Washington (AFP)

Change of course for Gina Conley: at seven months pregnant, this fitness teacher chose to give birth at home and not in hospital, an option that seemed safer in the middle of a coronavirus pandemic but not covered by her health insurance.

"I won't have to go to a hospital where potentially infected people and staff who have been exposed to the coronavirus could be near me or my baby," said the 32-year-old woman, who lives in Southern Pines, relieved. North Carolina.

The same goes for Jordan Perez, 30, who recently opted for a home birth as she begins her ninth month of pregnancy.

"I always wanted to give birth at home but before the virus my midwife did not offer it. A week ago, with what is happening, she finally agreed," said AFP Ms. Perez, who works in the sale of cosmetics in Homer, Alaska.

Ashley Esposito, who is also considering this alternative, is particularly concerned by the restrictions of some hospitals, limiting the number of people at birth to stem the spread of Covid-19.

"This is our first healthy baby and my husband is not there, this is not an option for me," says moved the 35-year-old data specialist who conceived her child by in vitro fertilization. after two pregnancies not completed.

Hospitals in New York had banished the spouses before Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a decree in March to say that no woman would give birth alone.

- From 4,000 to 8,000 dollars -

Ashley Esposito, who resides in Baltimore, is reluctant to schedule her home birth for one simple reason: the cost of the procedure, outside the healthcare network covered by her health insurance.

"It can range from 4,000 to 8,000 dollars in fees to advance," she explains. "Pay so much money with the current economic situation ... People at work of my husband have been laid off. Nothing is guaranteed".

It supports a petition, which has collected nearly 1,300 signatures, demanding better support for home births by insurance companies in the state of Maryland.

Gina Conley will spend more than 4,000 dollars out of her pocket to give birth at home.

"It is not cheap but to have the birth we want, with much less stress, it seems to be worth it," she says.

On the midwifery side, it's a battle to cope with the influx of patients.

"We do an average of 5 home births a month" but at the moment it's between 8 and 10, said AFP Mairi Breen Rothman, director of the midwifery office MAMAS in Takoma Park, Maryland.

Despite the recruitment of a third midwife, his office, whose calendar is complete until August, had to refuse clients for lack of available slots.

"I don't think there are enough midwives to handle the surge in demand," said Michelle Palmer, chair of the home delivery committee of the American Association of Professional Midwives (ACNM).

Of the approximately 12,000 registered midwives in the United States, only "3,000 currently work in birth centers (non-hospital) or attend home births," she said.

- Consultations on Zoom -

Reducing the number of home visits, consultations on Zoom, wearing a mask: these healthcare professionals must also adapt their practice to avoid the spread of the coronavirus between clients.

"We are asking families to get a blood pressure monitor to take their blood pressure themselves and a tape to measure their stomach size," said Michelle Palmer, whose office is located in Rhode Island.

Mairi Breen Rothman keeps her customers waiting in their car where they have to leave all their personal belongings.

"They enter through a separate entrance, take off their shoes, go to wash their hands. We do the examination. (...) As soon as they leave, we disinfect everything they may have touched, the door handles , the switches, the couch, all the medical instruments, the phone, we clean the bathroom, "she lists, laughing nervously.

Research on the impact of Covid-19 on pregnant women is still very limited. But the WHO suggests that they are no more at risk than the rest of the population.

A Chinese study published in March, however, showed that transmission to the fetus during pregnancy was possible while in the United States an infected six-week-old baby died last week.

Ashley Esposito for her part, who imagines giving birth in front of the TV while watching "The Lord of the Rings", does not intend to take any risk after the arrival of her baby.

"I'm going to stay in my bubble. Its first year, I don't think we will have much interaction with people other than Skype," she warns.

© 2020 AFP