The COVID-19 pandemic has swiftly and dramatically changed our daily lives. We’re speaking to Canadian women about how coronavirus has affected how they work, parent, run their businesses and more. For information on where to find the latest updates on the evolving COVID-19 situation in Canada, go here

We caught up with Katherine Flemming, a writer and mom of three in Toronto who previously shared her story about parenting during a pandemic with us, to hear about her experience giving birth in Toronto in the time of coronavirus. 

I had a planned C-section. In mid-April, about a week before I was scheduled to go in, the hospital called me and told me they had an opening two days earlier. With everything changing so rapidly, I figured that getting to the hospital sooner could only be better, especially since I’d read that around the time I was due to deliver was the time coronavirus was expected to peak in Ontario. Plus, it actually worked better with my husband’s work schedule. So I thought, Okay, I’m going to do it.

My husband and I arrived at North York General on April 15th around 7:00 a.m. and were able to park basically right in front of the hospital. It was probably the quietest I’ve ever seen a hospital. It was kind of eerie, but it was also the most beautiful sunny morning, which made us feel very calm.

We were screened when we walked in. It was just the standard questions, like “Have you travelled recently?” and “Are you experiencing any of these symptoms?” They told my husband that he had to wear a mask the entire time he was in the hospital, with no exceptions. He also got a bracelet that allowed him to enter and exit the hospital, which was great because we hadn’t even been sure he’d be allowed to come in at all. They did ask, though, that if he left the hospital, it only be to get something essential. [Editor’s note: North York General has since changed their policy regarding how long support partners can stay post-delivery. Policies on visitors will vary from hospital to hospital and are subject to change.] 

I also needed to wear a mask in common areas, but in my room and during the C-section procedure, I didn’t have to. I was grateful for that because the masks can be so hot and uncomfortable. I don’t know how frontline workers are dealing. I talked to one of the staff on my way in and she said her nose is numb by the end of the day.

Then I had a consult with my surgeon and the nurse put me on an IV. I was scheduled for 9:00 a.m., but by about 7:45 a.m. they said to me, “We actually have time to do this procedure now. Do you want to do it early?” And I was like, “Yes, I would love to.” It felt very organized. The reasoning was that they wanted to fit in a COVID run-through after me, like a mock scenario, as though they were doing a C-section on a patient who was positive for the virus. But none of this felt alarming; COVID precautions are just an element of what’s happening at the hospital.

I had the procedure and it went really well. COVID was never mentioned. I wasn’t nervous about that. I was nervous because I had to get a giant needle in my spine and a massive cut through my gut. But this was my easiest birth by far because I never laboured. I just rolled into the hospital on a full night’s sleep, I had my husband with me and I was very calm.

The only thing that I would say was stressful in relation to COVID is that all of my support – my husband, the midwife, the nurses and the surgeon – were so masked up that they were truly hard to hear. You don’t realize how much you use someone’s lips to understand what they’re saying. But everyone just spoke louder or they would turn their head so their mouth was closer to my ear, and it was fine. There wasn’t this serious tone or scary energy at all. We were still laughing and joking. I was surprised.

I ended up staying at the hospital for 36 hours, which is a little shorter than I stayed with my previous two C-sections. But I was encouraged to leave because I felt fine. They were sort of like, “Listen, this is your third kid. You’re a pro. You’re going home. Sleep in your own bed.” And the baby passed all the required tests, my blood pressure was fine and I have midwife care, so why would I want to be in a hospital right now? There were COVID patients at the hospital, but it was never like, “Oh, you’re taking up a bed.”

I would tell other expecting moms to trust in the medical professionals. I spent more time worrying than I should have. I endlessly worried about having to do it alone. We called the unit almost every day leading up to the birth to be like, “Hey, has the status changed? Can my husband still be there?” I was really upset initially that my mom couldn’t be there, but I had to move past that. And luckily my midwife, from Uptown Midwives, was also able to be there. She was by my side through the entire process and her familiar face and knowledge kept me calm. But I would say don’t overthink it and be prepared for any scenario. The policies are changing, and even if they loosen up, they could tighten up again and you’d need to be prepared for the fact that your support person might not be allowed to be there or might have to leave right after the birth. It will feel devastating in the moment, but it’s for the greater good and the health of all of humanity.

There’s so much focus on having this perfect birth. Instagram kind of exacerbates that. And, you know, as soon as you have a baby, there are all these questions. “Was it natural?” “Did you need the meds?” You just need to put all of that on a shelf and focus on your health and the baby’s health. Release all of these expectations that are put on women in the birthing world. Especially now that times are different.

It’s been about three weeks now, and looking back I realize I got stressed over nothing, and that’s the last thing you need during the final stage of your pregnancy. So many expecting moms messaged me after, like, “How was it?” And I was like, “Oh, my god, it was fine.” At the hospital, they’re experts. They deliver babies all day, every day. And they’ve been working in these conditions for several months now.

During the birth, the surgeon took her time to make it joyful for us. My midwife asked if she could take a video of the moment my son was being delivered, because we didn’t know the gender of the baby. I looked at the surgeon like, “Is that okay?” I didn’t think it would be appropriate to take the time to luxuriate in the news. But she was like, “Of course. You can still enjoy your birth.”

 – As told to Victoria DiPlacido


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