SAN DIEGO — Michelle Govers’ world just got bigger. The North County mom welcomed her third baby, Vincent, this summer. Govers had her first two children in a hospital under the care of an OBGYN.
“I had started this pregnancy with an OB, and when COVID kind of blew up on everybody, they started canceling every single one of my prenatal appointments,” said Govers. "I wasn’t comfortable with not seeing my doctor for two months at a time."
Patients nationwide are avoiding hospitals in general. Similarly, hospitals in San Diego County have reported a decline in patient population.
"Our volumes have been lower, not just for certain types of complaints, but for all complaints," Marla Poston, Director of Patient Care Services at Sharp Coronado, told News 8 earlier this summer.
”Nobody wanted to be near a hospital," said Govers as she held her newborn in her arms. "It was really scary for a while.”
So, Govers started looking into other options.
"My husband was never comfortable with a home birth, but for some reason, I was able to convince him in these times," said Govers with a smile.
Govers went with a midwife, which is a popular trend in 2020.
"Once everything shut down, we had a huge increase," said Gerri Ryan, a licensed midwife and certified professional midwife that works out of Poway. "In fact, I would say that for our home birth practice, probably a 50% increase in inquiries.”
The popularity comes as some hospitals nationwide have cracked down on visitors in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.
”Specifically because of COVID, [patients are] wanting to make sure that their partners are there with them," said Heather LeMaster, a licensed midwife and certified professional midwife. "If they have a doula, wanting to make sure they have their doula or a support person as well."
"We ask that the moms and dads wear masks," said Andrea Bergleen, a California Licensed Midwife, Certified Professional Midwife and native San Diegan. "Most of the times, the moms can do the early labor in [a] mask, but if it gets back down to the pushing phase, they usually - it's very difficult, so they usually take it off in that sense."
Other than delivering at the hospital or at home, there’s also a third option - a birthing center - which reportedly is still seeing the biggest demand in San Diego County.
"One of the differences between a home birth and birth center is that we can come to your bedroom or you can come to ours," said LeMaster of San Diego County Midwives.
Hospitals and birthing centers actually still share a lot in common. For example, the providers wear PPE like face coverings. Some of the appointments are telehealth visits. Sometimes they even partner together, especially when a newborn or mother needs to be transferred to a hospital setting.
"Obviously the difference would be that we don’t have an OR, you know, just a few feet away. We specialize in normal, healthy pregnancies," said LeMaster. "Obviously, high risk mamas and pregnancies and babies really should be in the hospital.”
If you’re having a baby, it’s important to check with your insurance company. For example, your health insurance plan may cover a stay in a birth center, but maybe not a home birth. As for Govers, she made the most of her pandemic pregnancy, even if that meant paying out-of-pocket for the home birth.
"Actually, if I had another baby, I would go the midwife and home birth route," said Govers. "It was absolutely incredible."
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, California had the highest employment of midwives last year. Statistics obviously aren't available yet for the 2020 year, but midwives in cities like Houston and Washington D.C. also said they've been busy.
"Since all this has started, we're booked up every month in future," said Diana Nash of the Birthing Center of Beaumont in Texas.
"We're just seeing drastic numbers of inquiries, and we're turning people away and referring them to other midwives in the area," Hilary Biesecker with Loudoun Home Birth and Healthcare said to our sister station on the East Coast.
The National Library of Medicine surveyed pregnant women over the age of 18, assessing how the pandemic impacted their birth plans. More than 45 % of new mothers said they changed their birth plan in some way because of COVID-19 concerns. Those concerns include changing hospital locations because of limited bed availability, risk of contracting the virus, fewer visitors permitted after birth and fear of complications in pregnancy.
Still, many women are still giving birth in hospitals. A spokesperson for Kaiser Permanente in San Diego told News 8 that it's expecting a typical number of scheduled births in September 2020.