Birthing in the era of COVID

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As an obstetrician, I am asked daily, what is my birth going to look like? What happens when I am in labor? Where do I go if I think I am in labor? Before COVID, these were easy questions to answer. I would explain what the usual steps are and then politely refer them to the birth classes provided by the hospital. I am in private practice, and it would be wonderful to spend time answering those questions in detail, but often I am unable due to time constraints. I rely on the labor nurses to educate my patients about what to expect during this time. Patients are provided not only with education about giving birth but also a tour of the rooms and the labor floor. It is hugely successful and very much valued by my patients. But then COVID hit.

In April, my private hospital eliminated all non-essential services, including in-person birthing classes. I understood because we didn’t know what would happen as the pandemic progressed. We decreased our outpatient volume, and patients were understanding that we didn’t know what the future looked like.  But by May, so many of those women who were patient initially became extremely stressed about being pregnant during the pandemic and felt helpless they did not have birthing classes to ease their minds. Even women who had given birth before were longing for some information about what to expect now in this unusual environment. The light bulb went off for me. Why can’t I provide that information to those patients? I spoke with my hospital about a virtual option, but they were unable to dedicate staff to create these courses. I recruited a labor nurse I work with to create a virtual birth class. We filmed these at the hospital in a conference room and on labor and delivery. I used my phone as I have no professional equipment, and they turned out great. I learned how to create a YouTube channel and posted them in two playlists: virtual tour, virtual birth class. I structured the videos to answer the ten most common questions asked in the classes.

I have received wonderful feedback from patients. They feel as though they have answers to their questions. They are also watching them in the comfort of their home, which most pregnant patients prefer now. It has been helpful in the office as well because people bring more specific questions that are appropriate for the doctor to answer. So, I am throwing out a challenge to my fellow OBs: If your hospital is unable to provide a virtual birth class, make your own. I stepped outside my comfort zone, and you won’t regret it either.

Jennifer Roelands is an obstetrics-gynecology physician.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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