'It's something I never imagined having to do alone': Women face childbirth without partners amid coronavirus outbreak

"I'm a wreck and just trying to hold it together and take one day at a time."

March 23, 2020, 2:34 PM

For Jen Santamaria, a New York City woman expecting her first child, it's the unknowns of childbirth that scare her.

These aren't the typical unknowns like wondering exactly how much does labor hurt or whether I'll need to be induced. Amid the novel coronavirus outbreak, the unknowns include something she never imagined just weeks ago: that her husband, Jesse, would not able to be present at the birth of their child.

On Sunday, NewYork-Presbyterian hospital announced that in an effort to promote patient safety, they would not permit visitors, including birthing partners and support people for obstetric patients. "We understand that this will be difficult for our patients and their loved ones, but we believe that this is a necessary step to promote the safety of our new mothers and children," the hospital said on its web site.

Santamaria is planning to deliver at Mount Sinai hospital and is worried they will soon follow suit.

"I'm a wreck and just trying to hold it together and take one day at a time," Santamaria, 30 weeks pregnant and a senior communications manager at Twitter, told "Good Morning America." She said not having her husband with her during childbirth was her biggest fear.

She is not alone. On March 17, a newly-formed Facebook group called Pregnant During COVID-19 Pandemic was formed by Lynzy Coughlin, an emergency medical physician assistant. Less than a week later, membership is approaching 9,000.

"The most common concerns [among the members] at this time tend to be the uncertainty of being able to have support at the time of delivery, giving birth during a pandemic and the emotional stress that goes with keeping a newborn safe," she said. Being a pregnant healthcare worker is also a hot topic, Coughlin said.

Santamaria herself had posted a Twitter thread documenting her unease last week. "The responses were more than I could have hoped for," she said of the words of encouragement she received.

But even with the support of others, she still has many worries. One of her top concerns, she told "GMA," is what will transpire if something were to happen to Santamaria in childbirth that left her unable to make decisions for the baby.

Her concern is a valid one, Dr. Jacques Moritz, MD, OB/GYN & Tia NYC Medical Director told "GMA," and not one that yet has a clear answer. In all likelihood, he said, the "designated person in the health care proxy would be called to make that decision."

"It is all new. This brings up obviously many questions and much stress to a family," Moritz said.

His advice: Prepare to have your partner there virtually.

"I would advise mothers to get tripods that they can put their cell phone or iPad on and virtually transmit the delivery," Moritz said. "It isn’t going to be cute. The mother will be wearing a mask while pushing. Very clinical. The last time I heard about this was a solider in Iraq seeing his wife's delivery in the states via cellphone."

Santamaria called it the "scariest time I've ever lived through."

"Not knowing what it will be like to raise a baby [in these times] is hard to wrap my head around," she said. "I've always been such a planner, it's my way of making things feel okay. But this time I can't really plan for anything."

(Editor's note: Since the original publication date on March 23, Mount Sinai hospital, where Santamaria is planning to give birth, has announced similar restrictions on support persons and visitors. According to a statement on Twitter, the hospital effective March 24, all visitors, including partners or guests of patients in labor are prohibited from maternity and postpartum units. New York City's Mayor de Blasio said on March 24 the city's public hospitals will still allow support persons in delivery, with conditions.)