More Sonoma County moms-to-be seek alternatives to hospital deliveries as coronavirus fight goes on
Maggie Fleming was well into her third trimester and all set to deliver her second child in a hospital. She had given birth to her first, her daughter Vida, three years ago at Kaiser Permanente and had a great experience.
But about a month ago, Fleming, her husband, Damien McAmany, and their daughter all came down with a nasty respiratory illness. Although healthy, Fleming, 40 and pregnant, was among the high-risk group for the coronavirus. She was given a test, which came back negative.
But the process of falling ill, of being tested, of visiting the hospital as Kaiser’s staff upgraded safety protocols in the face of the pandemic, was stressful — not something Fleming needed in the final weeks of her pregnancy. So she began to reconsider her labor and delivery plan, seeking the counsel of friends who had delivered their babies at home as well as calling licensed midwives.
“I’m emotional, I’m hormonal, I’m crying and I’m by myself,” she said of one of her appointments when she was ill. She credited Kaiser with all the work it was doing to safeguard patients — “exactly what they are supposed to do.”
But “taking a coronavirus test — it was pretty scary to be in that space,” she said. “This is the last thing I want to be experiencing when I’m in labor,” she said.
Also on her mind? Sonoma County’s expected surge in coronavirus cases.
Fleming, who works in communications for Sonoma County government, had seen the data projecting a potential surge in of cases hitting local hospitals, which is now expected to peak at 1,500 local COVID-19 patients needing hospital care in late May or early June.
“We don’t want to be taking up a bed if they need the space to be used for someone who has a critical health issue,” she said. “We felt like it was the responsible thing to do. I know it’s not for everyone. But if it frees up the hospital staff to really care for those that might need it? That was a big piece of it too.”
Fleming chose a home birth attended by a tandem of midwives, and on Thursday morning, she delivered a healthy, 8-pound, 2-ounce baby boy.
The caregivers who specialize in such home- and clinic-based deliveries are facing a coronavirus-related surge in inquiries and bookings from women like Fleming, who are either nervous about laboring in a hospital setting where coronavirus and COVID-19 patients are being treated, or concerned that they may take resources — staff, beds, equipment — away from more urgent needs at the hospital.
The rush has strained midwives, who have seen their patient load spike amid the pandemic. That trend is especially strong in Sonoma County, where alternative delivery options were popular before the pandemic, with more than double the statewide rate of babies born outside the hospital, according to California public health records.
“At this point, we are turning people away, we are sending them to other practices,” said KathRyn Barry, a licensed midwife who works out of an office in Sebastopol.
The number one concern among those calling, Barry said, is that mother and baby will be separated after birth if either is infected with coronavirus. But Barry, while sensitive to concerns, said that fear cannot be the driving factor for those choosing to give birth outside of a hospital.