Brandon and Alyssa Sehlhorst didn’t know what to pack in their hospital bag. Like most parents, the upcoming birth of their first child was surrounded with questions. But their unknowns were heightened from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We wanted to make sure we had everything,” explained Alyssa. “We couldn’t have family bring things in to the hospital, we didn’t know if the cafeteria would be open at the hospital. We had two pieces of luggage – it looked like we were moving in!”
Thankfully, neither of them were infected with the COVID-19 virus, but concerns about the virus and adjusting to precautions gave them a different birth experience than they were expecting.
A Different Birth Experience
On March 19, Brandon and Alyssa welcomed their son Smith Parker Sehlhorst at ProMedica Toledo Hospital.
“We didn’t know the baby’s gender and one of the things I got invested in before COVID-19 was the moment where I would run out and tell our parents the gender of our baby. That was something I was looking forward to as a dad,” said Brandon.
“Looking back I don’t feel like I got robbed of that moment. They gave me the opportunity to announce it in the room and there was so much energy. We brought a stereo and played ‘Push It’. The doctors and team were dancing and we genuinely felt like family,” he said. “The actual delivery process exceeded our expectations; the labor and delivery team was phenomenal.”
Shannon Secor, MSN, RNC, director of the postpartum unit at ProMedica Toledo Hospital, understands how COVID-19 impacts patients and their expectations. “We know in these challenging times that a patient’s birth experience may not be what was envisioned, but we are committed to making it the best it can be while delivering safe and quality care,” she said. “We have two patients to keep in mind – the mother and the newborn – so it’s important that we look at this from every angle.”
To reduce the potential spread of COVID-19, many changes have taken place in hospitals – some changes are behind the scenes while others are more visible to patients.
“Our visitor guidelines have changed and we are prescreening our patients coming in for elective inductions or c-sections. This allows us to develop a treatment plan and get them to the designated hospital if screened positive for COVID-19,” explained Secor. “Additionally, we are encouraging early discharge if both mom and baby are medically stable. This allows them to return home to get back to practicing the state’s Stay at Home order and decrease possible exposure.”
The hospital is working to protect hospital staff as well by diligently adhering to the personal protective equipment (PPE) and hand hygiene requirements. The hospital has also turned one of the older units into a shower area for employees who prefer to shower and change clothes prior to going home to their families.
“Safety is our main concern,” states Secor. “This is an unprecedented and unique time for all of us. We have obligations to both our staff and our patients to assure that everyone stays healthy and safe.”
With all of these changes, Secor says that education and setting patients expectations before delivery is key. “We have been working as a system with our providers to set guidelines on delivery and postpartum care,” she said. “These guidelines are the same across the system so there is no confusion on who is doing what.”
Finding Support in Others and Each Other
Because Brandon and Alyssa were at the forefront of COVID-19 restrictions in Ohio, the answers they needed weren’t always available. “We had a lot of questions about restrictions and family, what would happen when we left the hospital. We had to keep asking questions in terms of preparation and isolation with our family, but there weren’t solid answers,” said Alyssa.
“We didn’t know what to expect because this is our first,” explained Brandon. “When you put two people who have never had a baby before in a house during quarantine, it’s really taxing.
Like many people during this time, Brandon and Alyssa turned to technology to make connections virtually, finding support in the local Toledo Moms group, baby websites, family members and friends who have also recently had babies.
The couple has also tried to find the positives despite the challenges.
“I get to be home during this time,” said Brandon. “Otherwise, I would have only taken a week or two paternity leave. The silver lining is I get time with my wife and son by working at home that I would not have otherwise received.”
“We have close friends who just had a baby and we’ve been talking to them a lot,” Alyssa said. “We told them that this is the time to look at the positives and hold on to each other. There is some light with all of this.”
“We were always planning on a date night in the first week or so to set the tone for our marriage and that our relationship comes first. Your relationship is the reason this little human exists in the first place,” Brandon explained. “Unfortunately, we weren’t able to do that, but we’ve done puzzles, we’ve gone on walks, we’ve gone on Starbucks drive-thru dates, and we’ve driven an hour just to get out. You have to create that time for you and your spouse. And that’s probably true without COVID-19, too.”
Looking to the Future
Although Smith is a healthy baby, his parents can’t help but think of the ways in which COVID-19 will impact his experiences and development.
“First time parents especially are sensitive to germs and don’t want to get the baby sick, so they avoid taking him out in public, but the new coronavirus brings this to a whole new level,” said Brandon.
Alyssa added, “Babies are constantly growing and developing from their environment – what does it look like when they can’t experience other voices? How can we incorporate family? What unexpected challenges may we face?”
Healthcare professionals are also considering the impact COVID-19 has on their services, both now and long-term. In addition to safety precautions, ProMedica is finding convenient ways to deliver patient care and education. For example, utilizing ProMedica MyChart, ProMedica’s patient portal, to accept prescription refill requests, message patients and have a virtual doctor’s visit.
“This has been a time for teamwork and collaboration across the hospitals, physician offices and disciplines, such as obstetrics/gynecology, pediatrics, neonatology and infectious disease,” says Secor. “We’ll continue to adjust our care as more literature on this virus becomes available, using evidence to bring safe and meaningful experiences to our patients.”