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Midwives: Home births, complications have increased amid pandemic

‘… they’re reporting more and more complications during birth,’ one midwife said.
Hugo Hinojosa
When it comes to childbirth, the stakes are much higher; being in labor is a perilous enough feat on its own, but adding the risk of contagion further compromises the mother’s health, affecting the well-being of the newborn as well.

There are more than 26,900 active COVID-19 infections in El Paso County as of Monday and El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego said during a virtual news conference in late October that many local hospitals have already reached full capacity.

Despite the grim realities of the pandemic, many still need to regularly see a doctor, especially pregnant women.

“Mothers are afraid,” said Marivette Torres, clinic and admissions director at Maternidad La Luz birth center. “They don’t want to go to hospitals and expose themselves and their babies to anyone that could possibly have COVID-19.”

Torres said there’s been a huge decrease in the number of mothers asking to be transferred to hospitals for pain management while experiencing strong contractions or even at the time of the birth itself.

“There was a single woman who asked to be taken to a hospital for pain management in the past month, while in the past there would normally be about twenty women requesting to be transferred,” Torres said. “People are just very afraid of exposure.”

Due to this, some women in El Paso have begun to place their trust on midwife services, rather than hospitals. This has also led to a skyrocketing increase in home birth services, Torres said.

Midwives are individuals who are professionally trained to facilitate childbirth. They can be both men and women and are usually not medical specialists.

Midwife centers are businesses that provide expecting mothers a licensed midwife whenever needed along with guidance on prenatal care and testing necessary to keep the mother healthy before and after delivering their baby.

Midwife services can be provided through a clinic or birth center or midwives can go to the mothers themselves for at-home services.

As a clinical midwife service, Maternidad La Luz’s usual process involves people simply walking in and filling out an application to give birth at the clinic in due time. Afterwards, the mothers would go through a series of tests to confirm that they are experiencing a low-risk pregnancy.

“We are a birth center, so for people to give birth here they have to be low-risk, since it’s considered an out-of-hospital birth,” Torres explained. “The woman has to be in good health, no preexisting medical conditions, and their blood pressure has to be within normal limits.”

As a precaution, Maternidad La Luz also conducts tests for gestational diabetes, for which insulin would have to be provided.

“It’s a pretty straightforward process: they contact us and, if they’re in good health, we welcome them into our care previous to the birth and up to six weeks after it as well,” Torres said.

Nevertheless, the imposed measures to contain the widespread of COVID-19 made their previous system impossible to continue with.

“Before the pandemic, our services were an ‘open clinic’,” Torres said. “We had walk-in checkups and sign-ins; people could come for their prenatal visits at any time of day. There were no set times or schedules, so our waiting areas used to be packed during the day.”

Because of this, Maternidad La Luz had to divert their methods to alternatives safer for their patients.

“Now, we have appointments, take the temperatures of both our patients and staff at the entrance and have them wash their hands for twenty seconds or longer,” Torres said. “We also highly recommend that people don’t bring their children with them.”

Likewise, the Luna Tierra Birth Center would ensure that each mother that contacted them would have a normal pregnancy, give prenatal care and schedule regular appointments for checkups and the usual testing.

“Now, besides our regular testing we have to do screening tests for COVID-19, since we can’t really treat or care for a mother that has COVID,” said Ruth Kauffman, a midwife at Luna Tierra birth center.

“We have seen an increase in our clientele from the El Paso area, but we also take care of people from Juarez and that number has decreased because of the politics of the border,” Kauffman said.

Both Maternidad La Luz’s and Luna Tierra’s patients were mostly from Juarez, so the start of the pandemic marked a low point for these clinics.

“With such strict border restrictions, we saw a very significant decrease in patients at the start of COVID-19, since most of our clients couldn’t cross over,” Torres said.

Despite losing many of their patients, Torres believes the clinic has finally returned to its normal number of clients due to more and more women choosing to give birth in a birth center rather than in a hospital.

“I don’t think there was an increase in regular demand, but rather in women that wouldn’t normally consider midwife services previous to the pandemic,” Torres said.

On the other hand, home birth services, who used to have only a few patients, have been booming since the start of the pandemic, Torres said.

This type of midwife service involves much less outside contact and allows women to give birth in the comfort and safety of their own home, thus explaining why women would rather go for this method of childbirth.

Although more and more mothers have opted for home birth services, even before the pandemic, Kauffman also said more mothers have been experiencing birth complications.

“Midwives across the country aren’t reporting an increase in demand, rather they’re reporting more and more complications during birth,” Kauffman explained. “Not because of anyone having COVID, but because of the stress, insecurity, and difficulties of the time.”

Nevertheless, through any one of these processes’ women don’t have to feel concerned about giving birth in hospitals where many active cases of COVID-19 are still being treated.

With the percentages of positive cases rising, most pregnant women are more afraid than ever to expose themselves to dangerous, highly contagious environments, as hospitals are perceived to be.

However, thinking that hospital facilities are unfit to accommodate women in labor and ensure they do not come in contact with the virus would be quite erroneous, according to both Torres and Kauffman.

“We still do transfers to hospitals if the mother’s condition turns into high-risk, so I know that hospitals are being very cautious and are taking all necessary measures,” Torres explained. “We trust that hospitals are doing the best to decrease exposure, but it’s the general population that is just afraid.”

Similarly, Kauffman mentioned that hospitals were overwhelmed at the start of the pandemic, but soon learned how to manage and contain exposure.

“Their testing has gotten much better, now they can test any woman that comes in for labor to see if they’re positive,” Kauffman said.

Daniela Ramos may be reached at [email protected]; @TheDaniRamos on Twitter.

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About the Contributors
Hugo Hinojosa, Designer
Hugo Hinojosa is the graphic designer at The Prospector. He is a senior majoring in digital media production with a minor in film. Previously, he was a photo editor and a staff photographer for The Prospector. Hugo currently works as a freelance photographer in both El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. Hugo completed his first internship with the El Paso Times on January 2022. He is now graduating in May, and expects to pursue a career in photography, graphic and editorial design, advertising or management.
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Midwives: Home births, complications have increased amid pandemic