MAHWAH, N.J. – When COVID-19 began sweeping the U.S., it was clear Rebecca Forman Lubin needed to alter her plans. The expectant mother canceled her baby shower, stocked up on all the infant essentials she could find online and heeded her doctor’s orders to stay at home.
But there’s one thing she isn’t prepared for: the possibility she might have to give birth alone without her husband at her side.
“The thought is very frightening and anxiety-producing,” said Forman Lubin, a teacher who lives in Mahwah, N.J., a suburb of New York City, the country’s current epicenter of the novel coronavirus.
“I’m praying that won’t be the case,” she said.
A total of 11 hospitals in New York City announced they are banning spouses from labor and delivery rooms to prevent possible exposure to the virus. Forman Lubin, who is 31 weeks pregnant and due in May, said she fears other hospitals, like the Valley Hospital in nearby Ridgewood, N.J., will follow suit as the number of COVID-19 infections rises exponentially.
There are many unknowns about the effect of COVID-19 on babies in utero, and Forman Lubin’s story underscores such uncertainty.
“When the outbreak first happened, I was 29 weeks pregnant and my doctor said, ‘This is no worse than the flu. You are fine as long as you wash your hands,’” she said. “But that wasn’t the guidance I got last week when my doctor told me to avoid leaving the house under all circumstances, even for groceries.”
"The fear and anxiety, however real, will not reign over the magic moment of a baby’s birth."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it does not know if a pregnant woman with COVID-19 can pass the virus that causes COVID-19 to her fetus or baby during pregnancy or delivery. The CDC also expressed uncertainty over whether the virus is harmful to unborn babies and newborns due to a lack of data.
“We do not know at this time what if any risk is posed to infants of a pregnant woman who has COVID-19,” the CDC says on its website. “There have been a small number of reported problems with pregnancy or delivery (e.g. preterm birth) in babies born to mothers who tested positive for COVID-19 during their pregnancy. However, it is not clear that these outcomes were related to maternal infection.”
“We don’t have enough research right now to identify all the risks,” said Texas-based physician Dr. Peter Papapetrou.
Trinisha Williams, a certified midwife and director of midwifery at the Brooklyn Birthing Center in New York, said the center is receiving a record number of calls from expectant mothers concerned about exposing themselves or their newborns to the virus at hospitals. A second concern, she said, is delivering without the support of a spouse or birthing partner, such as a doula.
“We typically handle about 15 births a month at our center,” Williams told Fox News. “Our capacity is 30 births a month and I think we’ll get to our capacity.”
Williams said her greatest fear amid the global pandemic is that some pregnant women will opt to deliver at home without the help of a midwife or medical professional.
“The midwives in New York state are really concerned that some women might want to do this at home,” she said. “We do not want any woman having an unassisted birth. That is our nightmare.”
Most hospitals across the U.S. are still allowing spouses to be present at birth but restricting all other guests – though that could change in the coming weeks if more draconian measures are adopted to slow the spread of the virus.
“I’m bummed that my son will not be able to come see the baby at the hospital after it’s born,” said 25-year-old Edy Comes, of Hillsborough, NC, who is due to give birth in April at North Carolina Women’s Hospital in Chapel Hill.
“My hospital said only your spouse or significant other will be allowed to come into the hospital,” Comes told Fox News.
The current U.S. death toll from COVID-19 hit 1,000 on Thursday, and that grim reality isn’t lost on 38-year-old Forman Lubin, who is in good physical health and thankful for access to expert medical care.
“I have enormous sympathy for all the families around the world who’ve lost loved ones to this horrible virus,” said Forman Lubin, “My thoughts are with them right now.”
“The birth of a baby is life’s greatest joy,” she said. “The fear and anxiety, however real, will not reign over the magic moment of a baby’s birth.”