Despite experts arguing that a Covid-19 baby boom is unlikely, those on the front lines of motherhood say some hospitals are already under pressure due to a surge in births.
Madeline Kaio and her husband, Chris Williams, always thought they would eventually have children, but when Australia closed last year, it was the first time they seriously considered starting a family.
“My husband and I were working from home and we were thinking, ‘Why not?’” She says.
“Lockdown highlighted how important family is … so we thought about starting our own.”
Kaio says the Victorian couple spent months training and dreaming about the birth of their daughter, but from the beginning of their labor, things started to go terribly wrong.
“I went into labor at 2 a.m. … we called [the hospital] a lot of times during the day, and this is where we got into the problem, that ‘there was no one who could take care of us and there were no rooms’ so I had to stay home until something was available or I would be sitting in the living room wait, ”he says.
“At 11 o’clock we were like, no, to hell, let’s go in, that is, I don’t know what’s going on. This doesn’t feel right. “
With all the birthing beds full, Kaio says the hospital put her in a shared room.
“It was really unfortunate because the woman in the room with me was introducing her newborn with a small child, so I thought ‘about my corpse, I’m making noise.’ I’ve been working while this beautiful moment is happening. “
When she was taken to a suitable delivery room, she says the staff first checked her temperature and found it was 39.1 ° C.
“Twenty minutes after that we were going to perform an emergency cesarean … It was scary since we didn’t know if we would both be okay,” he says.
“It’s like, was that always going to happen? Or if we could have gotten into a room, or seen us faster, would it have been picked up? “
In the end, baby Esteé spent five days in a special care nursery and Kaio was hospitalized for 11 days with a serious infection that affected the placenta and her body.
Mom and Dad are back to health, but Kaio says he’s terrified to think about how things might have ended if they hadn’t defied the hospital’s instructions.
“If my temperature was 39, his temperature was a couple of degrees higher. So it was basically boiling, ”he says.
“We really don’t want to think about what would have happened … I have a feeling that if we had stayed home longer, she wouldn’t have made it.”
But Kaio and Williams are far from the only fathers who have experienced stress in Australian motherhood systems in recent months.
Last week, Victoria’s health minister, Martin Foley, responded to questions in parliament about dozens of anecdotal reports compiled by Greens MP Ellen Sandell that Victoria’s maternity system was “at a breaking point. rupture, “saying that this pressure was due in part to rising birth rates. across the state.
“In fact, right now we are going through a massive baby boom in Victoria, at record levels, including the Royal Women’s,” she said.
This is supported by provisional data provided to the state government by health services showing, compared to the same period last year, the demand for maternity services has increased by as much as 20% in some areas.
Despite the federal government predicting fertility rates in Australia to fall to a record low of 1.59 babies per woman this year, an analysis of Medicare data published in the Medical Journal of Australia also indicates that Australia could soon be experiencing a wave of new births.
The number of Medicare items registered for the five prenatal serological tests, which are generally ordered for pregnant women at their first pregnancy checkup, has increased by about 8.9% compared to the first months of last year, says the co-author. of the article and clinical analysis. microbiologist Len Moaven.
“Well June  There was a clear 25.4% bounce and presumably part of that was that pregnant women may be waiting to get down to get tested … and then this backs off, and now this 8% or 9% is the bottom figure at this moment. . It doesn’t seem to be decreasing. “
The document states that the usual fluctuation in these billing levels over the years is only around 3%.
Taking miscarriages into account, Moaven predicts that 20,000 more babies have been born so far.
But Dr Aude Bernard, a demographer at the University of Queensland, urged people to be cautious about declaring a ‘Covid baby boom’, as spikes could be due to a number of factors and may not actually be. represent an increase in the net number. of babies born.
“I think most demographers agree that we are not expecting a baby boom. If you look at the historical evidence of recessions … the GFC and other economic downturns. They are usually associated with this drop in fertility, ”she says.
“If anything, maybe Covid could just change the timing … If you were in early 2020, you’d think about having a baby and see what was going on, you’d be like ‘wait a second, something isn’t great, so maybe Maybe we ‘I’ll wait until the end of 2020’ and then the babies are coming now. “
Other developed nations, including the United States and European and Nordic countries, appeared to be seeing a drop in birth rates. Although Australia experienced considerably greater stability during the pandemic, it would still be an outlier if it bucked the trend.
Australia generally records birth rates based on birth registration data, which creates a lag, which means it can be difficult to officially access changes in the past 12 months.
But front-line medical professionals say the increase has been dramatic. A young midwife who asked to remain anonymous told Guardian Australia that she resigned from her full-time position at a leading health service because the extreme workload made her feel ethically compromised and unable to adequately care for her patients.
“It is a race that I am very passionate about, but it is too much. It was honestly quite traumatizing and I was getting to the point where I had to participate in things that I just didn’t agree with, ”he says.
Although she is new to the field, she says that upper midwives were constantly telling young women that this was “the craziest thing they had ever seen and that this is not normal.”
She says she would never have felt like she had to quit smoking if it weren’t for the baby boom, which started late last year.
“It’s hard work, but there was enough that satisfied me, but [now] I was just wearing myself out and having so many these days where you feel like you’re failing yourself and failing the families you care about, ”she says.
Bernard points out that although these spikes may not actually constitute a net increase in fertility rate or population over time, if the statistics from Victoria and elsewhere in the country are to be believed and births have spiked temporarily , it is necessary to implement systems. to accommodate the new wave of babies.
“In my personal experience of having children, that anecdotal evidence is that even before Covid, we were at our peak. [Health systems] I don’t have a lot of flexibility for further growth, ”he says.
“So even if we only have a small increase because people have put off having children … you need to adjust to these children. They will go to school, there will be a flow effect. “
A Victorian government spokesperson confirmed that the pandemic had a “lasting impact on Australia”, which included increased demand for maternity services.
“The 2021-22 Victorian budget provided $ 3.7 billion over four years to support our hardworking midwifery and medical workforce to meet the growing demand in our busy hospitals,” it said in a statement.
Several maternity wards in Victoria have been opened or expanded in recent years and in 2019 $ 50 million was spent on training nurses and midwives to develop the workforce.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism