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When his baby boy was born last month, Damon Bryan wasn’t allowed to be in the operating room with his wife, Tarah.
That’s because for a few days before Tarah’s scheduled C-section, Bryan had a bit of a cough. It was nothing that seemed like the coronavirus, he said. But the hospital didn’t want to take any chances. And Bryan understood.
So instead he watched the delivery from his Taylorsville home on the tiny screen of his smartphone. He saw his son, Fletcher, open his eyes, wiggle his toes and cry, all for the first time, on FaceTime.
“It definitely wasn’t the same as being there,” Bryan said. “But it was as close as I could get. I just wanted to do what was best for him and my wife and the doctors.”
As the country and the state struggle to control the spread of the virus, thousands of women are giving birth in staggering circumstances. To prevent those who are pregnant from contracting COVID-19, some doctors are moving check-ups online. A few Utah hospitals are limiting visitors and no one with symptoms is allowed in.
“It’s all pretty crazy, but of all the times to have a baby,” Bryan said. “There’s definitely a helpless feeling that comes with it.”
When Bryan was asked to leave, he went home to be with his 3-year-old daughter, Ainsley, who also had a cough. Tarah’s mom then quickly drove to the hospital so her daughter wouldn’t have to deliver alone.
The birth was complicated even further because Tarah was at a high risk of bleeding out. She was already stressed about the C-section and kept asking the night before, “What if I don’t make it?”
Fletcher was born premature at 36 weeks on March 16. And, through it all, Bryan said he’s just happy his son and wife are healthy — and a little bit relieved, too, that his and Ainsley’s coughs have cleared up.
Nothing the hospital did, he added, felt unfair. It was just the situation and the timing.
At Intermountain, most facilities are limiting visitors for births, though many are being determined case-by-case. Anyone who is sick is not allowed to be present. No one under 18 can be there.
At University of Utah Health, too, mothers are allowed only one support person to accompany them. “For the duration of birth admission,” its policy states, “well newborns may have both parents present.”
Those are less strict than what New York hospitals were doing — before being pressured to reverse course. For at least a few days there, some mothers were required to give birth alone with no family present. Coronavirus cases, though, have spread much wider in New York than in Utah where more than 1,000 people have tested positive compared to New York’s 83,000.
Ashley Benson, who works in maternal-fetal medicine at the U., said pregnant women are particularly susceptible to infection, and that’s why hospitals are taking extra precautions.
With this new virus, she said, so much is still unknown. It’s not clear if a mother can transfer COVID-19 to her baby while in utero. But infants can catch it once born, and one in Illinois has died.
Utah’s numbers show that at least one baby between zero months and one year has tested positive.
Some mothers with symptoms are being asked to wear gloves and keep a plastic shield between them and their babies.
“This is serious,” Benson added. “Our primary focus is to protect moms and babies. We want to protect newborns from any infections while their immune systems are ramping up.”
Part of the restrictions are also to safeguard doctors and hospital staff. Most who work in fetal medicine are purposefully separated from anyone who may be treating COVID-19 patients. It’s all done to control and limit spread.
Kinsey Griffin had hoped to have her mom there when she gives birth on April 3 with an induction. But her mom is a doctor and has been responding to the crisis. So it’ll just be Griffin and her husband, Ryan.
The Murray couple has also stayed home for the past three weeks, avoiding contact with anyone and doing their wellness check-ups via phone calls. They won’t be allowing family or visitors over, either, for a few months after their son’s birth.
“It’s hard,” Griffin said. “I was kind of nervous about not having a lot of support. Obviously, we’d love to have our family see their nephew and grandson. But we’ve got to be safe.”
Her OB-GYN made the recommendation about keeping visitors away. Anyone who comes to the house, the expert had advised, would have to stay six feet away and be asymptomatic. “And that’s not much of a visit anyway,” Griffin added.
She’ll be delivering at St. Mark’s Hospital in Salt Lake City. At first, Griffin was nervous. But now that she’s planned ahead, she said, the anxiety has gone away somewhat.
Benson said it’s a difficult and strange time for mothers and their families. But the best thing to do now, she said, is to prioritize the health of their babies.
“Moms are understandably anxious about giving birth in the current medical environment,” she added. “But we are here to help them through this.”
Bryan said he appreciates what hospitals have done to protect babies — even if it meant not getting to be there when his son was born.
He’s just thankful there was the technology to watch it from afar.