Amanda Sterczyk Physical Health

Childbirth during a pandemic: My story of delivery during SARS

by Amanda Sterczyk, MA, CPT

Unprecedented times. That’s a phrase we’ve heard a lot lately, as countries around the world try to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic that’s spread to every corner of the planet. It’s not the first time a highly contagious coronavirus has spread from country to country. I am of course referring to the SARS outbreak in 2003. 

At the time, I was pregnant with our second child, and had a toddler occupying my attention during the day. Maybe SARS wasn’t reported as widely in your neck of the woods, or maybe you’re too young to recall what was being reported. Here in Canada, we received daily updates in local and national news broadcasts. That’s because, as a country, we experienced one of the highest death rates (17%), as well as one of the highest rates of infection, behind China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.

And while we knew about the outbreak within Canadian borders, we didn’t really register it as an issue. That is, until we arrived at the hospital on delivery day. My water had broken at home—on my due date no less—and my husband and I bid his mother and our firstborn adieu as we headed to our local hospital’s maternity ward. 

Upon arrival at the main entrance to the hospital, we saw firsthand the quarantine measures. Large stop signs and other notices, stations with hand sanitizer, gowned and masked staff sitting behind a table. They were screening and, often turning away, potential visitors. That’s right, they were limiting the flow of people in and out of the hospital. 

After responding to their screening questions, we were allowed to proceed to the elevators and continue up to the maternity ward. The first thing I noticed when we exited the elevators was how quiet it was compared to my first kick at the can. Our first child was born on the same floor, two years earlier. At the time, I was desperate to return home because of how loud and noisy the ward was. You see, my roommate’s extended family had set up camp on her side of the curtain. Closing the door to drown out the inordinate number of visitors to other new moms and their offspring just made the cramped room seem even smaller—and louder. 

This time, though, as a direct result of SARS, new moms were only allowed one visitor, both during the blessed event and for their one-to-two day stay postpartum. I can’t speak to how other families handled the restriction, but it worked well for us. What did it matter whether you met a new human at day one of existence or day seven? At least, that’s what I thought. We didn’t have a midwife for either pregnancy, so we were not forced to choose between father and midwife as the solo addition in the birthing suite. I have seen stories the past few weeks about expectant mothers compelled to change their birth plans because of similar restrictions with the COVID-19 pandemic. I get their concern and frustration when things aren’t proceeding as planned. 

I don’t want to minimize anyone’s feelings, but please bear with me as I try to offer a little perspective: Having plans upended by something out of your control is a great way to prepare you for your new role as a mother. Because anyone who’s had children will tell you that being flexible in the face of unplanned upheaval is the name of the game in parenthood. As my decade-older neighbor—who’s about to become a grandmother for the first time—so accurately reminded me just yesterday, it wasn’t that long ago that fathers-to-be weren’t welcome to the party (only the after-party). On that note, who would you rather have in the room with you? If it was up to me, I’d much prefer to include the person who’s going to actively assist me during labour and delivery, whoever that may be.