Samira Gray doesn’t know what the next month will look like.
The 31-year-old expectant mom from Little Falls doesn’t know if her husband will be able to go with her to future doctor appointments, as offices tighten up visitor policies to contain the coronavirus outbreak. She doesn’t know if she will have to introduce their newborn daughter to relatives through a glass window or a video chat. What scares her the most, though, is the possibility of giving birth by herself.
Samira Gray, 31, and her husband are expecting their first child in April. (Photo: Courtesy of Samira Gray)
“I can deal with the pain and stuff on my own,” Gray said. “But if it were to come to having a C-section, who’s going to hold the baby after? It’s normally the dad. Who’s going to cut the cord? And God forbid there were a medical emergency.”
The first-time mom, who is due April 20, is not alone in her fears.
For pregnant women and their families, the coronavirus outbreak has upended one of the most joyous moments in their lives.
Nearly a dozen women who spoke with NorthJersey.com and the USA TODAY NETWORK New Jersey shared their anxieties: Canceled baby showers, which mean a lack of newborn supplies. The loss of child care because grandparents may be self-quarantining. The uncertainty of a newborn contracting a virus that the world knows little about.
The biggest concern has been no support in the delivery room — as some hospitals resort to strict policies that force a mother to deliver and recover alone.
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The NewYork-Presbyterian network on Monday became one of the first to issue a strict no-visitor policy that includes maternity wards. A petition that has garnered more than 380,000 signatures asks officials to reconsider the policy to “safeguard the rights of all laboring people.”
Hospitals have been updating their policies as the pandemic worsens in the United States, with New Jersey and New York at the heart of the outbreak. Area hospitals have been following protocols set in place by their respective health networks, and the policies vary.
Hackensack Meridian Health has a strict no-visitor policy to contain the spread of the virus and safeguard health care workers. As of Wednesday, the policy allowed a support person in the room with a mother in labor.
But the visitor and mother must go through a repetitive screening process to ensure they do not have COVID-19, said Abdulla Al-Khan, who heads the network’s division of maternal-fetal medicine and surgery. Patients are screened by phone when they confirm their appointments for the following day, and again when they arrive. They are screened a third time when seen by a doctor.
“It’s a little bit of a nuisance for the patient, but we always tell the patients [that] this is really for your own interest, for your own safety, and also for the safety of the nursing staff, especially, and doctors who are in direct contact with the patients,” Al-Khan said.
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He said he would not be surprised if hospitals in New Jersey implement strict policies like the one set by NewYork-Presbyterian. To have varying policies at hospitals, especially across state borders, could encourage patients to migrate to hospitals that offer the policies they want, he said. That would pose a hurdle to containment of the virus.
“I just urge and I just beg all pregnant mothers to be understanding that even though there will be drastic changes of policy because of the fluidity of this condition, all of these changes is just to protect them,” Al-Khan said.
Jen Dembo, a reproductive social worker and former doula in White Plains, New York, said she feared consequences like trauma for mothers if they don’t have a support person in the room during labor.
“I’m hopeful if testing improves, if capacity improves, if protective gear is increased and sustained at the level that is needed, that maybe policies will be able to evolve,” Dembo said.
Even if a partner can’t be in a room during birth, mother and baby can connect with family using virtual means like FaceTime, Dembo said, and even after birth, telehealth professional support is available.
A new normal for young families
Families are changing their routines to curtail exposure to expectant moms.
Some pregnant women have been forced into self-isolation, with their parents or partners taking on routine tasks like food shopping. Some women said their partners change clothes after entering their home, throwing those garments in the wash. Some families even wipe down groceries before walking through the door.
Becky Reinus Sena, 36, of Port Chester, New York, is expecting her first child by C-section on May 7. But she and her husband, a plumber, decided to live apart until their son is born to limit potential exposure. Although devastated by the thought of being in labor alone, she advised other women in her shoes to hang in there.
Becky Reinus Sena and Sergio Sena, both 36 and of Port Chester, New York, are expecting their first child by C-section on May 7. But starting this week, she and her husband, a plumber,Êdecided to live apart until their son is born to limit the potential of exposure during the coronavirus pandemic.ÊBecky Reinus Sena is photographed at her parents home in Chappaqua, New York, March 26, 2020. (Photo: Tania Savayan/The Journal News)
“We’re all really strong. We made it this far,” Reinus Sena said. “If their hospital ends up preventing them from having the birth experience they want, the best thing we can do for ourselves and our children is to throw that birth plan out the window and be as present as possible. Hospitals are going to have great nurses to help take care of us, and those babies will get lots of love and support. Before you know it, you’ll be home with your partner.”
The effects coronavirus may have on pregnant women and their babies are unclear, because there is a lack of research on the disease. But pregnant women experience changes to their bodies that can make them more susceptible to respiratory infections like COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s why pregnant women should closely follow CDC guidelines during the pandemic, Al-Khan said. That includes washing your hands, staying indoors, and keeping 6 feet from others.
“They should really be careful about who’s coming to their house,” Al-Khan said. “They should be cautious of their kids and not being exposed to other children, and they could bring an asymptomatic infection back home.”
Cheryl Spinella, 31, expecting her first child in June, has been cautious about her exposure for weeks. Even before schools shut down, the Wayne resident canceled a book club meeting at her home. She said she was nervous about being around so many people.
Cheryl Spinella, 31, and her husband are expecting their first child in June. (Photo: Courtesy of Cheryl Spinella)
“I’m kind of nervous and stressed, more than excited about having a baby,” Spinella said. “I’m still very excited — my husband and I are putting together the nursery and getting things together — but there’s always these little thoughts. Am I going to be able to have my [baby] shower? Am I going to share these moments with my family?”
Even after delivery, life with a newborn will likely not be what some families are used to. Social distancing may still be necessary, and relatives may have to hold off on meeting the newest member of the family.
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For Jody Rullo, who is expecting her second child next week, the thought of not having her family around her newborn daughter is nearly as devastating as the possibility of not having her husband in the delivery room. The Long Valley resident has a scheduled C-section at Hackensack Meridian Health Mountainside hospital in Montclair.
“How can I not let my immediate family see my baby?” Rullo said. The 40-year-old struggles with not being able to see her close-knit family, while still acknowledging the severity of the pandemic. “They’re like, ‘She’s not going to know who we are. We’re going to come and look at her through the window.’ It’s a huge concern.”
Other women, like Kate McDermott, 34, who expects her second child in late April, worry about what leaving the hospital with a newborn will be like. The Island Heights resident has been vigilant about washing her hands and social distancing. She will be delivering by way of a C-section in a few weeks, and knows how different this delivery will likely be.
“With this one, I’m going to be nervous about touching everything, because you don’t know who’s been in that elevator or has touched that door handle or even been at the security desk,” McDermott said. “I think that’s concerning in a way — especially when we’re leaving with a baby.”
Jessica Reese, 28, expecting her second child in June, fears that some of the changes pregnant women are adapting to could become the new norm.
The Newark resident described feeling anxious about possibly not having her husband in the room when she delivers their baby, and is aware that she will need to find child care for her 2-year-old, who won’t be able to join them in the hospital. Even though she is a few months from her due date, she doesn’t expect stringent policies to change by then.
“We’re in so weird a time that I think everything we’re experiencing and dealing with could change the way we do things permanently — and that part worries me,” Reese said. “I really don’t think it’s going to be gone in a matter of weeks or a month.”
Gray, though, sees the light at the end of the tunnel. She knows her family is upset about the coming weeks, as she prepares to give birth, but is aware of the risks associated with not being careful during the pandemic.
“Both our moms have been upset about it, but they’re also very understanding that this is the way we’re living right now — and it isn’t going to be forever,” she said.
Melanie Anzidei is a reporter for NorthJersey.com. To get unlimited access to the latest news, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
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