“I’m nine months pregnant, and I’m bringing my baby into a world I no longer understand. I have to remain hopeful anyway,” writes reporter Amy Littlefield in a new piece for Insider. A former Democracy Now! producer, Littlefield now reports on religion and healthcare. Her first baby is due in April. She joins us from Boston, Massachusetts.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. “I’m nine months pregnant, and I’m bringing my baby into a world I no longer understand. I have to remain hopeful anyway.” That’s the headline of a new piece written by Amy Littlefield, written for the Insider. She’s a journalist who reports on religion and healthcare, and she is part of the Democracy Now! family, a former Democracy Now! producer. Her baby is due April 5th. She’s joining us from her home in Boston, Massachusetts.
And, Amy, we are all so deeply concerned, for you personally and for people around this country who are facing what you’re facing right now, which should be just ultimate joy. But talk about, in your 38th week, what you are confronting right now.
AMY LITTLEFIELD: Thanks so much, Amy. It’s good to be back with you. I mean, first of all, giving birth in the United States, let’s just say, it can be a terrifying experience in the best of times. I mean, we have the highest maternal mortality rate among wealthy nations. And we — you know, even with insurance, people often, on average, end up paying more than $4,500 out of pocket for their delivery. These were predictable failures that my partner and I have thought about before we decided to have our first child. And because I’m a journalist who reports on reproductive healthcare, I have thought a lot about these issues. But, of course, we failed to factor in, you know, plans for a global pandemic threatening to shut down the healthcare system just a few weeks before my due date.
AMY GOODMAN: So, about all your plans, take us through just — I mean, you planned this so carefully, and all your hopes, your dreams, your birth plan, what you were going to do, and how you’ve been forced to cope at this point.
AMY LITTLEFIELD: I mean, we had — you know, I had controlled my anxiety around the unpredictability that’s built into birth, by planning every single aspect of it that I could. We were touring hospitals before I was even pregnant. I was interrogating the tour guides about whether they had nitrous oxide machines and how many birth tubs did they have. And the people who were actually pregnant were just like, “Where do I park my car?” And so, we read all the books. We hired a doula, because we know that the evidence shows having a doula really increases people’s — you know, decreases chances of having interventions like C-sections and creates a more positive experience for people giving birth. So, we were so —
AMY GOODMAN: And explain what a doula is, Amy.
AMY LITTLEFIELD: A doula is somebody who is an emotional support person who’s an expert in things like helping you find comfortable positions, in massage, in advocating for people among healthcare providers, helping people make informed decisions. They’re really there to provide the emotional support, as well as the expertise, you know, during labor. And there’s just a huge body of evidence showing that they increase positive outcomes and decrease the need for birth interventions. And so, we felt that was a crucial part of our care, and we were privileged to be able to afford that.
As little as two weeks ago, our midwife was still assuring us that our doula could be with us during our birth. And a few days later, that had changed. And like so many people in my situation around the country right now, we were told that our doula couldn’t be with us. The hospital was restricting visitors to only one, which meant only my partner would be there. My family wouldn’t be able to visit. And now seeing what’s happening with NewYork-Presbyterian, of course, we’re afraid that my partner might not even be allowed into the delivery room, and we’re having to think about what that could look like.
AMY GOODMAN: Even before, talking about how you stayed fit and healthy going to yoga, how did those yoga classes change with pregnant people?
AMY LITTLEFIELD: Well, I mean, I think, like so many people, there’s, you know, so many of us over the last few weeks, things are changing so quickly, and there’s a moment when you realize the world is different. And for me, that came just under two weeks ago, I guess, when I went to my regular prenatal yoga class that I relied on to deal with those, you know, crazy aches and pains that can come with pregnancy. And usually it’s packed, and I walked in, and there was one other person there, and then one other person joined us. And as trivial as it might seem, that was sort of the moment that I knew that the world was changing and that something that had felt like sort of this distant threat was now about to disrupt our lives in a big way. And pretty soon after that, my partner and I made the decision to stop leaving the house, except to walk our dog, because we really didn’t want either of us to get sick before delivery.
AMY GOODMAN: But you did have some friends in about a week ago.
AMY LITTLEFIELD: We did. We had on, not — the Friday the 13th, so not this most recent Friday, but the one before, we had friends over to bring us some groceries. And, you know, I let them into the house. I felt so buoyed by their visit and happy to see them. We kept several feet away. And several hours later, one of the friends texted me to say they were running a fever and body aches. And we just panicked, I mean, rubbed down everything we thought they had touched with bleach and jumped in the shower, dragged our dog in with us, washed her from head to toe, which she was pretty baffled by. And I just remember standing there thinking, “Please give me more time. I’m not ready to give birth in this moment. I don’t even understand what’s happening.”
AMY GOODMAN: And you then talk about losing your doula, because she won’t be able to be in the delivery room.
AMY LITTLEFIELD: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: And now the question of whether your partner will be able to join you. You’re about a week or two behind New York. In New York, the NewYork-Presbyterian has apparently made this decision, announcing on Sunday it would no longer allow visitors for patients giving birth, including allowing partners to be present during childbirth, even though the World Health Organization has said that all pregnant people, including those with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 infections, should have the right to have a chosen companion present during labor. So, what does this bring up for you? What are you thinking now in these last weeks before you give birth? Or it could be hours, of course, because you’re at 38.
AMY LITTLEFIELD: Could be. Could happen right now. I mean, it’s — the idea of giving birth without my partner there to comfort me, to advocate for me, to share in what should be the happiest moment of our lives, is kind of unfathomable to me. And my heart breaks for the people who are going through that right now at NewYork-Presbyterian, who are having to give birth without a partner, any family member, any support person there with them, just totally alone, I mean, what can be a terrifying experience if it feels like it’s out of your control.
It has prompted us to think about switching to a home birth at the last minute, which legions of people are doing right now. I mean, apparently the home birth midwives are just getting inundated with requests, last-minute requests, from people like me, who are two weeks away from their due date and afraid to contemplate going into a hospital, afraid that all their autonomy will be taken away or that the hospitals will just be so inundated that it won’t be safe to give birth there. And, you know, I spoke with my doula yesterday about the possibility of a home birth, and she said, “Look, this is really something that you shouldn’t do out of fear, because you’ll open the door to trauma. You should do it out of confidence that it’s something that you want and it’s the right decision for you.” And I just — when I got off the phone with her, I just burst into tears, because how — I mean, how can any of us who are facing this decision think about making it out of anything but fear in this moment? I mean, the fear of being separated from our partners in that moment is absolutely what’s driving this. And so —
AMY GOODMAN: And what does it mean, a home birth? But what would that involve? I mean, it’s a whole different trajectory, of course.
AMY LITTLEFIELD: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: And you are doing this, and people plan for this for a long time.
AMY LITTLEFIELD: Exactly.
AMY GOODMAN: You’re doing this in a few days, if you were to do it.
AMY LITTLEFIELD: Right, right. I mean, first of all, it costs thousands and thousands of dollars. It’s just not an option for many people, because it’s generally not covered by insurance. So, that’s not something we had planned or budgeted for. Secondly, you know, you have to think about turning your home into an impromptu delivery room. You have to think about meeting a care provider that you’ve never met before, that you would have to build trust with very quickly. And I don’t think that with so little time to plan it, it’s actually — I don’t know whether it’s less scary or more scary to do that than to think about going into a hospital, which is a complete unknown at this point. We just don’t know what the medical system in Boston will look like two weeks from now.
AMY GOODMAN: And talk about the plans you had. I mean, amazingly, your sister is also giving birth a week before you, which means in the next days.
AMY LITTLEFIELD: Yeah, she’s due about a week before me, which is — it’s been an amazing experience to be pregnant at the same time. But, of course, I’m terrified for her. Her partner is among the many, many people who are still going to work, still facing all the hazards associated with being out in the world in this moment.
AMY GOODMAN: Because he’s afraid of not having financial support for the family.
AMY LITTLEFIELD: Right. He could lose his job if he doesn’t. Yeah, he has to work to survive, like many of us do. And, you know, his job is not one where he can do from home. He’s a mechanic. But, you know, I’m wondering whether I’ll feel safe meeting her baby when her baby is born, whether I’ll need to wait until my baby is born, whether — will our babies be weeks or months old before they meet each other? You know, my grandmother is in declining health right now. She’s 100 years old. She’s amazing. She’s been very excitedly knitting these two blankets for her great-grandchildren. And I don’t know. I’m trying to hold myself back from the fear that, you know, my child may never get to meet her.
AMY GOODMAN: You talk about, in your piece, how your grandmother is in failing health but was so excited, 100 years old, to be able to hold her little grandchild.
AMY LITTLEFIELD: Yeah, yeah. And that’s what’s been keeping her going. She’s told me that. So, her nursing home is basically shut down to visitors, which is right. They should do that. And I would not contemplate visiting her right now. But I don’t know how long it will be and whether she has that much time, you know, to be able to meet her great-grandchildren. And so many people I know are in my position and facing these very same choices, painful choices.
AMY GOODMAN: You write in your a piece about your parents and what you have — since everything was so perfectly planned, your thoughts about them coming into the hospital and what you would reveal to them.
AMY LITTLEFIELD: Yes. We’ve been keeping the name and the baby’s presumed sex secret through the whole pregnancy. We’ve worked very hard to guard that. And I had just really looked forward to that moment in the hospital room when they would get to meet their grandchild and when we would reveal that information to them. And it’s not going to happen that way. I don’t know when it will happen.
AMY GOODMAN: So, they can’t come into the hospital, you know.
AMY LITTLEFIELD: No.
AMY GOODMAN: You don’t know if your partner will be able to join you.
AMY LITTLEFIELD: Exactly.
AMY GOODMAN: But then, afterwards, given all of the issues of social distance.
AMY LITTLEFIELD: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. And it’s — I mean, it’s heartbreaking. I’m hearing in online communities, and I’ve heard from so many other people who are pregnant, about the very painful decision-making of, you know, pushing family away for safety in a moment where you expected to hold them close and to be with them and to just treasure, you know, the moments you never get back, the first moments of a child’s life. It’s really tough, and we’re trying not to — we haven’t made any final decisions about that yet, because everything is changing day to day, and we just don’t know what the world will look like in a few weeks.
AMY GOODMAN: And, Amy, among the many amazing things about you is you are a remarkable writer, passionate about the issue of reproductive rights, women’s healthcare, people’s human rights when it comes to reproductive healthcare. You went from Democracy Now! to working for Rewire. And you continue to cover these kinds of issues around the world. And I wanted to get your take on this latest news out of Ohio that the attorney general there, Dave Yost, has ordered healthcare providers in the state to halt, quote, “non-essential” and elective surgical abortions amidst the coronavirus. Reproductive health advocates have pushed back, saying abortions are an essential service. Multiple clinics have vowed to keep providing abortions, including Planned Parenthood, whose Ohio leadership issued a statement saying Planned Parenthood can still continue providing essential procedures, including surgical abortion. Can you talk about the significance of this?
AMY LITTLEFIELD: I mean, it’s unbelievable to think about abortion as a nonessential healthcare service. On the other hand, it shouldn’t be surprising in a state like Ohio, that has gone to such great lengths to restrict abortion access already, that they’re taking advantage of this crisis to further that anti-choice agenda. It’s really hard to imagine a service that could be more essential than one that determines whether you’re forced to remain pregnant against your will or not.
And let’s also remember Ohio is a state that has imposed, like many other states across this country, law after law to make it harder and, in this moment in particular, less safe to get an abortion — I mean, 24-hour waiting periods, where you have to go in for extra visits just to get state-mandated counseling or an ultrasound, and then come back for another visit 24 hours later, if not more than one visit. And I think about the healthcare workers in Ohio who are still showing up to work in these clinics, who are being exposed to all these extra visits because of these state-mandated laws that are completely medically unnecessary. I think about the patients who are having to get on buses and airplanes and stay in hotel rooms right now in order to be able to access abortion, because of the vast web of anti-choice laws that we have in this country. And it’s pretty hypocritical. I think that Ohio is calling abortion itself a nonessential service, when they have imposed all of these nonessential requirements on what it takes to get an abortion, that are forcing people to, you know, expose both healthcare workers and patients to be exposed to more social interaction and more potential risk.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Amy, as you always do during the most difficult circumstances, you always manage to find rays of hope. And I’m wondering what is sustaining you right now and what you’re seeing outside and inside, since you are self-isolating. What is giving you the most hope right now?
AMY LITTLEFIELD: I mean, it takes a tremendous amount of energy to give birth, right? Or so I’ve been told. And I’m trying to summon that energy and not sink into despair, which is difficult, because, you know, how do you contemplate the fact that we are facing a situation where as many as 1.7 million people could die in this country, and it could have — many of those deaths could have been prevented if our government had acted fast enough? How do you contemplate what’s about to happen in the prisons, in the immigrant detention centers and among the homeless population as this virus spreads? How do you — I mean, for me, it’s how do I think about having to explain this to a child, and I think it’s very easy to sink into despair and feel like the world is a terrifying place. And what’s been pulling me back from that is just seeing all of these beautiful examples of mutual support.
I have friends who are going door to door delivering leaflets to their neighbors to create pandemic group chats. And we have people we barely know reaching out, offering to buy groceries for us. There’s been amazing efforts to raise funds for workers, restaurant workers who are out of work. Workers themselves are getting together and organizing to support each other. And, you know, the Trader Joe’s workers who are forming a union, who are on the frontlines — the grocery store workers are on the frontlines as much as the healthcare workers — they’re demanding things like gloves and sick pay and measures that are not just going to keep them safe, but the rest of us safe, right? I mean, unions, it turns out, really are a public health issue. And with all of these efforts, you know, resistance and public pressure being put on government officials and small examples of mutual aid, I’ve started to feel a sense of hope that the world may be a more just place when we emerge from this terrible crisis. And I’m trying to focus on these examples of resistance and mutual support. And those are the stories that I’m really looking forward to telling my child one day, when all of this is over.
AMY GOODMAN: And we can’t wait to meet your child. Amy, wishing you all the very, very best. Amy Littlefield is a freelance journalist, part of the Democracy Now! family. She focuses on the intersection of religion and healthcare. Her latest piece is at Insider, and it’s headlined “I’m nine months pregnant, and I’m bringing my baby into a world I no longer understand. I have to remain hopeful anyway.” We’ll link to it at democracynow.org. And one of those communities, Amy, that you always have is Democracy Now! We love you. All the very, very best.
AMY LITTLEFIELD: Thank you so much, Amy. It means the world.
AMY GOODMAN: Thanks so much. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. To see all of our coverage of this time of the pandemic, go to democracynow.org. Thanks for joining us.