March 31, 2020

How one woman copes with giving birth in the midst of a pandemic

Albuquerque resident Elena Rubinfeld is getting ready to give birth in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition, Rubinfeld’s partner is a healthcare provider working on the front lines of COVID-19, a type of coronavirus, in an Albuquerque hospital.

“I’m very proud of what he’s doing. I want him to be doing it. It’s extremely important. We’re trying to figure out how to keep the baby and me safe,” she said.

Her partner has not separated himself from her yet. But part of their plan involves social distancing before the birth.

The last two weeks of Rubinfeld’s pregnancy she will spend alone in their home. Her partner will find a motel or an AirBnB to stay and he expects to stop working about a week before her due date. She called it an “imperfect” plan. But they hope it will minimize her risk of getting sick with the virus.

Rubinfeld anticipates spending those final two weeks of her pregnancy alone to be difficult, both emotionally as well as practically. Because she will also be self-quarantining, she won’t be able to ask anyone else to come and help her during that period.

“I’ve always found the phrase ‘one day at a time’ a bit annoying, but I’ve been grasping onto it with white knuckles lately,” she wrote in an email. 

In the meantime, Rubinfeld’s partner takes extra precautions. She said he “washes profusely,” changes clothes twice before coming home and immediately washes his clothes in an effort to not spread the virus to her.

With a due date in early May, Rubinfeld said that some days, the pandemic is “completely overwhelming.”

“I’m grieving just like everyone else. I’m grieving that I won’t have the normal experience at the end of my pregnancy. I’m grieving that my child will have to live a pretty isolated life as a newborn and that could go on for a while. My family might not be able to see the kid for a while. Those are things I’m definitely grieving,” she told NM Political Report.

Rubinfeld’s greatest fear is that her partner might not be able to be in attendance in the labor and delivery room. Hospitals are limiting visitation because of COVID-19, although the state of New York issued guidelines over the weekend mandating that an individual in labor can have one support person during the birth. That decision came in response to a petition with more than 600,000 signatures asking for a change. Prior to the new guideline, most New York City hospitals had set their own policies and some were refusing to allow a support person in the delivery room because asymptomatic mothers exposed 30 hospital personnel to COVID-19, according to The New York Times

The three hospitals in Albuquerque issued new visitation guidelines last week. Presbyterian and Lovelace hospitals are not allowing visitation, although an exception could be made for maternity care on a case-by-case basis. The University of New Mexico Hospital is allowing one support person in the delivery room. 

Outside of the self-quarantining plan, Rubinfeld said her family’s routine has been affected by the public health emergency in a number of ways. An attorney, Rubinfeld had to move to working from home. But that part, at least, hasn’t been too bad.

“Some days I can see the silver lining. It’s nice to work at home while I’m this pregnant. I have more flexibility in my schedule and I can make food and do other nesting activities,” she said.

But, she had to cancel her baby shower. She keeps an eye on the news, in a fast-moving environment, for any new data or research regarding how COVID-19 affects newborns. Although the data is limited, research on four newborns to mothers in Wuhan, China, experiencing COVID-19 did not contract the virus, according to a paper published by Frontiers in Pediatrics.

Her prenatal yoga class moved online.

“It’s not the same but still it’s really nice to be able to spend that time together and check in and everyone’s in the same boat not being quite sure what to do, and where things will be when they deliver,” she said.

So far, Rubinfeld has not experienced any prenatal visit delays, although some advocates have said that it is occurring. But, Rubinfeld said she is expecting that her next visit will take place in an outpatient clinic, instead of the hospital campus. She also wonders if future prenatal visits will take place through telemedicine.

She’s not sure if she’ll be able to allow her mother to come to her house once the baby is born to help out, even if Rubinfeld needs the extra help.

“A lot of things we can’t quite prepare for. We’re having to play it by ear. I’m just trying to tell myself we’ll figure it out because we’re going to have to,” she said.

Rubinfeld called a first-time pregnancy, “quite the mind game.”

“Just to keep your cool and stay relaxed and focused on what you can control and letting go of what you can’t control, I felt I was doing a pretty good job of that and this all came along and threw a new challenge my way. It’s hard because pregnancy is filled with some unknowns,” she said.

Rubinfeld said that if she was not as far along as she is, she would consider trying a home birth with a midwife, but given how close she is to her due date, she doesn’t think that is an option. So she’s keeping her “fingers crossed that things won’t get terrible in the next month or so.”

“Babies are born into tough situations every day. They’re strong and resilient. There are a lot of pregnant people going through this right now,” she said.