A homebirth seemed like the only option

I have just given birth to my second child – but at home instead of in hospital. There wasn’t a hair on my head that considered going to a hospital during this pandemic. #HumansofCOVID19

Anna Kamay
12 May 2020, 8.12am

I was very anxious about giving birth at home. We didn’t even have all the necessary supplies. Where were we going to buy them with all the shops closed?

I wanted to have a home-birth - I believe it is safer than in a hospital - but having a midwife or doula to assist is illegal in Armenia. I even looked into going abroad to be able to give birth outside of a hospital setting. But with the pandemic, giving birth at home alone in Yerevan seemed like it was the only option.

The uncertainty has been the hardest. It’s absolutely crazy. What am I doing, putting a child on the earth right now? But who would have thought we’d be in this situation when my baby was conceived nine months ago?

The contractions started early in the morning. I was at home in Yerevan with my six-year-old daughter, Aaliyah. The day before, my partner had gone to his parents’ house in the north of Armenia to pick up some supplies. We thought we had time to spare, but I guess we didn’t.

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I wasn’t afraid, but it all happened so quickly. I didn’t even have time to contact the American midwife who had offered to help me on Skype, or the Armenian doctor and homoeopath who had agreed to come to my house if she wasn’t helping with coronavirus patients.

Home births almost never happen in Armenia

Kai was born in 30 minutes. The whole house was covered in blood. When my partner came home about an hour later, he freaked out because it looked like a crime scene. But both the baby and I were fine. We called the emergency services just to be sure, and they confirmed that we were well and said we didn’t have to go to hospital immediately.

But giving birth turned out to be the easy part. Home births almost never happen here, so there is no system in place. When we wanted to register the birth a few days later, we had to take our newborn son with us to the hospital. But neither the doctors nor the government officials knew what to do. They made us wait in the reception area for hours – potentially exposing us to COVID-19 – while my daughter waited in the car.

It took us ten days and several trips to hospitals, polyclinics, the city hall and the Ministry of Justice to finally get the birth certificate.

After that, we decided to bury the placenta, which had been in the fridge for ten days, under a tree in the botanical gardens.

During the pandemic, my income has completely tanked. I’m a freelancer. My work is pretty much offline, in the real world. I am an independent curator. I organised the first-ever contemporary art festival in the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, with hardly any funding – and help foreign photographers and filmmakers with their stories. But that’s all ended. Luckily, my partner has a little bit of income from his father’s scrap metal projects.

I don’t trust the medical system here

I wasn’t planning to give birth in Armenia. I don’t trust the medical system here. My mother, who had no health issues her whole life, died almost a year ago in a hospital here. The nurses didn’t realise that she’d had a stroke. She just lay there in the emergency ward. We could only visit her for an hour a day. The care was almost non-existent. They wouldn't even give her water. Within a week, her situation deteriorated, and she died alone.

I was so heartbroken, and I still am. The grief comes in waves. She didn’t have to die. She could still be alive.

It was clear to me when I found out I was pregnant that I couldn’t put the life of my unborn child – or my own – in the hands of the same medical personnel.

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to have a second child. My daughter was born in Morocco, but soon after her birth my relationship with her father deteriorated, and I came back to Armenia. I’ve been a single mum since.

Would I be able to handle two kids? I don’t have a support system, as most others do in Armenia. My mum was never able to help me, and my auntie – who could look after my daughter now and then – is getting too old and fragile. There’s no daycare here, no mommy groups or communities of single mothers to help each other out, and I don’t have the finances to hire a nanny.

When I went to a gynaecologist to discuss my options, she shut me down when I wanted to discuss having an abortion and told me how great it was that I was having a perfect baby.

I was appalled. I am a strong woman and can make my own decisions, but what about younger girls? What about those who don’t know what their options are?

I finally decided to keep the baby as I knew my current partner would be a great father. My daughter has always wanted a brother or a sister and she’s been ecstatic.

I looked into giving birth in Georgia. I found a midwife and she told me about a great hospital in Tbilisi. I had everything planned and was going to give birth there. But then they closed the borders.

The gynaecologist at the hospital in Armenia has been pathetic. I’ve had to push her for test results, and she’s never asked how I was doing. She also told me I would have to pay her around 400 euros after giving birth, on top of the hospital costs – about the same amount that we would have spent on travelling to Georgia, paying for the birth, then staying in a hotel in Tbilisi for a few days afterwards.

Of course, I would have gone to the hospital in Yerevan if I needed to. I wouldn’t jeopardise the health of my baby or myself. But I hoped that by giving birth at home, my son and I wouldn’t be exposed to this horrible virus. But after all the trips we had to make to get his birth registered, we were exposed after all!

[As told to Inge Snip]

There has been a global surge of interest in home births from pregnant women who are anxious not to expose themselves and their newborns to COVID-19, according to reports from several countries including the US and Australia. In addition, many hospitals in areas badly affected by the pandemic are no longer allowing partners to be present at births, in case they are infected. This was the situation in New York hospitals until it was overruled by the New York State Department of Health.

Armenia declared a state of emergency on 16 March to deal with the pandemic. By 4 May it had lifted many restrictions, allowing restaurants, hairdressers and factories to reopen despite the fact that it has not been able to curb the spread of infection.

This story is part of our Humans of COVID-19 project: lifting up voices from across the world that are not being heard during this crisis.

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