Women endure pregnancy loss alone as hospitals bar visitors during COVID-19

If there's a bright side for pregnant women enduring loss, it's the amazing, compassionate doctors and nurses who are taking care of them.

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/ Source: TODAY
By Meghan Holohan

As the coronavirus has forced hospitals to limit visitors, some pregnant women are going through miscarriage or stillbirth without their partners.

Sarah Charlier-Vermeire felt intense cramping, so bad that she collapsed onto her bed. When it finally subsided, she went to the bathroom and discovered she was clotting. She was in her first trimester, and the on-call doctor first recommended that she take acetaminophen to quell the pain.

It worsened instead of improving, so doctors told Charlier-Vermeire to come into the women’s hospital last Tuesday. When she and husband Jeff Vermeire arrived, a staff person stopped Vermeire.

“They said, ‘You have to stay in the car. You have to get back in your car right now. You can’t come into the hospital,’” Charlier-Vermeire, 33 of Pittsburgh, told TODAY Parents. “From that point on, I was riding this out solo.”

When Sarah Charlier-Vermeire learned she had an ectopic pregnancy and needed emergency surgery, her husband was in the parking lot of the hospital wondering how he could help. As hospitals change policies to combat the spread of COVID-19, more women are experiencing loss alone. Courtesy of Todd Barnett Photography

Vermeire, 38, sat in his car waiting for word on his wife, panicked by the possibilities.

“I’m thinking in my head like, ‘Oh my God, am I going to lose my wife tonight?'” he told TODAY Parents. “It is definitely a strange time to be having a medical emergency.”

As hospitals across the country restrict visitors to reduce the spread of COVID-19, women are alone when they experience miscarriage, pregnancy loss and even the death of an infant. While many understand why the policies have changed, it doesn’t make them feel better weathering such loss by themselves.

Going through pregnancy loss alone

Charlier-Vermeire was given a mask and wheeled back where she met a nurse, Laura, dedicated to caring for her. Doctors ran a slew of tests and she shuddered in agony during her pelvic ultrasound.

“My pain was so bad that my entire body was trembling. I’m shocked they were even able to get images because I was shaking so bad,” she explained.

She soon learned what was wrong: The pregnancy was ectopic; one of her fallopian tubes had ruptured and she was bleeding internally. She needed emergency surgery.

“It was absolutely nerve-wracking. I wanted to be there for Sarah,” Vermeire said. “I was just completely in the dark.”

“I can tell you with 100% certainty that while this may be necessary from a medical standpoint, it will indeed have a negative impact on couples and families,” Rose Carlson, program director at Share Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support, told TODAY Parents, via email. “Support from loved ones is so crucial during the time of the loss, and a mom giving birth alone with no support to a baby who has died or will die after birth is going to be at great risk for complicated grief and PTSD.”

'I'm terrified'

Women who have experienced loss before are already fearing the worst.

Katy Bone’s third child is due in early June and she’s worried about delivering alone. In the past, she experienced a miscarriage and her son, Barrett, died a month after being born. The only time husband, Tyler, held Barrett was immediately after his birth.

Katy and Tyler Bone with their son, Barrett, who died at one month old. Now pregnant again and due in June, Katy is terrified about possibly having to give birth alone.Courtesy of Katy Bone

“I’m terrified,” she told TODAY Parents. “You hear about moms getting separated from their babies. I was separated from Barrett from the start. Thinking about being separated from my newborn is terrifying.”

Barrett spent his short life in a neonatal intensive care unit. While family members couldn’t hold him, they could visit and see him. Bone worries what she and her family will face after the birth of her new baby.

“It’s going to be really hard on all the family not being able to be there, not knowing if I am doing OK,” she said. “We’ll be missing (that support) and that will make it challenging.”

The silver lining: Nurses and doctors

While Charlier-Vermeire was without her husband and family, she felt incredibly supported by the hospital staff. The surgeon called Vermeire to explain in exacting detail what procedures they were doing and encouraged him to return home to their two children, Ben, 5, and Josephine, 2, until it was time to bring his wife home.

“To have a doctor call me and put me completely at ease while I'm in a parking lot,” Vermeire said. “That was just above and beyond anything I could ever hope for.”

Laura, the nurse, offered constant comfort to Charlier-Vermeire.

“She said, ‘None of this is fair. It is not fair that you’re losing this baby. It is not fair to you or your husband that you can't be together… But I have got you. I am here. I am not leaving your side,’” Charlier-Vermeire said. “She literally held me in her arms and wept with me as I cried over the loss of this baby.”

While they’re still grieving, the couple feels the hospital staff did the best they could during a really hard time.

“When isolation and social distancing are the buzz words of the time, I've actually never felt more connected to these virtual strangers,” Charlier-Vermeire said. “There are real compassionate people taking care of each other.”