Just ahead of summer’s busy delivery months at Woman’s Hospital, the staff built a separate unit—for mothers infected with COVID-19

“For years, we’ve been taking care of patients on one of the most important days of their lives—and we’re still doing that. But now we’re walking them through one of the most important days of their lives in the middle of a pandemic.

We’re so used to being close-up and personal with our patients. We’re with them for a 12-hour labor, for the whole day. Now we’re wearing full PPE for every delivery. Half of your face is covered, and it’s a lot different. Our patients are also in an N95, which I’m sure is difficult for them to breathe while they’re trying to push. It’s extremely tight on your face, where you cannot have air coming in from around your nose and mouth. We wear an extra mask with a face shield, boot covers, an extra gown to cover our scrubs, gloves and a hat covering our hair. You feel like you can’t breathe, and you’re sweating. But patients need to wear PPE to protect us, and we’re wearing the same thing to protect them.

In a normal delivery, we might have three family members that are in the delivery room, and then an entire waiting room of 20 visitors waiting for the good news. Right now, we’re only allowing one support person per patient, and no one is in any waiting rooms. The halls are a lot more bare. When patients are COVID-positive, they haven’t been allowed visitors.

I’ve been doing this for 20 years and seeing families experience the joy. Now, the family members are standing outside the windows of the hospital in the parking lot, we’re holding up signs, and people are FaceTiming.

But I know all of our nurses will say that in deliveries for a patient that’s positive for COVID, we are there with those mothers. They are not alone.”

Allyson Hingle, Registered nurse at Woman’s Hospital

“In no other realm of the medical world do you get to take care of two patients at once. That’s what drew me to this field: making sure that you get the best outcome for both the mom and the baby. In the majority of these cases, it’s really good outcomes. It’s a very fulfilling career.

In the beginning, I remember lying awake the night before I had several COVID-positive patients I had to go see the very next day. I remember being extremely nervous, anxious and not being able to sleep. And I think that that’s because you’re facing the unknown. But then you go through that day, and that week, and you realize: I am provided with the appropriate PPE. I have a great team. And you just kind of have to trust the system, and that you are giving the absolute best care to these patients and that you’re also going to be OK.

Protocols are changing constantly, but right now, the recommendation is that if the mother is currently COVID-positive, she and the baby are separated. The baby goes to an isolation room within NICU. The biggest fear I am seeing women have is delivering by themselves and being separated from their baby. We take that to heart. It is scary. Our job is to try to get them where they can not have both of those things happen, and deliver in the safest manner.

We want to do good for our patients, and that sometimes puts you into positions that you would not have seen yourself ever being in. It’s about stepping up to those. And it’s nice when you look across the hallway, and you see your other colleagues also stepping up to the challenge.”

Dr. Pam Simmons, Maternal-fetal medicine physician, Woman’s Hospital

How does a COVID-19 positive diagnosis affect pregnancy, labor and delivery?

Pregnancy creates added stress on a woman’s body and lung capacity, and it also makes her more susceptible to infection. But one of the biggest points all the doctors we interviewed for this story stressed: This virus is novel, and much is still unknown. “There’s patients that I’ll see in the office today, and every single time I’ll say, ‘This could change tomorrow,’” says Dr. Pam Simmons, a maternal-fetal medicine physician at Woman’s Hospital. The virus affects every patient differently. While most of Simmons’ pregnant patients have so far not needed hospitalization and have been able to recover at home, there have been challenging cases with patients being extremely sick and, in worse-case scenarios, requiring intubation. Simmons refers all patients to Woman’s Hospital’s COVID-19 website for the most up-to-date information. womans.org/about-womans/community/coronavirus

This article was originally part of the June 2020 cover story of 225 Magazine.