Giving birth during a pandemic
The restrictions caused by the pandemic, which once seemed to be endless, are becoming less and less harsh, and life is slowly but surely beginning to enter the rhythm it had in a period that now seems so distant. COVID-19 brought with it many consequences in terms of people and their health.
The medical system in Romania is not the most reliable. Many Romanians would not in leave themselves at the hands of it without thinking twice. The situation became even more difficult when the virus, in addition to being a constant danger, closed maternity hospitals and separated families, because the children’s fathers, although with the test results in hand, were not allowed to see their new-borns.
Romania lacks not only equipment and medical support but also a great lack of organization. Thus, pregnant women were offered the option of the ambulance called at the time of birth, to be taken to other cities, or to be admitted to maternity hospitals that were officially declared to be for women infected with the virus. Thus, on March 17, the Bucur maternity hospital was designated for this situation, so that only after a few days, it would be replaced by Filantropia, the largest in the country. The women had to decide from one day to another what to do. Just a few days later, on March 31, after numerous petitions and an increasing number of infections and deaths, the official list of maternity hospitals appeared: Filantropia was not even among them.
While the women were looking for reliable support, the medical staff from cities like Suceava, Botosani, Craiova or Iasi, began to oppose the decision regarding the hospitalization of women from other counties, and which would have represented risks of infection with the new virus, but only because of the lack of the protection equipment and training in such cases, in a country where the medical industry is sicker than the patients it should treat.
Henrietta Fore, Executive Director at UNICEF declared: “Around the globe, millions of mothers have already embarked on a journey of motherhood. Now, they need to prepare to give birth to a child in a completely different context – a world where expectant mothers are afraid to go to the hospital because they may contract the new virus there, or they may not be able to receive emergency care, due to outdated sanitary services and quarantines imposed in the locality.“
On May 7, 2020, UNICEF declared 116 million babies would be born under the continuing pressure of the pandemic. They added: It is estimated that these babies will be born within up to 40 weeks from the date the COVID-19 infection – which currently overwhelms health care systems and medical supply chains – was declared a pandemic (March 11).
One of these 116 million was to be born in the midst one of the largest outbreaks of infection in Romania, Suceava. Ramona, now a young mother, said how it all started: “In the summer of 2019, I found out that I would finally become a mother. I was so happy! 9 months later, a whole unpleasant adventure: an epidemic was to overshadow our happiness. My whole pregnancy was monitored by a doctor at a private clinic in Suceava. Everything was going fine until the moment when Suceava became the biggest outbreak of COVID 19 and the hospitals closed.”
The vice-president of the Romanian Independent Midwives Association, Irina Popescu, made many phone calls trying to change the situation in Suceava, from Raed Arafat (Head of the Department for Emergency Situations) to the vice-president of the County Council, proposing to open a birth center with doctors and midwives, such as those in Great Britain, Italy or Spain. They would have created a safe environment for women to give birth and would have relieved the rest of the hospitals of this pressure. The proposal never passed the Public Health Directorate.
Even though everything was planned to take place in a private clinic, where doctors should have a higher level of professionalism, Ramona was surprised when she noticed the lack of interest of those who cared for her until then, and in whose hands she would have put her baby’s life: “Just two days before I should’ve given birth (I was scheduled for a C-section) around 20:40 I was called by the doctor who monitored my pregnancy, who was going to tell me, very relaxed, that I could no longer give birth at her clinic because a colleague was infected and had to close the clinic. I burst into tears and asked, “What am I going to do now?” to which she replied, unaffected: “Wait for the pain to begin and call the ambulance from Rădăuți or Falticeni. I’m sorry but this is it…”
Ramona did not only have the hospital as a cause of concern, but also the baby’s health, because danger was also coming from inside: “The doctor told me all of that, knowing that the baby had the umbilical cord around his neck, which did not allow me to wait for ambulances sent from such distances.” So Ramona did what any mother would do in these conditions, to seek help: “In the same evening I called at a hospital in Iași, where they told me that they are not allowed to receive people from other counties, especially from Suceava. I also called a private clinic in Iași where the price of birth, in these conditions, was 7,000 lei (around € 1450). It seemed like everything was going from bad to worse…”
Finally, after many attempts, lost either for reasons such as absurdly high prices or due to the indifference of the medical staff, the help came from Bistrița, a town in the northern part of the country: “Around 10 pm I called a clinic in Bistrița. To my surprise, the lady at the front desk was very nice. And what surprised me even more, was the total lack of hesitation when he found out that we are from Suceava, telling me to go there the very next day.”
Ramona completed the papers needed and left, in the early hours of the morning, to Bistrița, together with her husband. She was tested for COVID-19 and seen by a doctor, finding out that she will give birth on the same day as everything was scheduled from the beginning. “This whole adventure… had a happy ending after all.”
Ramona and her husband returned to Suceava, but not until things calmed down, and now they have a healthy, but very noisy little girl, named Anastasia.