A woman in a hospital bed, wearing a mask
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When You're In Labor Mid-Pandemic, Who Takes Care Of Your Other Kids?

How COVID protocols affected three different families' birth plans.

In February of 2020, Whitney Sandoval was unsure of her birth plan for her third child. A traumatic birth experience for her first pregnancy left her with anxiety about another hospital experience, and the $6,000 deductible further complicated the decision. When the COVID-19 pandemic began in March, Sandoval and her husband decided to have their third child at home, in Wichita, Kansas.

The Sandovals faced decisions that expectant parents across the country are wrestling with right now as they navigate new hospital guidelines amid everything else. Expectant parents struggle with lining up child care during a birth in the best of times — not every family has someone available nearby to sit with their kids at a moment’s notice, on their body’s timeline. Add to that the risk of exposure to COVID-19 in a hospital as well as visitor restrictions, and securing child care for older children can feel next to impossible.

For the Sandovals, a home birth was the solution to all of these concerns. Her first birth was induced due to hypertension, and she felt like she had no control over anything. They adopted their next child. The children, ages 4 and 5, were able to be in their own home with their parents, rather than with a sitter or restricted from seeing their new sibling due to hospital visitation guidelines. They deprived their kids of television for a few days, so that while in labor, "we just had Netflix going in the basement and they had no idea.”

Sandoval credits her midwife team with giving her incredible support and showing her husband how to help ease her pain through contractions. Their son was born in the bathtub, and she was able to recover in her own bed with her family by her side. “I have zero plans to get pregnant again, but if I did I would absolutely do a home birth.”

Delmar Bauta is a traditional midwife and owner of Steel City Homebirth in Pittsburgh. They are not surprised at Sandoval’s choice. Bauta has seen a sharp increase in new clients contacting them for their first-ever home birth due to the pandemic. “People want a birth that's different from what their options are in the hospital or birth center, especially given COVID protocols.” Most of their clients this year have never birthed outside a hospital and are choosing it for the first time due to COVID hospital restrictions limiting support persons. Wanting to have more than one person with them is one of their main concerns. A home birth allows other children to be supervised and part of the birth process even during the pandemic when outside support is limited for families.

A home birth was never on Samantha Carotenuto's radar before COVID-19, but Carotenuto, who lives in New York City and was due to give birth in July of 2020, found herself considering it. “My husband and I always felt more comfortable delivering in a hospital, in case — God forbid — anything went wrong.” She found out she was expecting her second child shortly before the novel coronavirus was identified, and was not sure what the situation would look like in New York City as her due date approached. They had their anatomy scan the week before the city went into lockdown, and then the rest of her visits were either virtual or without her husband in attendance.

Parenting through COVID is a brutal experience, but moving through major life events such as giving birth without outside help — and outside risk — is nearly impossible.

By the time Carotenuto's daughter was born in July, hospitals were allowing one support person in again, so they opted for a hospital birth. As for what to do with their other child, in the middle of New York City at the height of the pandemic? Thankfully Carotenuto met another mom on the Peanut app (think Tinder, for mom friends) who became a huge support during the pandemic. Her friend stayed quarantined leading up to the birth so she could safely babysit their son. Were it not for her, Carotenuto's husband would have had to stay home and miss the birth, leaving her alone. Echoing Sandoval, the experience wasn’t totally negative. She appreciated the quiet period after birth created by pandemic rules. “I didn’t have to worry about entertaining people popping by. It was so nice to just be in the moment, uninterrupted with my new daughter, son, and husband.”

Megan Heckman has been dealing with COVID protocols daily in her professional life, working as a speech-language pathologist at a skilled nursing facility in Cleveland, Ohio. Being pregnant with her second child during the pandemic added a large amount of stress, though she planned from the outset for a hospital birth. Her husband was required to work outside the home, so their toddler had to attend day care. They worked hard to limit exposures, and avoided relying on family members for support in an attempt to keep them safe. Her father is high-risk, and on the rare occasions they did see him, it was outside with masks for most of the pandemic. Yet when it came time to birth their second child, he was essential to the plan. They trusted that their efforts to be as careful as possible about COVID protocols would keep him safe. When the day finally came, they had to wait for her dad to finish dialysis before driving the 30 minutes to their home. By the time Heckman arrived at the hospital, their son was born in less than 20 minutes. The couple is thankful Heckman’s dad was able to be in their bubble — his relationship with his grandkids is essential to his (and their) well-being.

As to not having visitors at the hospital? Like Sandoval and Carotenuto, the solitude after a pandemic delivery really stuck out to her. "It was the perfect opportunity to bond before introducing our son to our daughter, family, and this new and different world," Heckman said.

The past year has forced families to consider the risks and ramifications of every decision. Parenting through COVID is a brutal experience, but moving through major life events such as giving birth without involving outside help — and outside risk — is nearly impossible.