Saskatchewan

How women are navigating birth during a global pandemic

Pregnancy, birth and the support that comes along with them have all been altered by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but these families are doing their best to adapt and find the silver-linings.

Chelsea Gordon is preparing to give birth for the first time in May

Chelsea Gordon and her partner are getting ready to have a newborn at home — for the first time — without the physical support of others as COVID-19 precautions continue. (Submitted by Chelsea Gordon)

Chelsea Gordon didn't plan to give birth during a global health crisis — but that's what's going to happen. She's due mid-May.

Gordon described the concerns she had during the first months of pregnancy as typical — mostly focused on what the delivery would be like. 

"It was not how to be pregnant or have a baby during a global pandemic." 

Now Gordon is facing that reality. She said a lot of uncertainty comes from a lack of control, not knowing when the local case-load will peak or what the state of the hospital will be when she gives birth. She said she is reassured by the fact that hospitals not having been overloaded yet in the province.

Gordon and her partner moved back to Saskatchewan recently, in part to be closer to family when the baby comes.

"The biggest change in plans has been how we've imagined support is ongoing once we're home [after the birth]," she said.

They've been told not to allow any visitors — including grandparents and friends — inside their home.

"That's not really how you imagine your first weeks as a new parent."

Delivering during COVID-19 

For Saskatoon's Olivia Chadwick, physical distancing has been a bit of a strange blessing. 

"I'm not worried about being behind in life because I'm having a baby," she said. "I'm doing what everyone else is doing and taking the time to be with my family and relax." 

She gave birth to baby girl Zohe Chadwick Orozco on March 28. 

Olivia Chadwick gave birth to Zohe on March 28. The family is now healthy and happy at home. (Submitted by Olivia Chadwick)

Almost everything she had expected to happen with the birth was thrown out the window because of COVID-19. Her family could no longer travel from New Zealand to be with them. That also meant they couldn't look after her son Keenan when she went to the hospital to give birth, nor could he go to a friend's place. 

Keenan spent his first full day home alone as Chadwick was at the hospital with her husband Juan giving birth to Zohe.

Chadwick's delivery was complicated and lengthy, so she had more than a dozen staff working with her. 

"In the midst of all of it there was just so much humanity in our healthcare system because they tried to understand," she said. "I was just so grateful for all of the, because I needed every single one of them." 

After leaving the hospital, they learned the next day that Zohe had jaundice, which can become life-threatening if left untreated. She returned to the hospital alone. 

'Having a baby is just such a miraculous event,' Olivia Chadwick said. 'It's happening within COVID but COVID is not a part of this other than there was all these front-line workers that were still there doing an amazing job.' (Submitted by Olivia Chadwick)

"I wasn't allowed anyone with me, so I had to take my baby and my car seat and my overnight bag and my baby's bag," she said. "Nobody was allowed to help me. It was so bizarre."

Chadwick said the time spent at the hospital was chaotic, as staff tried to keep up with constant COVID-19 protocol. However, Chadwick never felt her immediate care was compromised. 

Offering birth support from a distance

Regina birth doula Angie Evans is trying to help expectant families feel prepared from a distance in a time of constant change. Her job looks very different in the pandemic, but she's trying to provide the same services. 

Evans said she is live streaming prenatal classes and hospital tours on social media to ease the uncertainty. 

Angie Evans says four of her clients have given birth as COVID-19 restrictions and precautions have been underway in Saskatchewan, and countless other pregnant people have reached out for information. She says the biggest challenge for people is fear of the unknown. (Submitted by Angie Evans)

She's trying to make sure her clients feel ready to make decisions during delivery and feel informed since she likely won't be in the delivery room with them. Evans is also co-teaching classes that teach hands-on comfort techniques for partners. 

She's providing virtual post-partum support through video conferencing and has already met a few babies from a distance. She said she feels like she's speaking with some of her clients more, because a quick phone call is easier than a drive across the city.

Gestures like food-drop offs and drive-by visits can be extraordinarily helpful for new families as physical distancing continues, she noted. 

Chadwick agreed. She said the outpouring of support from friends and family has been moving as she settles into home with Zohe. She also feels like people are reaching out more, perhaps because they have the time. 

"People are teaching me generosity and I hope it's a lesson I can pay forward."

'That's just parenting'

As Gordon anticipates the birth of her first child, she and family members are trying to figure out what kind of support they can arrange during the precautions. 

She said the emotions go up and down, but they're trying to take it in stride. 

"That's just parenting," she said. "We just have to do what we have to do to keep everybody safe and healthy. That's not different whether you're in a global pandemic or not."

Gordon said her biggest wish is that the hospitals do not become overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients, as has been predicted in some of the modelling

"I really hope that our communities continue to stay home and follow the guidelines of our health officials," she said. "That's been helping my family feel safe — despite what's going on."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kendall Latimer

Journalist

Kendall Latimer is a Saskatchewan-based reporter for CBC News. Story idea? Let's connect: kendall.latimer@cbc.ca.

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