Edmonds resident Makayla Jones had planned to deliver her sixth baby — like all her other children — in a hospital setting.
But then a worldwide pandemic changed everything.
As hospitals in the area prepared for a surge of COVID-19 patients, Swedish Edmonds Family Birth Center temporarily closed in late March, directing expecting women to Providence Pavilion for Women and Children in Everett.
Even though Swedish Edmonds’ birth center reopened this week, Jones says she no longer wants to give birth in a hospital setting, where she could be under the same roof as COVID-19 patients.
“I still don’t feel comfortable,” said Jones, a hair stylist. “I don’t want to deliver this brand-new, healthy baby in that environment.”
Instead, she now plans to deliver at the Puget Sound Midwives & Birth Center, a free-standing facility, in September.
Jones is one of many women whose pregnancies and birth experiences have been impacted in both small and substantial ways by the ongoing pandemic. Along with re-evaluating birth plans and doing everything possible to stay healthy, they’re also navigating the stress of a changed environment, one in which waiting rooms are empty, partners can’t attend some appointments and grandparents may not be able to hold a newborn.
“I’m just trying to stay positive and not stress out the baby,” Jones said. “A beautiful baby is going to come out of this.”
Even for those whose birthing plans remain unaffected, staying safe and sanitized adds an additional layer of complexity to everything from prenatal appointments to purchasing groceries.
While Edmonds mom Danielle Yuhasz’s birthing plan hasn’t changed – she’ll deliver at EvergreenHealth Family Maternity Center later this month—her prenatal appointments reflect the new reality.
For one, she couldn’t bring anyone with her for an ultrasound appointment. And, she’s had some online visits through a video conferencing app to minimize exposure.
“It was still extremely personal, and it was convenient because I could stay home,” she said, noting she was able to forego the 25-minute drive from Edmonds to the Kirkland facility.
Now that it’s nearing her due date, some things like checking the baby’s position can’t be done remotely.
For her in-person appointments, Yuhasz said she follows a rigorous safety regime. She wears a mask she crafted with a T-shirt and rubber bands, using a video for guidance. She puts her wallet in her pocket so that she doesn’t have to clean a purse afterward. When she goes into the waiting room, she stands until she’s called in.
She washes her hands in the adjacent bathroom, using a towel to open the door. If all else fails, she has alcohol sanitizer at the ready.
“It has made me a little crazy,” she said. “This is new territory.”
As a mom to a kindergartner, Yuhasz remembers the sleepless fog of the newborn stage. Before the pandemic, she had planned to spend her last few months savoring time with friends and enjoying the “fun attention” of pregnancy.
Other than those essential medical appointments, though, Yuhasz now stays at home, using Zoom to visit with friends and occasionally hosting “socially-distanced” front yard conversations. She cancelled her baby shower and was furloughed from her job as a YMCA nutrition coach.
When she gets groceries delivered, she’ll sanitize in the yard, dumping clean items into a box without touching them. Those protocols can quickly get overwhelming, she said, recounting: “Where have your hands been? What else have you touched when you picked the item up to move it inside?”
Ordering everything has led to some lighter moments, too, like trying to order screws online for the new baby’s shelves.
“Then, they come and you realize: This is definitely not what I need,” she said, laughing. “It should have been so easy — you just go to the hardware store and pick out what you need.”
Yuhasz says she would have taken precautions anyway, but pregnancy added extra urgency to staying safe.
“It’s more stressful because I know I have to go to hospital, breathe a lot, push a baby out and that baby needs to stay healthy,” she said. “I’m also scared because I don’t want to get this and spread it to someone else.”
To combat the stress, Yuhasz practices mindset exercises and positive affirmations as tries to accept the new environment. Amid so much devastation throughout the world, she focuses on being grateful for what she has, such as extra time with her daughter Curie, 6.
“I’m going to have this baby and I just need to try and be calm and positive,” she said. “I’m trying to keep a healthy perspective.”
Letting go of plans
For first-time mom Erica Sugg, the pandemic meant letting go of plans, everything from a baby shower with friends to having her own doctor deliver the baby.
“If you would have asked me early in the pregnancy, that not having our own doctor deliver would have been really upsetting, but, relative to the other things we were having to emotionally prepare for, it wasn’t a big deal,” said Sugg, who works for the Edmonds Chamber of Commerce.
What was really anxiety provoking, though, was the possibility her husband wouldn’t be allowed in the delivery room, a measure she carefully watched unfold at one New York hospital system.
“Grappling with the prospect of my husband not being there for labor and delivery sucked all the joy out of pregnancy,” she said. “…I broke down.”
Fortunately, New York quickly quashed that policy and the numbers in Washington state started declining, giving Sugg renewed hope during the last few weeks of pregnancy.
Still, she did everything possible to stay safe as she worried about contracting the virus, mostly because of delivery complications. In some cases, providers advise COVID-19-positive mothers to separate from their newborns.
“That sounded like a nightmare to me,” she said.
Just before her induction last weekend, she got tested for COVID-19, a routine procedure at the Swedish First Hill Campus for all mothers with a planned birth, she said. Sugg tested negative in a same-day turnaround.
After she and her husband return home with the baby, they’ll stay isolated for two weeks since she delivered in a hospital with possible exposure. That means no visits from eager grandparents during that quarantine.
Despite the fear and loss that defined the last weeks of her pregnancy, Sugg says the time considering “those nightmare scenarios” had a silver lining.
The emotional struggles forced her to let go of expectations and cede control, she said. Ultimately, that might be the best preparation for first-time motherhood yet.
“I also had to dig deep for the strength and confidence I knew I’d need if I did end up in the delivery room without a support person,” she said. “It was a period of growth for me and I think I’m better poised to handle the curveballs sure to come my way. “
— By Kellie Schmitt
This article is part of an ongoing series exploring the impact of coronavirus on the life, work and health of Edmonds residents. If you or someone you know has a story to tell, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. For other stories in this series, click here.