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COVID-19 leads to increased interest in home births 

These are uncertain times for everyone, but for many pregnant women and expecting families, those feelings are especially magnified.

click to enlarge HEALTH CONCERNS With COVID-19 spreading across the nation and social distancing measures in full-force, many local hospitals are limiting visitations and human-to-human contact as much as possible, and that includes childbirth. - FILE PHOTO
  • File Photo
  • HEALTH CONCERNS With COVID-19 spreading across the nation and social distancing measures in full-force, many local hospitals are limiting visitations and human-to-human contact as much as possible, and that includes childbirth.

With COVID-19 spreading across the nation and social-distancing measures in full-force, many local hospitals are limiting visitations and human-to-human contact as much as possible. For individuals about to give birth, that means most family members, friends, doulas, and other supporters won't be there for the duration of labor and won't even be able to visit after.

That's changing the way local doulas like Brittany Randolph work with their clients. Randolph is a certified doula and childbirth educator who works with The Sunshine Doula, and since local hospitals changed their visitation protocols, she's moved to an entirely virtual model.

"That means that I don't do any in-person anything anymore," Randolph told New Times.

She's had three clients give birth since the coronavirus became a significant issue locally, and she wasn't able to physically attend the births, where she usually coaches, advocates for the family's rights, and provides massage therapy and general hand-holding and support.

"But a lot of what I do is education and encouragement and reminding and giving suggestions," Randolph said.

With the technology that exists today, Randolph said it's pretty easy to provide the education and support that expecting families need. With all the confusion surrounding the possible impacts of the coronavirus on pregnant women and fetuses, and whether hospitals are safe for childbirth right now, Randolph said it's more important than ever for expecting women and families to get educated about their rights and birthing options.

Mckayla Rodriguez, another local doula, agreed, and said that in addition to a shift to some virtual work with her clients, she's also doing a lot more work coaching partners—who will likely be the only visitors allowed with pregnant women in hospitals for now. She's also fielding a significant influx in phone calls and messages from concerned parents who are considering home births.

"There's just a lot more fear," Rodriguez told New Times, "which is pushing people to look into home birth."

Midwives on the Central Coast have noticed that change, too. Megan Bochum is a certified professional midwife at Pacific Midwifery, and she said her practice and others in SLO County are getting anywhere from five to 10 calls a week regarding home births. Before the coronavirus pandemic, Bochum said she would take fewer calls in a month.

That's concerning to local midwives for a number reasons, the first being that people are scared to give birth in a hospital setting right now. But Bochum said not everyone is a good candidate for a home birth, and if a family hasn't properly prepared for the realities of giving birth outside of a hospital setting, it's typically not the best possible experience.

Local midwives also face significant barriers in increasing their services right now.

In an open letter to the San Luis Obispo and Santa Maria communities, several licensed midwives addressed the complicated challenges that local families and health care organizations are facing in balancing an adequate COVID-19 response with the needs of pregnant women.

Midwives, according to the letter, aren't considered by public health or state government to be front-line health care providers, and their lines of supply rely on the open market. They've been denied access to personal protective equipment, like face masks, through their usual suppliers, who are prioritizing front-line health care workers. And on the Central Coast, licensed midwives attend fewer than 2 percent of the overall total of births, so most practices are small and individual.

But that doesn't mean midwives are simply turning people away. Bochum, who helped write the letter, said she's happy to take any phone calls and counsel expecting families through this confusing time.

Zabrina Cox is a registered nurse and president of the Central Coast Childbirth Network, a nonprofit that works to help childbirth experts connect with and educate local families. COVID-19 is having a huge impact on the local childbirth community, and Cox said the Childbirth Network is compiling resources and evidence-based information and fielding questions for concerned and expecting families. Those services are available on Childbirth Network's website.

"Babies are going to keep coming," Cox said, "and COVID can't stop that." Δ

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