When Seattle-based nurse Kimberly Bolton found out she was pregnant nine months ago, she had no idea she would wind up giving birth in the middle of a pandemic.
By May, however, it was clear that the coronavirus pandemic would not be going away anytime soon, and that it would, in fact, still be going strong when her August due date rolled around.
Questions and fears swirled around inside her head: What would the birth process be like during the pandemic? How could she keep her baby safe from COVID-19? What if she or her baby were to contract the virus?
“You were hearing a lot of rumors coming out of New York,” Bolton said, recalling stories about women giving birth by themselves because hospitals were restricting visitors.
At the beginning of her pregnancy, her husband was prohibited from going to prenatal appointments with her because of strict pandemic-related rules put in place by hospitals in Seattle.
“I basically did this on my own,” she said about the doctor visits.
In July, as the pandemic worsened in Seattle, Bolton and her husband moved to Kodiak for his job in the Coast Guard. She felt safer on the island because of the low number of COVID cases.
She gave birth to a baby girl in August.
On the day of the birth, the hospital had planned to induce labor. Bolton arrived at Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center and underwent a screening process in which hospital staff asked her and her husband a series of questions about symptoms they might have and took their temperatures.
While waiting for the results, the couple was taken to a labor room that had been converted into a negative-pressure room designed to isolate patients with contagious, airborne diseases.
These lower-pressure rooms filter air going out of the room. They look similar to a regular delivery room, with a bathroom, a bed and a seating area that turns into a bed for the patient’s support person. The only noticeable difference is a large zippered door at the entrance of the room.
After 30 minutes, Bolton’s results came back negative and she was transferred to a regular labor room.
New hospital rules to prevent the spread of COVID-19 limit pregnant patients to one support person and require patients to wear a face mask outside of their rooms. However, inside the rooms patients are not required to wear a mask.
“It’s hard to push a baby out when you’re wearing a mask,” said registered nurse Cici Mattis.
Additional pandemic rules allow the support person to leave only once in a 24-hour period. The hospital also provides meals to the patient.
Bolton’s husband was her support person, but she was disappointed that she could not bring the other members of her family.
“But it’s all understandable because you have to be safe,” she said.
Bolton recalled that during the labor and delivery process, hospital staff wore medical-grade masks and face shields every time they entered her room.
The nurses and health care providers at PKIMC say they try to accommodate the desires of their patients and make the birthing process as normal as possible.
“This is a stressful time for a lot of people but particularly women that are pregnant,” said Jana Brandon, manager of patient care/med surgical at PKIMC. “We try to make it as much about their wants and desires as we possibly can.”
Cristin O’Grady, a specialist in family medicine obstetrics at the Kodiak Community Health Center, gave birth to a baby in April.
She worked until the day before her water broke, after which her friend accompanied her to the hospital.
Before O’Grady gave birth, the doctor and nurses were constantly helping her along the birthing process, providing the physical and emotional support that patients need.
“They are so practiced and schooled to help someone through labor,” O’Grady said. “They were there to do everything from help me into the bathroom to rub my back, to tell me everything’s okay.”
O’Grady sits on the hospital’s obstetrics committee, which helps direct some of the policies and procedures surrounding giving birth safety.
She said the hospital’s policy is to keep the baby with the mother unless there are complications and she requests to be separated.
Brandon said the hospital’s policy after the baby is born is to encourage skin-to-skin contact between the baby and parent as soon as possible. They also encourage the father to cut the umbilical cord and the mother to breastfeed within 30 minutes after the birth.
With birthing balls and baths with jets, hospital staff said they try to make the labor process as normal as possible while keeping patients safe.
“It felt pretty normal to me in terms of COVID, pre-COVID, except that everyone is wearing masks,” O’Grady said.
Bolton said she was impressed with how attentive the nurses were and the personalized care she received.
She was accustomed to busy Seattle hospitals and was surprised with the low number of patients in the labor and delivery area of the hospital. Nurses were at her bedside within minutes after she pressed the call button.
Since giving birth, Bolton has been seen by the doctor several times, and has been impressed with her provider, Dr. O’Grady.
“She is very caring and has wonderful bedside manner,” Bolton said. “She is very easy to talk to and very reassuring.”
Bolton said that because O’Grady was also a mother, she seemed to relate to what Bolton was experiencing.
“She really cared,” Bolton said.
Bolton said the pandemic can be a scary time for new mothers, but she added that health care providers know what it takes to keep people safe and they know more about the virus now than they did a few months ago.
“Have faith that as long as you are practicing those precautions that everything is going to be okay in the end,” Bolton said.