Pregnant during a pandemic — why advocacy groups are worried about maternal health

Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) — It’s just after 9 p.m. on a weekday and Denise Washington is getting ready for a long night.

“I am there to speak for them and also be another voice for them and that’s being taken away, because most of the time now I haven’t been in a birth room as a doula since early March,” Washington said. 

Washington tells KXAN News that hospitals are limiting the number of people in labor and delivery so most women can only take one person with them, which is usually a family member. 

“I’m doing a Zoom or FaceTime or I’m on Messenger chat with my client while she’s in labor,” Washington said. “So, I’m not physically there with her anymore and that is very concerning for a lot of black women. So, a lot of women are afraid now to go into the hospital.”

Washington is part of Mama Sana Vibrant Woman, which provides care and support to families in Austin and Travis County. The organization says it’s seen an increase in women who are moving from giving birth at a hospital to home births with a midwife.

“Pregnancy and birth is a new beginning for both parent and child. As a Black pregnant person in this country, this experience is already triggering and isolating without an epidemic and mandatory quarantine,” said Taylor Huntley, director of community engagement for Mama Sana Vibrant Woman. “We know that Black pregnant people deserve to be held and supported by Black birth workers. We now have to adapt to our new way of life while still moving with this intention and most importantly protecting our pregnant and postpartum community members.” 

State Representative Shawn Thierry, (D) Houston, said she’s heard the concerns from advocacy groups.

On behalf of the Texas House Women’s Health Caucus, Thierry said they sent a letter to the Texas Hospital Association asking the state to allow doulas in the delivery room. 

“All of us are very concerned about it. We want to make sure that all of the proper safety measures are implemented, but these doulas are health professionals themselves,” Thierry explained. “I know that I plan to file legislation next session to make sure… their services can be covered under insurance plans, because they’re a vital part of ensuring a healthy pregnancy for women that that need that additional support.”

Thierry has asked Governor Greg Abbott to establish an emergency task force to focus on how COVID-19 is affecting the African American community.

“African American women as you know were already at increased risk for maternal morbidity and mortality. Now we’re finding that African-Americans are now at 3 times as high of a mortality rate of COVID-19, so that’s something that has to be addressed,” Thierry explained.

Thierry said we will learn more from a study that will look at the impact of COVID-19 during and after pregnancy. 

Researchers with the National Institutes of Health are looking at 21,000 medical records from women. They are trying to determine if changes to healthcare delivery that were put in place as a result of the pandemic have led to higher rates of pregnancy-related complications and cesarean delivery. ​

The study will track more than 1,500 pregnant women confirmed to have the virus. They’ll be monitored for six weeks after childbirth. Researchers will also determine the risk of pregnant women transmitting the virus to their baby.

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