Updated: Apr 27, 2020
I arrive at work a half hour early this morning, 6:30. I walk in the door. The head midwife on the shift yells, “Gila! There is a fully dilated positive Corona patient in the Labor and Delivery Corona ward. Run!” I throw my bag down, grab the gear and run.
I arrive at the Corona ward where there are 2 midwives and one midwife in training already treating her. I quickly gear up, get updated by the midwife outside, and walk into the room. The birthing woman is in a lot of pain. She keeps yelling, “I want to push!” I am updated by the night midwives that she is seven centimetres, fourth birth. I take her face in my hands and look her in the eyes, which is the only part of my body showing, and say, “Hi. My name is Gila Zarbiv. I am a midwife and I will be with you this morning. I know you cant see me and you don’t know what I look like but I am here, I am with you, and I wont leave you.”
The women in the Corona wards are completely alone. Their husbands are either sick themselves with Corona (as was the case with this woman) or not allowed to enter the hospital or be with their wives for fear of becoming infected themselves or infecting others. It is hard to describe the feelings these birthing women are experiencing before the birth as they contemplate delivering entirely alone with no husband, doula, mother, or single familiar face. I, as a midwife, have literally one nanosecond to introduce myself, make her feel safe, loved, and connected in a situation where I am covered from head to toe, and a second ago we were complete strangers. I try to accomplish this by using eye contact, a soothing voice, and touch. The women are generally in pain and sometimes afraid and it is a complicated scenario to say the least.
This woman was less responsive. She was feeling so much pressure and desperately wanted everything to be over while at the same time knowing that once her baby was born they would be separated. I am finding that this puts birthing mothers in a limbo state where on the one hand they want to be finished with the birth and the pain, and on the other don’t ever want their baby to come out so as to not have to say goodbye for an indefinite amount of time. That is what this birthing mother was articulating through her pain and tears. In between contractions she looked at me and said, "can I hold him? Will you take him? When will I see him again?"
Every single time I go through these conversations with the birthing mothers I cry. Slowly we walked through the steps of birth and goodbyes. I explained to her that I would hold up her baby for as long as she needed and she would count his finger and toes with me while memorizing his face as much as possible. I told her over and over again that the staff in the nursery would update her daily, hourly, as much as she needed with pictures and messages, and she would always be involved in every aspect of his care.
All this was in the span of a few minutes. She was still having trouble connecting and the pain was very intense. I looked into her eyes and instructed her to follow my breathing and to simply follow her body. If she felt the urge to push, forget the dilation. Push. At the next contraction she took a deep breath and in one push pushed out her beautiful baby boy. I held him up for her to see and together we looked him over, let the cord blood pulse its way into his tiny body, and counted his fingers and toes. “Are you sure I cant hold him? Maybe one kiss?” I reminded her that babies all over the world are testing positive for Corona and we don’t yet know the ramifications of the diseases in its entirety. “Of course,” she responded. I cut the cord and handed him off to the waiting midwife outside.
The strength required for these mothers to forgo the natural urge of bonding for the betterment of their child is not something one can put into words. The ability for a mother to not hold, kiss, smell, stroke, or simply touch her child lest she infect him is the epitome of courage and endurance and the essence of what makes a woman a mother.
My shift started at 7:00. She delivered at 7:07. An entire world of pain, love, trauma, courage, strength, and perseverance took place in seven single minutes.
She had a small tear which I proceeded to stitch. During the stitching she looked at me and said, “I feel like I’ve known you forever.” I looked at her and responded, “Me too.”
That’s what seven minutes in the Corona ward does. It turns strangers into family.