Pregnant women turn to midwives as alternative to hospital delivery

The pandemic is causing concern for some pregnant women about giving birth at a hospital, and as a result many are turning to midwives as an alternative for their delivery.

Maddie Mahaney of Mill Valley welcomed her second child six weeks ago. Her son was born at the beginning of the Bay Area’s stay at home order amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Mahaney had planned her delivery for months.

“I had considered doing an elective induction when I hit 39 weeks because this was my second baby and a few hours before I was supposed to go in for that induction all elective surgeries had been cancelled,” Mahaney said.

She quickly became concerned about the risk of exposure at a hospital and possibly not having her husband and doula by her side. Many Bay Area hospitals are only allowing one support person inside the room during labor and delivery because of COVID-19.

“Definitely the risk of exposure was a huge piece, all of the recycled equipment, nurses changing shifts...not being able to leave the room, having to wear masks,” Mahaney said.

Mahaney made a last minute transfer to the San Francisco Birth Center and was able to do tandem care with the center at the end of her pregnancy. She said they talked to her about worst case scenario options and reasons she might be scared to deliver outside the hospital. It ended up being an experience she will never forget.

“The style of care and the time they spent with me was just really incredible versus some of the care you might typically get through like our regular medical system,” she said. "It was so wonderful to be able to just go home and get in our bed together and just snuggle up. It was actually really amazing."

Certified Nurse-Midwife Nancy Myrick, Director at the San Francisco Birth Center, said the center has signed up 30 to 40 new clients in the last month. They typically see an average of 10 new clients a month. The center has a dozen people on their waitlist for May.

“The concerns of exposure to COVID-19 in the hospitals have really driven women to rethink their plans and what feels safe,” Myrick said. “We are now really overwhelmed. We are completely booked up for May and June, and I think have one slot left for July and the rest of the summer and fall is rapidly getting full as well.”

SF Birth Center has five midwives and two birthing suites. It’s why they are only booking a maximum of 13 due dates a month for women with low-risk pregnancies. Myrick said birthing centers, home births and hospitals are all great options for delivery, depending on where people feel safe.

Home births are on the rise too, with Nova Midwifery in the East Bay reporting an uptick in clients in the past two months.

“We know there is no perfectly safe place to have a baby, but we know birth centers are comparable in many ways if not better for low-risk women,” Myrick said.

Mahaney knows some women with high-risk pregnancies may not have the option to deliver their baby at home or at a birthing center.

“I think it's totally possible to have an amazing experience at a hospital in the pandemic,” she said.

For Mahaney, it was better things didn’t go as planned for her son’s delivery.

“It was just a way more physical experience and definitely more memorable in different ways,” she said. “It surpassed my wildest dreams for his arrival to the world.”