Feeling Supported – How COVID-19 Has Changed the Childbirth Experience

I welcomed my second child at Grand River Hospital in Kitchener less than two weeks before the WHO declared the global COVID-19 pandemic. It hasn’t been a smooth postpartum experience. Still, I’m incredibly thankful our son arrived when he did, as our birth choices would have looked very different after March 11.

To learn more about the experience of people giving birth in our community, I spoke with Stephanie Gingerich, a registered midwife with St. Jacobs Midwives. She shared the changes she’s witnessed in her practice for those about to give birth and for new parents.

Initially, the changes St. Jacobs Midwives implemented were based around limiting exposure between patients, their families and health care professionals. The practice said that meant seeing patients less often for in-person appointments and conducting most of their appointments virtually or over the phone.

“I was impressed and surprised by how flexible and adaptable everyone was. Our clients were great with the changes. They were personally motivated to stay safe and keep a physical distance,” Gingerich said.

“I think [patients] are looking for a little more reassurance than they normally would. It’s a more anxious time, and they look to us for guidance,” she added. 

Of top concern for Gingerich’s patients is what their child’s birth might look like. They’ve been hearing a lot of questions from their clients surrounding the whole hospital experience since, in our community, patients are still only allowed one support person when admitted to the hospital for childbirth.

Since people giving birth have had their labour and delivery options altered, some have opted for a home birth as a way to manage their risk, stress and anxiety over the experience of being in a hospital setting.

“I would say overall, we’ve had an increase in people looking for a home birth experience,” Gingerich said. 

“As midwives, we respect our client’s choices, and yet we know the research is most supportive of home birth for low-risk pregnancies, so for some [patients], it might not be the best choice for them. We’ve seen patients reduce their time at the hospital and look to return home soon after their baby is born.”

The postpartum experience also looks different now for patients in the care of midwives, especially during the pandemic. Gingerich spoke of the benefits of having a midwife provide follow-up care so that patients can feel supported within the comfort and safety of their own home post-birth. 

We were cared for in our home within 24 hours of my son’s birth by our midwife. While much of my pregnancy took place during ‘normal’ circumstances, our postpartum experience changed very quickly. When I think of how well taken care of we felt, it speaks volumes for the kind of care midwives provide for their patients. 

Yet, the months that followed and the first year of my son’s life look very different than we thought it would. My family and I have found joy in this extra time at home together. It’s a unique experience that we didn’t have as new parents after the arrival of our first child.

Gingerich has also witnessed silver linings in situations as her patients cope with pregnancy and postpartum during COVID-19 and she has been seeing some patients embrace the opportunity to be at home with their new baby. 

“In some ways, I think our culture has shifted to expect new [parents] to quickly get back to normal life in postpartum. Of course, this isn’t for everyone. It’s very different when you can choose that kind of experience for yourself rather than feel forced into it for your health and safety,” Gingerich said. 

According to Gingerich, pregnancy is often a time when people giving birth feel celebrated. Many of her patients expected to see family and friends, be showered and have the opportunity to proudly introduce their baby to parents and grandparents but instead, they are feeling isolated.

For these first few months of my son’s life, when I needed family and friends the most, I’ve had to manage primarily in isolation. Even now, as we’re cautiously re-entering the world, we worry about exposing our young children to risk. There won’t be any baby and me classes for us, carefree trips to the playground for playdates, or time spent with other new parents.

“Parents might have anticipated that feeling of a community rallying around you when you have a baby,” Gingerich said. “Today, it is just not quite the same.”