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Expectant mothers explore options outside hospitals during pandemic

Expectant mothers already face so many questions and uncertainty about the process of giving birth -- and in the time of coronavirus, there's even more to think about.

Ellyn Keith is expecting her first baby.

"I’m 31 weeks pregnant now," she said, "which is considered the third trimester. I’m due June 8."

She said even though she had a specific plan for a hospital birth with her husband, mother, and a birth coach present, the pandemic is forcing that plan to change. She may be able to have only her husband with her when she goes into labor.

So, she's exploring other options.

"I’m currently considering doing a home birth with a midwife,” she said.

Keith is not the only mother who is thinking of changing her plan. Brigitte Garrison is a midwife who specializes in home births. She says she’s been inundated with phone calls from women who have been asking the same question.

"I’ve had to turn them away. And if I didn’t have children, I could just do this constantly and help people out," she said, "but unfortunately, there’s many reasons why that’s not a good idea."

One reason, Garrison said, is because those who haven’t been planning for a home birth all along might not be good candidates. She worries that without more options, women will try to give birth at home themselves.

In a few cities around the state, there is another option: a birthing center, a building separate from the hospital that only caters to expectant moms and newborns.

Right now, Rochester doesn’t have any birthing centers, but Molly Deutschbein is one of the people speaking out to change that.

"I’ve written to a number of county health officials saying that what we really needed was a disaster-mandated separate birthing facility for all birthing people."

Deutschbein is a doula and a community advocate. She said beyond their concerns about having enough support during the birthing process, the expectant mothers she’s spoken to are also worried about being in a hospital during a pandemic.

"We still don’t really understand a lot about how it functions," she said of the infectious disease.

Dr. Daniel Grace is the associate chair of obstetrics at Rochester Regional Health. On "Connections with  Evan Dawson" last week, he said hospitals are still the safest option for expectant mothers.

"Coronavirus, COVID-19 should not alter how you deliver," he said.

A spokesperson for Monroe County said he's not aware of any plans to implement a designated birthing center, and says hospital systems are taking extra precautions to make sure maternity wards are safe.

Veronica Volk is a senior editor and producer for WXXI News.