How first-time mothers are giving birth, rearing babies in the new normal
While most first-time mothers relish cradling their newborn right after birth, Jules Ilagan, 26, did not have the same experience last June 19 when she welcomed a son. Instead, she first saw baby Liam through a cell phone screen as she waited for her COVID-19 test results.
Ilagan did not know that a mother was required to have COVID-19 test results ready when giving birth at St. Luke’s Medical Center in Bonifacio Global City, Taguig. But as tedious as it may seem, measures like this are common among hospitals when preparing for a childbirth during these unprecedented times.
“When I was in labor, that was when I underwent a swab test,” she recalled. “Then they had to put me in an isolated area while I was in labor. I was alone.”
“And then even after giving birth, my results weren’t out yet. So I couldn’t see my baby. I had to recover in the operating room that was isolated from the rest of the hospital,” Ilagan added.
After almost nine hours, Ilagan’s test results came back negative and she was finally allowed to hold Liam for the first time. But she admits that she did not feel an instant connection with the baby due to the unusual circumstances.
“I had to ask ‘Is this really my child?’ because they first showed him to me through a phone,” Ilagan stated.
As for Bea Daez-Fabros, 27, the pandemic also prevented her husband from being by her side when she gave birth to baby Lucia on May 20.
“I really wanted my husband to be there in the delivery room beside me. We would talk about it all the time and how we would both react while I’m in labor. But then [COVID-19] happened so everything changed,” she said. “I had to prepare myself emotionally to not be scared during the whole labor process without my husband beside me.”
Daez-Fabros’ family was unable to visit her as well due to the social distancing measures brought by the spread of the virus.
A hefty price tag
Along with the new protocols in place, Dr. Edna Anyayahan-Saguros, a pediatrician and a mother of four, noted that giving birth now is more costly.
“Usually when term pregnant women are admitted to a hospital now, they need a routine X-ray to ensure that they are free from pneumonia, which is a common finding in people with COVID-19,” she explained.
If they have pneumonia, mothers must undergo a swab test to confirm if they have contracted the coronavirus. She assured that this protocol is done for the safety of both the mother and the newborn.
Bea Bartolome, 22, had no choice but to pay for additional fees when she welcomed her firstborn on April 14 at the Pasig Doctors Medical Center. Bartolome explained that personal protective equipment (PPE) and face masks, which are requirements when entering the hospital, were all charged to her.
“I was required to wear a mask, the N95 type. Pero since wala ako dala, chinarge na lang sa ‘kin (but since I did not have one, they charged it to me instead),” she recalled. “I think it was around P600 or P800.”
“During the delivery time of the baby, doctors, nurses, anesthesiologist, pediatrician and the assistants were required to wear PPEs, N95 masks, face shield etc., the whole outfit. [So] it was all charged to the bill. The PPEs were around P1,500 to P2,000 each if I remember it right,” Bartolome said. “All the extra charges made the bill much higher and we have no choice but to pay because of this pandemic.”
The fear of catching the disease has also prompted doctors to help mothers leave the hospitals as soon as possible after giving birth. Ilagan stated that despite undergoing an emergency Caesarean section (CS), she was discharged from the hospital two days after.
“My doctor said ‘Let’s do everything we can so you can be discharged because you might end up getting COVID-19 here in the hospital,’” she told INQUIRER.net.
It was a similar experience for Fabros who underwent a CS as well. She was allowed to leave the hospital the morning after welcoming her daughter.
Doctor visits in unlikely places
While the precautions against the virus have put new hurdles in a mother’s experience of bringing life into the world, pediatricians Dr. Anyayahan-Saguros and Dr. Conrado Manalad assure that it is all to protect the mother, the child and the doctors.
For Dr. Anyayahan-Saguros, who holds a clinic at the Asian Hospital and Medical Center in Muntinlupa City, she now only accepts patients who set an appointment in advance and discourages mothers from bringing strollers and big bags to avoid possible contamination. She also only permits one companion to join the patient as much as possible.
Meanwhile, Dr. Manalad follows similar measures in his own clinic in Las Piñas City, which he shares with his wife, who is an obstetrician. He has also sectioned off a part of his clinic exclusively for patients that are not feeling well.
“Once the parents and patients see the setup, I think they feel more safe as compared to what a hospital setting can offer,” he said.
Checkups at a distance
The pandemic has also changed the way pediatricians check up on their patients. Like many of her colleagues, Dr. Anyayahan-Saguros learned how to conduct checkups through video calls to avoid unnecessary physical contact with mothers and their children whenever possible.
But some appointments cannot be done through a screen, such as administering vaccines a child needs as they grow. For Maxine Pampolina, 21, meeting her 1-year-old daughter’s pediatrician happened in the driveway of the medical arts building at St. Luke’s Bonifacio Global City, Taguig.
Despite the assurance of baby Mia’s doctor, Pampolina admitted that bringing her daughter to the hospital still worried her. It was only after a month of thinking that she and her family finally got inside a car and met the pediatrician in the driveway on Aug. 2.
Though it was an odd situation, Pampolina said that it was safe, and that she and her daughter never left the car while the pediatrician administered vaccines for pneumonia and oral rotavirus.
Obesity risks, no more school structure
Along with the tedious yet necessary protocols, doctors Anyayahan-Saguros and Manalad pointed out that the quarantine guidelines pose new problems to a young child’s development.
Among them is a higher risk of vitamin D deficiency due to the orders to stay indoors and only leave your home when necessary, Dr. Anyayahan-Saguros said. She also noted that the shift to online classes can lead to a higher obesity rate among kids due to fewer opportunities for physical activities such as sports.
“In virtual classes, children may no longer have that sense of structure and stimulation provided by the traditional school where learning is conducted face to face,” Dr. Manalad explained.
Though the pandemic has brought new challenges in raising a child, Dr. Anyayahan-Saguros mentioned that the shift to a work-from-home (WFH) setup for most parents might help their child’s growth. Particularly, when it comes to teaching their kids to be less dependent on a diaper.
“The WFH setup may also help parents/mothers monitor the potty training of their kids and can stick to the normal development of when kids should use bathrooms,” she said.
Mothers must be healthy
Raising a child is no walk in the park, especially in the middle of a battle against a global pandemic. But while caring for a baby can be a full-time job for mothers, doctors stress that it should not be an excuse for mothers to neglect themselves.
As the saying goes, one cannot give from an empty cup, so Dr. Manalad urges mothers to build their immunity and strength amid the pandemic through “adequate and proper nutrition, enough sleep and rest, regular exercise, avoidance of stress and maintaining a positive outlook in life.”
Dr. Anyayahan-Saguros echoed his take on nutrition, adding that mothers should strive to cook healthy food especially during these times.
“Mothers should be emotionally stable so they can perform their duties as a mother and an employee,” she said, taking note that a lot of mothers are actually working moms, and are now forced to work from home. “They have to be healthy.”
As for the mothers, they have come to realize the importance of asking for help, especially from those who have already raised children, such as their own moms. And as for self-care, Bartolome has also returned to her skincare routine, which she credits for helping her care for herself again while juggling the responsibilities of being new mom.
“I’ve been eating a lot because I lost too much weight. I drink vitamins too and lots of water,” she added. “I realized that if I’m taking care of my baby so much I should take care of myself too.”
Meanwhile, Daez-Fabros admits that “it takes a lot of patience” to care for her daughter.
“But knowing that I’m able to take care of my baby well makes all the sleepless nights worth it,” she said.
Baby number two?
When asked if the lack of a vaccine for the COVID-19 in the near future would discourage her from having another child, Ilagan said that it would indeed affect her decision.
“Yes, because it’s too much of a risk,” she stated. “And it would be an additional hassle to think of the logistics of raising two kids during a pandemic.”
However, Dr. Manalad, pointed out that the lack of a vaccine would likely not decrease the birth rate in the country.
“On the contrary,” he noted, “the pandemic can further accelerate the increase in birth rate since couples stay home most of the time because of the quarantine period.”
Indeed, a baby boom is forecasted by experts not only in the country but also worldwide, mainly because couples have been forced to stay indoors during the lockdowns, and access to birth control and family planning methods have been affected and decreased.
In the Philippines, the Commission on Population and Development has earlier stated that it is expecting 2 million live births for 2020. About 214,000 of this figure is estimated to be due to unplanned pregnancies. JB
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