On the day she was supposed to deliver her baby, Ann spent most of the time inside a borrowed vehicle on the way to a “lying-in” maternity clinic in the Philippine capital.
Most women in the country’s urban poor communities prefer to give birth in the clinic because it is more affordable than the hospitals.
Instead of a doctor assisting in the delivery of a baby, a midwife helps mothers give birth. These days, many women find the clinics safer due to the pandemic.
Ann said she is afraid that hospitals “riskier” because of the increasing number of cases of the new coronavirus disease.
The 21-year-old woman was giving birth to her second child and she was expecting that it would be easier. It was, however, “thrice as painful,” she later told LiCAS.news.
Ann gave birth to her first child with 31-year-old husband Joel, a jeepney driver, when she was only 17.
“I was very afraid I won’t be able to push my baby out, or that I would die of pain,” she said.
She was rushed to the maternity clinic when she started feeling the contractions, but she was not admitted immediately because of the existing quarantine protocols.
So, from May 26 to May 28, Joel drove Ann to and from the clinic using a borrowed vehicle.
“We were apprehensive to use the clinic’s mobile service because it might be contaminated (with COVID-19),” she said.
While going through 72 hours of labor, most of the time in the vehicle, Ann was worrying about the piling cost of her having a baby.
Joel lost his job when the government prohibited public utility vehicles from plying during the lockdown.
The family also did not receive the promised aid from the government for those who lost their source of income due to the pandemic.
“We just rely on the relief packs given to us by the local government or those from non-government organizations,” Ann said.
Ann and her baby were finally able to go home through the help of their family and friends who helped pay the bill in the clinic.
Before the pandemic, about 2,400 women in the Philippines die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth, according to the United Nations Population Fund.
An increase of this number is seen to be one of the potential impacts of the pandemic on the sexual reproductive health of women in the country.
“Women’s access to essential [reproductive health] information and services are more crucial in responding to the health crisis,” said Marevic Parcon of the Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights.
Parcon said all the attention of health officials are diverted to the COVID-19 response. She said it added to the vulnerabilities that women are already experiencing.
Parcon said women’s health is “generally adversely impacted” by the pandemic because of the “alteration of resources and priorities.”
She cited the death of at least three mothers in recent months due to refusal of health facilities to admit the women due to the pandemic.
Katherine Bulatao, 26, chose to give birth with the help of a midwife to for fear of the new coronavirus disease. Shortly after giving birth, she suffered severe bleeding.
Her husband drove her to six medical facilities that rejected them for reasons like there is no blood supply for transfusion, there is no available operating room, while one asked for a down payment of US$600.
The couple didn’t have the money, but Katherine’s husband promised he would find a way to get the money and begged for the admission of his wife to the facility. The hospital refused.
Finally, on the seventh try, a hospital in the outskirts of the capital Manila accepted Katherine. But it was already too late. She lost her life after only five hours of giving birth.
Coronavirus ‘baby boom’
The United Nations Population Fund estimates that more than 47 million women could lose access to contraception due to the pandemic.
The UN organization said the situation could result in about seven million unintended pregnancies.
In the Philippines, experts said the lockdown would mean more than five million women in the country are likely to find their reproductive health services disrupted.
More than 1.8 million unplanned pregnancies were already expected this year, and the University of the Philippines’ Population Institute is predicting a “coronavirus baby boom” with an additional 751,000 unintended pregnancies.
“This would be the highest number of births in the country since 2012,” said Juan Antonio Perez III, executive director of the Commission on Population and Development.
According to government data, the number of births in 2012 was 1.79 million and has been slowly declining as family planning services became more widely available.
But the lockdown is reversing the situation.
Vicky, a 28-year-old preschool teacher, has never gotten a prenatal check-up since she discovered she was pregnant three months ago.
“They said the third month is crucial,” she said, “but I can’t find a doctor on duty near our community.”
One day, she was worried that she was infected with the coronavirus disease.
“I was vomiting so bad, my headache was intolerable, and I had a slight fever for three days,” she said.
“I was supposed to meet my doctor, but she said she’s temporarily closing her clinic,” said Vicky.
She was referred to another doctor in a nearby city, but she said she was too afraid to step into a hospital.
“I didn’t want to go to the hospital because they might tag me as a ‘person under investigation’ of COVID-19,” said Vicky.
“It can get expensive and that will just expose me more to the virus,” she said.
During the pre-COVID-19 days, government healthcare facilities would give out free vitamins and vaccines to pregnant women.
It all stopped during the pandemic and the lockdown.
“[Pregnant women] don’t really know what to do in times like these. Is it safe to go to clinics? What do we do?” she said.
Vicky is worried that one of these days she will be forced to go to a clinic or hospital for a check-up.
“I hope things will get better before I give birth, but I’m also sad this is the kind of world my baby will face,” she said.