When Twon LeDet gave birth to her first daughter more than five years ago, she opted for a hospital birth. But the experience felt impersonal, as if the staff was trying to get her in and out as quickly as possible, she said.
When she became pregnant again, this time during the pandemic, LeDet decided to look into at-home births, not just because she wanted a more intimate experience but also because she didn’t want the hospital limiting the support people she could have on hand during the delivery.
“I want to be in a safe environment and have who I want to have,” said LeDet, who is almost 35 weeks pregnant.
Ledet, who lives in Houston, is among a growing number of women opting for an out-of-hospital birth during the pandemic.
Although out-of-hospital births are relatively rare, accounting for just 1.67 percent of all births in 2017, they have been on the rise, according to a study published in the science journal Birth.
From 2004 to 2017, home births increased by 77 percent, while deliveries at birth centers doubled.
Although it’s too soon to know how much out-of-hospital births have increased during the pandemic, midwives who serve the county have reported an increased interest in their services.
“My midwife practice has doubled since the beginning of the COVID shutdown,” said Darlene Scrivner, a midwife and owner of BioBirth in Webster.
“I have since had to turn down over 40 women just this year because I am too booked,” she said.
Scrivner isn’t alone in seeing an increase in clients.
The Galveston Birth Center also has seen an increase, birth assistant and office manager Lisa Mabors said. The center performs an average of 10 births a month and has had to turn people away. The center also has seen an increase in late transfers, or mothers who transfer to midwife care later in their pregnancy, she said.
“They’re healthy moms that don’t want either the exposure or don’t want to take the risk of not having their significant other with them during the birth or the possibility of having their baby taken away,” Mabors said.
Despite COVID, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists still say hospital-based birth centers or accredited freestanding birth centers are the safest place to give birth.
“Even the healthiest pregnancies can have problems arise with little or no warning during labor and delivery,” the group said on its website.
“If problems happen, a hospital setting can give you and your baby the best care in a hurry,” it said.
The reasons expecting mothers choose out-of-hospital births vary, but the pandemic has incited new fears.
COVID hit hospitals hard, forcing them to dedicate extra resources and staff to fighting the pandemic. To keep people safe, many limited visitors, often restricting the number of people who could be present for a birth. In some instances throughout the nation, women were forced to give birth without spouses, partners or relatives in the room.
The prospect of giving birth without support was the biggest fear among pregnant women at BioBirth, Scrivner said.
“Their fear is that they aren’t allowed to have that support that they need,” she said.
The idea of giving birth alone or without their full support system is frightening for many women, especially first-time mothers, Mabors said.
“When you’re in labor, it’s huge,” she said. “You’re scared, you don’t know what your body is doing, especially for first-timers.”
Giving birth without a support system also removes those who can advocate for mothers who may be in pain, Mabors said.
“It’s more of an advocate for them, a voice,” she said.
And then there were concerns about safety in hospitals. Some new mothers feared giving birth in a hospital would expose them and their babies to COVID, Scrivner said.
“They see on the news that hospitals are full,” she said. “They worry that they or their babies will get sick.”
Like hospitals, midwives are taking extra safety precautions as the pandemic continues. At the Galveston Birth Center, patient appointments are spaced out to allow for social distancing, Mabors said. And the number of visitors to the center is limited, she said. The center has also added telehealth appointments, she said.
At BioBirth, appointments are spaced out to allow for adequate cleaning between patients, Scrivner said.
Staff members also take expectant mothers’ temperatures at every appointment, which hadn’t been done as frequently before.
The center is diligent about testing patients to ensure they aren’t sick and, during the birth, more disposable materials are used to prevent items from going from house to house, Scrivner said.
BIRTH OF A TREND?
How long the increased interest will last is unknown, but Scrivner expects it to continue. She plans to expand BioBirth next year by opening a new facility that will include a birth center.
“More women are realizing that they have an option,” she said.
Ledet, who is a patient of Scrivner’s, is watching as many of her friends become pregnant for the first time and said she is recommending they look into out-of-hospital births.
“It’s been a different experience from being in a hospital,” she said.
In addition to increased freedom during birth, such as being able to walk around and eat when she wants, Ledet is glad she’ll be able to be surrounded by her daughter, her husband and the midwife when it comes time to deliver her daughter in October, she said.
“I’m glad I made the choice due to the pandemic,” she said.