Some local health professions are seeing more questions from expecting parents on the pros and cons of home births.
In the six months since COVID-19 arrived in Canada and upended normal, babies have continued being born and parents and health professionals have continued to navigate the new normal of healthcare.
Chelsea Snelgrove is a Vermilion-based doula, also called a birth coach. The pandemic has forced her to pivot in her business.
“I’m still going to be offering in person doula support, but I’m also going to be offering an online birth class that specifically prepares parents for what to expect in the birth room.
“It’s not all about ‘how do you push.’ Sometimes for the spouses, it’s ‘this is how she might sound when she’s in pain,’ and preparing in ways that are unique,” she said.
“I deeply believe that families deserve doula in their birth experience. Because any transition we’re going through, when you have the support, you’re able to have so much more confidence. You’re able to process how things go a lot easier, because you have somebody to bounce things off of.”
Snelgrove also gave birth to her third child, a boy, four months ago at a birthing centre in Plamondon where she was cared for by midwives.
“So it wasn’t because of the pandemic that I made that decision. But I’ve had a lot of people reach out to me and ask if I knew anybody that they could switch to home birthing with and what that would look like because of that fear,” said Snelgrove.
Snelgrove is not alone in observing an increase to inquiries about home births.
St. Paul obstetrician Dr. Florence Akindele said she has been hearing a lot of concerns about the risk of exposure to COVID-19 in a hospital birth setting and requests from patients for her to attend home births.
“My take on that is that the hospital is still the safest. The cases we’ve had in St. Paul are community cases. There has not been anyone in the hospital [with COVID] and the hospital has a duty to ensure the risk of transmission is as low as possible,” said Akindele.
She said she does not attend home births because she is busy as it is with the hospital.
“Even in low-risk, sometimes the problem just comes up during labour or immediately after delivery and then a hospital is needed. So that’s why with my experience I still believe it’s safest in hospital,” said Akindele.
According to the Alberta Association of Midwives, registered midwives like the ones who assisted Snelgrove must maintain hospital privileges.
Akindele said she is focusing on helping women advocate for themselves.
“Sometimes when women come into the hospital, they’re intimidated. They don’t know if they can speak up. Believe me, you can bring an advocate, you can bring a support person who at least knows what your preferences are, who knows the right questions to ask,” said Akindele.
She said in St. Paul labouring women can bring two support people with them.
“But they have to be the same two people. Before you could bring two people, they go out another two come in. But now it’s two people can be with you. And those two, and they will be screened for COVID symptoms,” said Akindele. She noted in the past siblings and extended family members have been able to come meet the baby at the hospital, but now they have to wait until mother and baby are discharged home.
Pain management in the form of epidural is still available, and labouring women and their support are still welcome to walk the halls of the St. Therese Health Centre, but they must be masked outside of their hospital room.
According to Alberta Health Services, the St. Therese Health Centre has averaged 182.2 births over the past five years, from a low of 141 in 2018 to a high of 240 in 2015. Since March 2020, there have been 63 births in St. Paul. AHS does not keep statistics on the number of home births locally in the Lakeland or in Alberta.