Coronavirus could have thrown a wrench in birth plans, but it didn’t

Upon discharge from LGMC, families are given a packet called “Masks with a Message,” which was donated by Love Our Community Relief Fund. The packet includes four masks, information on symptoms, hand washing and how COVID-19 spreads, and other resources.

Anxiety was still running high for Joey and Lindsey Belfour when they arrived at Lafayette General Medical Center Saturday around 3 a.m. for the delivery of their second child, and they were met with some confusion about the process for Joey to stay with his wife. Lindsey, who by then was having intense contractions every couple of minutes, was initially brought upstairs to labor and delivery alone. 

Meanwhile, an admissions employee told Joey he’d have to return to his car to wait until they confirmed she was in labor. “While I’m arguing with them, I get a text from Lindsey that I can go up,” Joey tells me, noting he found it odd that he got the go-ahead from his laboring wife. “I just wish they’d told us we would be separated initially.” 

The hiccup in the front-desk admissions process was the only downside to the entire experience, he stresses, which could have easily been avoided with better communication. “Everything after that was excellent,” he says.

It’s a bit surprising yet reassuring, but labor and delivery seems to be going smoothly at Lafayette hospitals amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

While all of the expectant moms we interviewed over the past several weeks had deep anxieties about what was ahead — whether partners would be allowed in, would they be exposed to coronavirus in the hospital, what if they test positive and are separated from their baby — post-delivery reviews are largely reassuring. 

“A week before, my doctor said numbers were going down in cases and told me they had things under control and not to stress about the virus so that helped,” says Nicole Bergeron Bruchez, who like Lindsey gave birth to a healthy baby girl at LGMC last week. “Prior to that I was definitely a crazy person,” she admits.

Joey and Lindsey Belfour after being discharged from LGMC with baby Abby Marie

The women say their docs and the hospitals’ staff members were calming factors, and none of those interviewed had any symptoms leading up to their deliveries. Neither they nor their partners were tested for coronavirus at admission, though they were screened for symptoms. They weren’t required to wear masks while in their rooms, though some did report having to wear masks before they were admitted and when leaving the room. 

It’s been pretty much business as usual, according to Judy Robichaux, director of maternal, newborn and pediatric services at LGMC. “The only big change is that we now wear PPE and limit visitors,” she says.

Robichaux says the hospital has been reassuring patients that nurses and staff aren’t being exposed to COVID-19 patients. “If a nurse were to care for a patient suspected of COVID-19 on our unit, they would not be caring for any other patients, as we would want to take every precaution possible,” she says. “With the newer testing, we are getting results in under an hour; therefore, this is very feasible.”

“Honestly other than not being able to have visitors, I wouldn’t have known any type of virus thing was happening,” says Bergeron Bruchez, whose two sons were also born at LGMC. 

Across the board the concern wasn’t so much catching the virus but whether husbands or partners would be allowed in labor and delivery. Both Our Lady of Lourdes and LGMC had been assuring women they didn’t anticipate a policy change, like the ones in other parts of the country that left many women birthing alone

For Caitlin Pate Dominique, however, there was a wrinkle in the weeks leading up to her April 12 due date. Her baby was breech, and the state ban on elective procedures to preserve personal protective equipment meant she couldn’t undergo an inversion procedure to turn the baby to a head-down position. 

Pate Dominique’s doctor moved her due date up a week, to April 7, and in a follow-up interview after the birth, she acknowledged the breech position increased the likelihood of a C-section. “I knew it was a 50-50 shot,” she says. “They tried to turn her for a while, and her heart rate kept dropping, so they kind of threw in the towel.” 

The C-section, birth and recovery went so well, in fact, at Lourdes’ Women’s & Children’s that mom and baby were discharged a day early, rather than after the typical 72 hour stay for a section. Though there were no coronavirus patients in the hospital at the time, Pate Dominique thinks the hospital was being extra cautious by discharging them as early as it was safe to do so. “I was like, wow, I don’t really want to be here that much longer anyway,” she tells me.

When the pandemic hit, hospitals limited labor and delivery visitation to a single visitor — typically a spouse or partner — which left out birthing coaches, long a source of comfort for many expectant mothers, especially for their first child. That policy disrupted the business of MotherBirth, which employs 13 doulas working in the Lafayette and Lake Charles markets. Like so many health and wellness providers, MotherBirth is trying to adjust to the new normal of virtual services. “Potential clients aren’t getting that face-to-face relational aspect of their doula,” says owner Tiffany Wyatt, while noting support for the hospitals’ decision to place strict limits on visitors. “They’re really just having to go based on video chats or phone calls, which is difficult.”

Wyatt says business is down about 50 percent in the last month. “We’re still allowed to go to The Natural Birth House [which is owned by one of the former founders of MotherBirth], and we also do home births,” she says. “So what we have seen is a good third of our clients who had already hired us are moving to that, to out-of-hospital births.”

Wyatt believes local hospitals will reassess guidelines in the next couple of months and welcome doulas back. “We were the last ones they cut out, so I really believe we’re going to be the first ones they let back in,” she says. “Now it’s just a worry about people’s finances, if they can afford it. But we can pretty much always work it out to something a family can attain. They just have to communicate that.”

Hospitals say it’s still too soon to know if they’ll loosen restrictions on visitors. “So far, we have not had any laboring mothers who were COVID-19 positive,” says LGMC’s Robichaux. 

Representatives from Lourdes and LGMC referred questions about the number of pregnant women testing positive in the area to Dr. Tina Stefanski, the state’s top local health official. “We don’t have a breakdown of pregnant women who have tested positive,” Stefanski says. 

More than a week after giving birth to Georgia Anne, Caitlin’s family was still reluctant to meet the baby due to coronavirus fears.

With the lockdown still in place, being home with a new baby is a different kind of adjustment for parents like the Dominiques

“Our family hasn’t met her yet,” Caitlin said on April 15, more than a week after giving birth to Georgia Anne. “We basically haven’t left the house,” she added, noting that her young son is home from daycare and her husband is working from home. She says her doctor didn’t give her any specific instructions about limiting visitors.

“Our family is still kind of nervous,” she said. “Sometimes I wonder if it’s overkill, but I’d rather be safe than sorry.”