COVID-19: Pregnancy, Labor, and Delivery During a Global Pandemic

Two women discuss navigating pregnancy and motherhood while abiding by new hospital policies and social distancing.

Michael Mathis III on Feb. 12, 2020. (Image via Tiara Carter)

On Feb. 12, 2020, Tiara Carter gave birth to her son, Michael Mathis III, at Penn Medicine in Center City. Carter said her pregnancy, pre-pandemic, was healthy and normal. Her labor and delivery, although a C-section, was relatively normal as well.

Michael entered the world surrounded by family and friends. Carter, a West Philadelphia resident, was grateful to have her support system there throughout the entire pregnancy.

”At the time, there was no mention of COVID-19 or the pandemic,” Carter said. “So luckily, my family could share that moment with me in peace,”

Other women with due dates after February have not had the same experience. Nandi McNeil, a Germantown resident, is currently 22-weeks pregnant and, unlike Carter, has experienced the effects of the COVID-19 policies throughout her entire pregnancy. 

McNeil receives prenatal care with WomanWise Midwifery at Einstein Medical Center Montgomery. Shortly after shutdowns were declared in mid-March, both Penn Medicine and Einstein Montgomery updated their visitation policies.

New policies limited the number of appointments an expecting mother could schedule. Patients are encouraged to rely on telemedicine appointments. Visitors have also been banned, including pregnant women’s partners. Hospitals have also required face masks.

“Initially, it was hard for me to get an appointment to confirm my pregnancy,” McNeil said. “When I finally got an appointment, it was sad to learn I couldn’t have my partner there, not even to see the ultrasound for the first time.”

Nandi McNeil’s partner could not join her during any appointments, including the ultrasound. (Courtesy Nandi McNeil)

In contrast, Carter could have her partner and their families with them up until a week after baby Michael’s birth. Carter was also able to experience her first week of motherhood without the stress of adapting to COVID-19 policies.

At Carter’s postpartum checkup, though, Penn Medicine began to inform Carter and other patients that COVID-19 would impact their future visits. Carter took this as a precautionary measure but didn’t realize how drastically things would change.

”At the time, I was too worried about typical new mother issues,” Carter said. “How to feed, change and just nurture my son. I was concerned about his safety as well, but I didn’t realize I now had to protect him and myself from COVID-19.”

McNeil, due Dec. 8, has had to consider COVID-19 throughout every step of her pregnancy. She has had to take further measures to ensure she and her unborn child are protected from the virus while trying her best to enjoy the experience of carrying her first child. 

Although cautious, McNeil refuses to allow COVID-19 to disrupt her life completely. She socially distances in public and wears a mask, but continues to interact with immediate family and friends. 

“I can’t imagine being completely housebound throughout my entire pregnancy,” McNeil said.

Carter, on the other hand, has taken every precautionary measure suggested to her. She remained housebound and socially distanced from everyone, including her mother, for about three months.

“Patients were forced to make significant adjustments to ensure that their pregnancy experience and labor was executed safely,” Elka Easter, a certified nurse midwife at Penn Medicine, said.

Easter explained that adjusting to COVID-19 was not easy for herself or her colleagues, but she understood policy changes would protect the hospital staff and patients.

It has been especially hard to watch patients to go through pregnancy and motherhood without their family members nearby, Easter said.

Carter was looking forward to having her own extended family around during the early month’s of her child’s life.

“My initial plan was to have the grandmothers involved,” Carter said. “But I couldn’t do that because of social distancing,”

Social distancing from family and friends more when the baby arrives is a concern for McNeil as well, but both women said that living in fear is not healthy for themselves or their babies.

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