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Petaluma midwives in demand as pregnant women seek hospital alternatives

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Pregnant women who were planning hospital births are becoming fearful of doing so because of the coronavirus. As a result, midwives in Sonoma County are being approached in record numbers as women try to arrange for home births.

Many were already planning an unmedicated, natural birth in a hospital simply because most insurance companies won’t cover home births, even though California midwives have strong medical training.

Brooke Radloff of the Center for Integral Pregnancy and Childbirth in Petaluma is advising her clients to consider all of their options for extra emotional, mental and logistical support to help them face the challenges created by the global pandemic.

“Positive birth and postpartum experiences are absolutely possible, even in the time of COVID,” Radloff said. “Giving birth can be profoundly life-changing, and depending on the experience, can leave a mother feeling strong and empowered or disoriented and traumatized. This is the case under the best of normal circumstances, and as we are seeing, there are new challenges and obstacles that women are facing in pregnancy, birth and their postpartum transition due to the coronavirus epidemic.”

She said Sonoma County is lucky to have a dedicated birth community committed to meeting the changing needs of the families that they serve.

“Home births are always a great option for healthy, uncomplicated pregnancies, and if someone feels safe and comfortable delivering at home, then this is a great alternative to consider for delivery, especially at this time,” she said.

Sophia Williams is a practicing midwife and doula in Petaluma. The pandemic has changed how she interacts with clients. She has switched to virtual visits and then dons mask and gloves to check on the mother and baby.

“At births, now I wear a surgical mask and gloves,” Williams said. “Once mom starts pushing, I switch to a N95 mask with goggles. We social distance as much as possible during the birth. Living in a mask is suffocating, especially when it’s a long birth. So much of our work is silent communication. A reassuring smile. A warm touch. Now we must try to smile with our eyes from across the room and a gloved touch is just not as comforting.”

One of William’s clients is due in August and had planned an unmedicated birth at a hospital with Williams as her doula. She is healthy and her pregnancy is normal, making her a good candidate for a home birth. She will switch to giving birth at home if things aren’t back to normal, even though this will add an extra financial burden, because her insurance won’t cover a home-birth.

This problem with insurance companies’ lack of coverage is being questioned now that so many women searching for alternatives are finding that midwives are actually highly trained and capable of delivering healthy babies.

Midwives in California must go through rigorous medical training to practice. The Medical Board of California requires successful completion of three years of post-secondary study with a board-accredited midwifery program and completion of the board’s comprehensive licensing exam. Midwives are also required to complete 36 units of continuing education courses every two years.

Midwives’ scope of practice is for normal, healthy pregnancies and they’re trained in assessing and caring for the newborn through the first six weeks of life. They are trained to collaborate with doctors when a client’s pregnancy goes outside the normal range. They know when to transport during labor if a problem arises, and when to refer a neonate for medical care.

Midwives are trained to do blood draws, pap smears and can order labs and ultrasounds. During labor, they can administer IVs and antibiotics and are trained to do sutures. They carry the appropriate medications to manage a hemorrhage. They must keep up to date with Neonatal Resuscitation and CPR and carry resuscitation equipment and oxygen.

“The silver lining I hope we get from this experience is that more insurance companies will see the benefit of keeping low risk families home and save the hospitals for higher risk cases,” Williams said.

Sonoma County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins has called on the State of California to mandate insurance coverage of all state-licensed birthing options so that women are not financially forced into a highly populated hospital setting during a pandemic.

“I believe that women should have a choice as to where they receive prenatal care and where they give birth, now more than ever,” she said. “It’s unacceptable that women find themselves paying twice — once for insurance, and again out-of-pocket to receive the kind of healthcare they want for their pregnancy and birth. It’s stressful enough to be pregnant in the middle of a pandemic. It’s unacceptable to be paying for insurance that won’t allow a woman to choose where she receives her healthcare, and to give birth where she feels safest.”

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