A group of New York City midwives slammed a Manhattan hospital’s new policy prohibiting partners in delivery rooms this week, warning that the restrictions to combat COVID-19 could lead to more expectant mothers giving birth at home “whether or not that is the best medical decision for them.”
“NYC Midwives calls on the State of New York and all New York hospitals to follow WHO guidelines and affirm their commitment to allowing one essential support person to accompany all laboring people,” the group said in a statement.
As previously reported by The Daily Beast, a growing number of women have already been considering birthing outside the hospital for fear of contamination, hospital overcrowding, and supply shortages as the novel coronavirus pandemic continues to spread nationwide.
The New York-Presbyterian Hospital system on Sunday solidified many mothers’ fears—issuing a new policy that prohibits any support people, including husbands, wives, and family members, from accompanying women during labor or in the delivery room. New York State has also advised hospitals to suspend all visitation “except when medically necessary” as numbers of confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus continue to surge.
“For the time being, we really do need to exclude all visitors, including partners, for women admitted in labor,” Dr. Dena Goffman, chief of obstetrics at Columbia University Medical Center, said in a Sunday press conference.
But NYC Midwives, which supports both midwives and the practice of midwifery in New York City, urged the State of New York and all New York hospitals to adhere to guidelines enacted by the World Health Organization which state that “all women have the right to a safe and positive childbirth experience” despite a possible COVID-19 diagnosis.
That right also includes giving birth with a “companion of choice,” the group said, adding that they believe “a continuous labor support person is essential to the care of the birthing person.”
The organization also argued Monday that several negative consequences may arise if people “are not guaranteed continuous support from a person of their choosing in labor.” That includes more home births without proper care, increased birth complications, unnecessary C-sections, an increase in postpartum depression, and an increase in the rate of maternal morbidity for women of color.
“People will labor at home alone without care from a provider longer than is safe, rather than leave their loved one to come to the hospital,” the statement also warned.
Goffman stressed on Sunday that the hospital is aware of the hardships that come with giving birth alone, and her team is looking into ways to allow families to participate virtually—possibly through tablets.
“We recognize that we will need to provide additional support for moms, as well as mom and baby pairs, as they’re in the hospital through the duration of their stay,” Goffman said.
Eugenia Montesinos, who has been a certified hospital midwife for two decades, told The Daily Beast on Monday the organization is pushing the city to look for solutions that allow expectant mothers the right to have a baby with support without increasing the risk for the coronavirus.
“As a hospital midwife, I want to protect myself so I can keep working but also I don’t want these women to suffer. That’s inhumane,” Montesinos said. “We have very limited supplies, and that’s another big problem for us—there is no good solution here but all I know is that I don’t want anybody to suffer.”
Montesinos said that while hospitals have not yet seen an increase in mothers in labor coming to the hospital for help—she said it’s only a matter of time before natural birth midwives are too overwhelmed to handle their workload and will force women to seek medical health elsewhere.
“We have a good number of midwives that deliver at home but they are overwhelmed. They are running out of protective gear and supplies and hours in the day to effectively take care of their mothers,” Montesinos said. “People forget, it’s two lives at stake.”
While the midwife admits there is no “easy solution” to this crisis, Montesinos said she hopes city officials consider creating a birthing center separate from hospitals to allow women, midwives, and nurses the space and resources to allow the birthing process to happen in a humane and healthy way.
A Change.org petition that garnered more than 1115,000 signatures by Monday afternoon urged New York-Presbyterian to change its policy—arguing that most hospitals combating the coronavirus do not have enough nurses to spend time with “people in labor to ensure their and their baby’s health and safety.”
The petition was organized by Jessica Pournaras, a Brooklyn-based federally registered doula, or non-medical birthing assistant.
“No one should give birth alone,” the petition states. “The long term effects of these rules will long outlast the effects of the virus, itself.”