and safety of everyone. In the meantime “every level of Novant Health’s system” supports virtual connections.

Nationally, an estimated 10-12 percent of deliveries involve midwives, Montgomery said. But their care for women lasts much longer.

“Being a nurse midwife is taking care of women from adolescence through menopause,” Hayes said. “It is literally a lifetime of connection with families and the community.”

Montgomery said the nurse midwife practice is relationship-based. Because of coronavirus measures, she’s not able to sit with an expectant mother every couple of weeks, look in her eyes and put her hands on Mom’s belly.

“I miss that,” she said. “One of the things that comforts me is that I know these (limitations) were taken very seriously by our administration.”

Despite the stress and uncertainty, Montgomery still finds special moments in her role during delivery.

“It’s seeing someone become empowered in the decisions they’ve made,” she said. “And then always, hearing a baby cry after it’s been born.”

Novant Health Foundation has established a new fund dedicated to supporting our teams, as well as the overall response to the pandemic. Contributions will support team members and help fund testing and medication to support patient care, as well as medical supplies. To donate, click here.

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