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'I never thought this would be reality': Moms react to giving birth without their partners

As coronavirus spreads, hospitals are tightening visitor policies, often preventing pregnant moms from having the support they want.

Mothers-to-be spend months perfecting their birth plans. And while it's common knowledge that most births don't go as planned, there is some comfort in knowing you have support — and at least one person advocating for your wishes. Yet thanks to the coronavirus outbreak, this may not be the case for women delivering babies in the next few moths.

Hospitals across the country are limiting visitors and the number of people who can be in a room with a pregnant woman while she gives birth. One hospital in New York City has enacted the strictest policy yet: Banning partners from delivery rooms.

NewYork-Presbyterian hospitals confirmed to TODAY that obstetric patients are not allowed to have any visitors, which applies to “birthing partners” and “support persons.” The policy went into effect Monday, March 23.

“We understand that this will be difficult for our patients and their loved ones, but we believe that this is a necessary step to promote the safety of our new mothers and children,” hospital representatives said in a statement.

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In a video message to the public, Dr. Laura L. Forese, executive vice president and chief operating officer of NewYork-Presbyterian, explained that New York City is the “epicenter for the U.S. outbreak.”

Across all its campuses, NewYork-Presbyterian has 654 inpatients who have tested positive for COVID-19.

Dr. Yoko Furuya, medical director of infection prevention and control and hospital epidemiology, added, “Over the weekend, some of the changes that went into place around labor and delivery patients have to do with patients who showed up with mild symptoms of COVID-19 that were attributed ... to symptoms of labor and late pregnancy.”

Examples included shortness of breath and fever during delivery. The new policy also requires that all labor and delivery patients receive COVID-19 testing and a mask upon arrival.

In March 21 statement, New York State's Department of Health said that during the coronavirus outbreak, it "considers one support person essential to patient care throughout labor, delivery and the immediate postpartum period." It added that the restriction should be explained to patients "ideally prior to delivering."

In Los Angeles, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center is only allowing new moms one visitor. UW Medicine in Washington state, another COVID-19 epicenter, changed its policy to two visitors during birth and one afterward.

Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, Illinois, also confirmed that it switched from allowing four visitors per expecting patient to just one.

“Almost all hospitals, to my knowledge, have either restricted visitations to one or no visitors," Dr. Melissa Simon, OB-GYN, vice chair of clinical research at Northwestern, told TODAY. "We only allow one visitor, and they can’t be switched."

One first-time mom-to-be Jordan Kafenbaum — who’s due Sunday and planning to deliver at NewYork-Presbyterian’s Weill Cornell facility — told TODAY that she didn’t think her husband missing the birth “would ever be a reality.”

“I’m not worried about physically getting through it by myself,” she said. “I’m just sad that my husband won’t be there to participate and have that important, initial bonding with our baby.”

She added, “(When you’re in labor) you’re not necessarily in a position to seek help when you need it, and you wonder if there are enough nurses to account for the extra help laboring women will need.”

While Kafenbaum is glad her hospital will proactively test her, she’s researching other hospitals where she might be able to give birth alongside her husband.

“The biggest challenge is finding someone who will see you this late in your pregnancy,” she said. “I think it’s only a matter of time when every hospital enacts this.”

Restrictions have also complicated plans for Kelsey Nixon, who’s expecting her fourth child via surrogate. Her carrier, Megan Blackhurst, is due April 4, and they learned Monday morning that their intended hospital, St. Luke’s Boise Medical Center, is only allowing one support person.

Because Nixon didn’t want to ask Blackhurst to give birth without her husband or to bring up their situation with St. Luke’s administration, the family has opted for a home birth. Blackhurst has experience with home birth, which made Nixon feel more comfortable.

“When I saw these things unfold, it was the first time I truly felt panic, not only for myself but for my carrier,” the 35-year-old told TODAY.

Although Nixon and Blackhurst, 26, arrived at a decision they believe is best for them, Nixon said she’s “heartbroken” for the women affected by these restrictions.

“(Birth) is such a formative experience, and we’re intended to have support in these situations,” she added.

Across the country in the Seattle area, another first-time mom, Allison Schumer, 30, is worried that restrictions will tighten even more by her due date, May 6. Her hospital, Evergreen Health Medical Center in Kirkland, Washington, currently allows one partner and one birth support person.

“My anxiety is going crazy with ‘what if?’ scenarios,” she told TODAY, via email. “When it is time for (my baby) to come and we get to the hospital, is my husband just supposed to wait in the car while I deliver our child alone? … Hope that I can FaceTime him so he can meet his daughter for the first time? Hope for a ground-floor room so a nurse can hold her up to the window? Wait by the curb after I get discharged and wheeled to the car for him to finally see our daughter for the first time?”

She added, “For a time in our lives that is supposed to be the most exciting and most joyful time, I can’t help but worry about what is to come and how long this will affect the hospitals.”

Jennifer Birkhofer, 32, director of commerce for NBC News Digital, who’s due April 1, told TODAY that her hospital, Lenox Hill in New York City, will allow her husband in the delivery room for the time being.

“I had this idea of everyone sitting in the waiting room and my husband coming out and saying the name and having this special moment,” she said. “I know this is a time of crisis and I completely understand why they're doing what they're doing, it's just an unexpected reality. But I can't imagine not having my husband there.”

Hospitals across the country have implemented other restrictions to protect pregnant women and their babies. For example, Jefferson Health in Philadelphia and UC San Diego Health in California have suspended tours of their facilities. Many are also conducting risk-assessment screenings, which look for symptoms like coughing and fever.

As one official at UW Medicine told TODAY, “Precautions evolve.”

This story was updated on March 24 to include a statement from the New York State Department of Health.

Kerry Breen contributed to the reporting of this story.