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Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
Sara Higgins is in her third trimester of pregnancy with her second child.
As she awaits the arrival of her baby amid the COVID-19 crisis, the 27-year-old is navigating a lot of uncertainty.
From altered hospital protocols and anxiety over the future to being furloughed from her job, Higgins said, the ripple effects of the virus have uprooted her life.
“I can’t even enjoy this pregnancy,” she said.
The Rio Rancho resident learned in early April that she was furloughed from her call center position after nonessential businesses were closed in an effort to help stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. And now she is bracing for the possibility that she will have to be alone when having her baby, despite hospital policy that allows one visitor for mothers in labor.
“I have to choose to probably do this by myself,” she said.
Higgins told the Journal that she is being seen at Presbyterian Rust Medical Center. According to Presbyterian spokeswoman Melanie Mozes, patients giving birth are allowed one person during labor and delivery, but partners are asked to remain in the hospital for the duration of the mom’s stay to limit the spread of COVID-19.
The policy is similar to one being used by other hospitals in the state that have tightened visitation rules amid the pandemic.
Higgins anticipates that restrictions on visitors’ comings and goings will prohibit her boyfriend from being with her during and after the birth. Higgins’ partner has another child and can’t commit to staying at the hospital for the duration of her stay, she said.
“If they leave, there’s a chance they won’t be allowed back in,” Higgins said.
Because of her circumstances, Higgins is preparing to deliver the baby without a partner.
She recognizes the importance of the hospital precautions and said she knows hospital personnel are doing what they think is necessary.
Still, it’s hard to adjust to this new reality.
“You can give birth alone, but it’s a lot easier when you have somebody to help you,” she said.
Higgins is due in July and she said uncertainty about what the pandemic will look like at that time has been a challenge.
“What’s scary about being pregnant right now is the unknown,” she said.
Higgins is particularly worried about giving birth alone because she has idiopathic epilepsy, which has been controlled for 10 years but still makes her pregnancy high risk.
While Higgins braces for the future, COVID-19 has also affected her pregnancy in the present.
Her boyfriend hasn’t been allowed into her doctor appointments, Higgins said.
“It’s very unpredictable times we’re in as pregnant women,” Higgins said. “I can’t even bring him into ultrasounds. We have to be alone. Everything we do is alone right now,” she said.
Mozes confirmed that visitors are not allowed for outpatient appointments.
Higgins, meanwhile, said she has been furloughed from her job at a call center in Rio Rancho, which was her only source of income. She had accepted the job in late 2019.
Higgins now constantly thinks about the bills that are piling up.
“I have nothing for this baby. … I’m thinking of all the things I’m going to need for my baby, I’m thinking of how I’m going to need medical attention afterwards. I’m thinking about rent and utilities and all the other necessities. It’s stressful,” she said.
Changes to visitor policies – much like what Higgins is experiencing – aren’t exclusive to Presbyterian. The University of New Mexico Hospital and Lovelace Women’s Hospital are also allowing only one person in labor and delivery, with limitations on leaving.
At Taos’ Holy Cross Medical Center, each patient’s doctor determines whether a guest is permitted, and only one guest is allowed at a time, according to spokeswoman Gayle Martinez.
Dorothy Kaeck, a licensed midwife in Taos and owner of Corazon Midwifery, said she has seen more women opting for home births out of fear of laboring without a partner or with limited support.
“I’m definitely getting calls from people who are wanting to transfer late in their care,” she said.
This fear of the unknown and the evolving situation, along with the lack of control, are what Higgins said have been the most emotionally taxing aspects of this experience.
“It’s scary … but you can’t change it,” she said.