The pandemic changed every facet of life, and the beginnings of life itself — the birth and baby sectors — were no different. While some expected to see a jump in birth rates, economists are predicting 30,000 to 50,000 fewer births this year in Canada because of financial insecurity. Yet despite what onlookers are calling the “baby bust” currently affecting North America, many couples are still deciding to add to their families. Here, we talk to three mothers and one doula about the unique challenges of birth in the time of COVID-19.
“It was so exciting to see the heartbeat and to watch my baby boy grow, especially knowing that this is a viable pregnancy,” said Melissa Boufounos, a certified holistic nutritionist and a former world champion obstacle course competitor who owns her own sports nutrition company in Almonte. After an early miscarriage of a chemical pregnancy in 2020, Boufounos delivered her first child in September 2021.
But watching that baby grow became an isolating event when all appointments were moved online. The only appointments that are in person are ultrasounds; however, pregnant women must go by themselves — no partners allowed. Boufounos had her first in-person appointment at 10 weeks.
“It was really sad and upsetting to go into the office and hear the heartbeat for the first time without my husband. I took a video on my phone so he could hear the heartbeat and see the baby at home that night. He was so upset he couldn’t come with me and experience it at the same time. He missed out on the biggest moments of pre-fatherhood because of the provincial restrictions.”
Deanna Marie had her daughter Ivy in April of 2020, but her pregnancy journey was anything but smooth sailing. Marie developed pre-eclampsia at 34 weeks, a pregnancy complication that is characterized by high blood pressure and signs of damage to other organ systems. “Once I was able to see my obstetrician, I had to go into the hospital every two days for monitoring.”
Eventually, her condition was determined to be HELLP syndrome, a more dangerous pregnancy complication that affects the blood and the liver; once discovered, it is imperative to get treatment quickly because it is characterized as a medical emergency since both baby’s and mother’s bodies are in distress.
“I think because it was near the beginning of the pandemic and I didn’t have in-person care, things were missed. When I was back in my obstetrician’s office, my condition was obvious,” Marie said. “Once it was diagnosed as HELLP syndrome, everything moved pretty quickly. My kidneys and liver shut down, so they weren’t filtering toxins anymore. I got to the point where I had to deliver. I had no real choice. My dreams of a natural birth were sacrificed so my baby girl could be safe.”
After delivering Ivy at 36 weeks, Marie spent two weeks living in the hospital. Her partner, Jeremy, was with her but could not attend appointments. “I hadn’t told my husband Jeremy everything that was going on until I absolutely had to because going through online exams was stressful enough.… It was hard being in the hospital without Jeremy able to attend appointments. I’m thankful for the nursing staff being so fantastic.”
“This doesn’t scare me off continuing to grow our family. In fact, if lockdown continues, it may even jump-start our plans to grow. I mean, we have to be home already — why not use that time?”
DIALING THE DOULA
Veronica Cappella gave birth to her daughter Kirsten on May 13, 2021; it was her second child, and the pregnancy was drastically different from her first, in 2016.
“I had a miscarriage last summer, so I was very concerned about having another one, especially when almost all appointments are virtual. I found that there just weren’t enough appointments to go around and that the spacing of the appointments was drastically different from when I had my son,” Cappella said.
When complications with her pregnancy meant a C-section was in order, Cappella and her partner had to take a close look at the COVID-19 restrictions. In the end, she had to pick one support person to be by her side — her husband or her doula, Norah Lynn Paddock.
“There was some back and forth trying to understand if the support person you could have in the delivery room had to be the same person in the recovery room. When it was determined that it had to be the same person, we decided it would be my husband and that Norah Lynn would be available for phone support during the delivery.
“COVID-19 made everything harder. I called Norah Lynn from the operating room so she could be on the phone with my husband, and I stayed on the phone with her until after I was in recovery. I think having her there would have made the whole process a lot smoother — she knows the lay of the land — but I was lucky to have her for phone support.”
When asked how COVID-19 affected her approach to clients, Paddock said they, like so many industries, had to change their client support style. “Most people hire a doula for their hands. We had to transition to teaching the partners of these women to be our hands.”