In a 2020 report, the Pew Research Center found that more than half of adults in the United States reported praying for an end to the spread of COVID-19. The pandemic has been a test of faith for religious observers and believers as many religious practices have been reimagined—particularly in the hospital setting. From having limited family present for the delivery process to requiring wearing masks, the ubiquity of social distancing has created a new norm that requires learning to adapt and having an open mind.
In a meaningful patient encounter, I helped a young Muslim soon-to-be family of three begin welcoming in their newest family member. As the mother delivered her first baby, the father, who had been wearing his mask through the delivery, held their newborn son. As he did, I saw tears fall down his face. The father ran to the bathroom and closed the door to live presently and honor the moment. Anticipating when the door would open, I quickly prepared a box of tissues for him. When he exited, he gave me a smile, nodded, and quickly began birth customs in prayer.
While this was happening, I could see the challenge in praying with a mask on—especially because for many religious observations, precision and exact practice is vital to family traditions. The entire care team recognized this challenge. In concert, beautifully and seamlessly, the team prioritized to ensure this tradition be respectfully done: they cleared a special area next to the bed warmer for the father and baby boy to complete their prayers. After a few minutes, the mother and father thanked our team and shared more about their religious birth customs.
The beautiful ceremony that the parents undertook for their newborn baby left me and the team in admiration. That day, I saw a different component to birth: one filled with spirituality, faith, and deeply rooted beginnings.
During this pandemic, strengthened faith has given rise to a strong desire to continue religious prayers and traditions. Patient-centered obstetric care is multifaceted and starts with the patient and their family, and as physicians, we receive infinite opportunities to better understand the unique religious practices of our colleagues, coworkers, patients, friends, and family. Faith and religion help influence the meaning of life for each individual. The display of strength of faith during the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that through unconditional support for patients, physicians, and all health care professionals can play a unique role in human flourishment.
Richard Hsu is a fourth-year medical student at Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit, Michigan.
Disclaimer: The thoughts and opinions in the Frontline Voices initiative reflect experiences of individual ACOG members and do not represent official organizational opinions of ACOG.