Pregnancy and Birth in a Pandemic | Our Birth Story
I know I’ve mentioned this before, but this year has been anything but what we’d planned. When we found out I was pregnant with our third back in January, it all felt manageable. As a mom of a 3-year-old and 1-year-old already, I was used to some chaos and knew the tricks to getting out of the house every day for various activities that kept everyone, including myself, happy and fulfilled. Mondays and Tuesdays consisted of me going to the office for work and the kids heading to daycare or having a grandma day. Then the rest of the week, I was home with them, running off to the Y most mornings for some much needed physical activity for myself and some play time with friends for the littles. Other days, we were off to Bible study or other adventures with the MOMs club I’m involved with. In my mind, having a third baby now would certainly add to the complexity of the schedule, but there would still be plenty of help, physical activity for me, social time for my other kids, and breaks from each other in between it all.
Then, in the second week of March, before we had even announced to anyone we were expecting, the spread of Covid-19 became more serious than we ever could’ve imagined, and the shutdowns began.
Now, I typically do not consider myself high-risk for any serious health condition at this time. I don’t often feel vulnerable in that way. For maybe the first time in my life, as the virus continued it’s takeover, I felt a physical vulnerability I hadn’t anticipated. Nobody wants to experience a global pandemic in their lifetime, but it is especially strenuous to experience a global pandemic when you’re suddenly placed in a “high-risk” category for infection. And this applies to more than just pregnant women - it applies to anyone who has some kind of immuno-compromisation or risk factor that would make them more susceptible to severe disease.
At the beginning of it all, being pregnant was especially terrifying. There was some data available about how the virus affected the general “healthy” population, but there was barely anything out there about how it affected pregnant women and unborn babies. At the time, this uncertainty became paralyzing for me and in many ways it still is. I’ve always had very healthy, uneventful pregnancies, and to think the health of my baby and myself was suddenly at stake with no real medical information or advice available...it took my anxiety to a new level. Not to mention it was in the hands of the general population and their willingness to follow the CDC guidelines to wear masks, social distance, and wash their hands to protect others.
For months, we isolated ourselves more than anyone else we knew because with so little information available, we felt it was the wisest thing to protect the health of our baby.
Not only were we concerned about the effect the virus could have on our health, but we were facing ever-changing and wide-spread variations in hospital policies that could have drastically altered our birth outcome. Some hospitals were restricting visitors to the point that even the laboring mother was not allowed to have her birth partner with her. If you’ve ever had a baby or are a birth worker, then you know that having someone by your side throughout your labor and delivery is absolutely vital. I could not imagine the thought of willingly giving birth alone, without Kyle.
My doctor visits also changed temporarily. I had my first ever virtual prenatal checkup that basically consisted of a 7 minute video call with my provider where she was unable to check my blood pressure, listen for the baby’s heartbeat, or measure me. I was at least able to weigh myself for the “exam” and ask questions, but it just isn’t the type of visit that can be very effective virtually.
It soon became apparent the virus wasn’t going away and that I would, in fact, be giving birth in the midst of a global pandemic. I was thankful to hear that my provider had advocated for the women in their hospital to be allowed one visitor during labor and delivery as well as in postpartum. This was the biggest relief - that I would have my husband there to support me the entire time. I am certain that if they limited it to no visitors, I would’ve found another provider or tried to find any hospital that would’ve allowed me to have the support I needed. This limitation, however, meant that I wouldn’t be allowed to have a private doula to accompany us during the birth.
In light of this, we began to prepare for the birth by taking a refresher Comfort Measures for Labor course with birth educator, Kristie Graybill. Mostly this was for Kyle to know what tools he could use to help my labor move along and to provide comfort support. He learned several hands-on techniques to alleviate the pain of contractions for me as well as strategies for ensuring the best possible decision making while we were at the hospital. My goal was to have an unmedicated birth because my previous experiences with epidurals left my back and body in significant pain, and I knew there was a better chance my recovery would be better if I did not have one. If you are planning an unmedicated birth, then I would highly recommend taking a comfort measures class similar to the one we did. (You can contact Kristie Graybill directly to schedule in-person or virtual courses by sending her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
With these tools at the ready for when the day came, Kyle and I both felt more comfortable and prepared to get through labor and delivery together. If needed, we also had the virtual (via text and video) support of two very kind friends who also happen to be birth experts. Looking back, I can see how important it was to have assembled a support team like this, even though it didn’t look like what I had originally envisioned.
The week leading up to our son’s arrival was full of the usual pregnancy discomfort - pelvic, hip, back, and leg pain as well as a significant amount of Braxton Hicks contractions and just general crankiness. I could sense things could be happening soon, but the contractions I had were not consistent enough to classify as labor. Of course, I wanted to get things moving as much as possible. In the last few weeks of my pregnancy, I had acupuncture treatments twice a week to help move things along. I don’t know how or why the acupuncture helps, but every time I went, the baby would move like crazy and my contractions would also ramp up a bit. Whether or not this actually set labor into motion, I don’t know, but it certainly got things moving!
At my 39 week OB visit on October 7, I discussed an induction date and opted to wait to have my membranes stripped until I’d had more time to let my body do the work. I was induced with my first, and I knew from experience I did not want to ever experience pitocin again - so I pushed to have it scheduled as late as possible - almost to the 42 week mark. Thankfully, I never made it that far, because the next morning, October 8, I woke up at 4:00 am with regular, painful contractions and knew the show was on the road.
We called Kyle’s mom so she could come over and occupy the older kids while Kyle and I focused on labor. Kyle put all of his newly acquired comfort measures knowledge to the test and was by my side almost constantly that day. For some reason, I had assumed that because this was my third baby, labor would go really fast and I’d get to hold that little nugget in my arms by noon. But of course it didn’t happen that way! I’ll go ahead and blame 2020 for that, ha!
I was in early labor all morning - unable to focus on anything but the contraction when it was happening but able to do fairly normal activities in between. We tried everything - walking, squatting, curb walking, sitting on the birthing ball - to keep things moving and help the baby engage. All of this was absolutely exhausting for me. I knew I needed to stay upright as much as I could, but eventually I had to take some breaks and try to nap to regain my strength. Kyle kept me going by making me change the activity I was doing to keep things interesting and help move everything along. He even fixed some leftover pot roast for me to eat!
Around lunchtime, the kids were back inside to eat, and my 3-year-old daughter was very concerned for me. She had been dying to meet the new baby and could hardly contain her excitement that I was finally in labor. As I was sitting on the birthing ball, breathing through contractions every 10 minutes, she stood by me, rubbed my back, delivered water to me, and told me it was going to be ok. She asked me if I needed anything and wanted so badly to help me feel better. I think it was one of the sweetest moments of the day, and I hope I never forget that. She said to me, “Mommy, I am going to pray to God for you. I will pray that you feel better soon.” And when I asked her what it meant for me to go to the hospital, she said, “EEEEE!! It means the baby is coming out!!!!”
After a few more hours and a couple failed attempts at trying to go for short walks outside, things finally seemed to progress enough to leave for the hospital. When we arrived, we were required to wear masks in the lobby and triage, but after being quickly admitted, we were allowed to remove the masks in our private labor and delivery suite. I am so grateful to the staff at our hospital who selflessly took on the responsibility of wearing proper PPE to keep themselves and us safe so I could labor without the restriction of a mask.
As we entered our delivery suite, I was overcome with emotion. This pregnancy felt like the longest year of my life. It was filled with so much uncertainty, stress, and pain. I suffered from severe headaches for months all while I had to bear the burden of daily childcare for our two children as daycare, preschool, and any of our other activities were suddenly canceled indefinitely. We grappled to keep up with the changing landscape of hospital policies and health advice. I felt and often still feel very alone in the choices we have made this year and simply exhausted from keeping my household afloat as well as performing my part-time job in the midst of it all. (I don’t regret the decisions we made, and I am grateful that we were in a position to make them.) We had wanted this baby so much and it seemed like finally making it to the end of my pregnancy was an accomplishment in itself. For all of these reasons, seeing that empty warmer in the room, just waiting for our squirmy bundle to be plopped in, made me feel excited, joyful, and ready to bring our son into the world.
At this point, probably sometime around 5:30 pm, my contractions were intensifying, and I was focused on remaining calm and reminding myself that each one brought me closer to this baby. My friends were supporting me virtually, and Kyle was advocating for me and helping me through every single pain. Because I was not confined to my bed, I was able to move around the room and work with the staff to have intermittent monitoring and minimal physical checks. This made me much more comfortable because every time I was lying on the bed, my pain was much worse. My water was also still intact, and I think that allowed me to continue longer. As things progressed, I was able to find comfort in reading beautiful, encouraging scripture cards made by my friend reminding me that I was safe, that
But I was exhausted. As 7 pm rolled around, I was beginning to lose heart and wonder why I was doing this. The doctor hadn’t been by to check me yet, and I was wanting to quit. My labor had turned a corner - I was in transition and the contractions reached a level that was extremely difficult to handle. I was begging for it to be over and for the doctor to come check how much more I had to go. Kyle was encouraging, asking me if I thought I could make it until 8 pm when the doctor could come in to do an exam. I agreed, and we worked through the next 30 minutes together even though I was losing my will to continue.
Finally, my doctor arrived to check my cervix - 9 cm with a lip. She said I could try to push past it if I wanted, but I couldn’t. Then, my OB asked if she could break my water. I was very nervous to do this because I knew the pain would ramp up to another level I wasn’t sure I could handle for long. By the doctor’s best guess, it would take another hour if she broke it and maybe another two hours if she didn’t. This is where Kyle stepped in. He knew how exhausted I was - I had been in labor for 15 hours at that point - and convinced me I should let her break my water. Even though I was afraid, I agreed to have my water broken around 8:25 pm.
After that, the contractions almost instantly evolved into what felt like full body torture, as I clutched the bed, pleading with everyone to let me push. My doctor had left the room after she broke my water, but she didn’t have much time to get back in before my body took over and our son made his arrival! She quickly lifted my bottom, plopped a plastic sheet under my body, and got in position to guide him out. With a few pushes, some panting in between, and the miraculous way our bodies can just take over birth, our son was born and his slimy, squishy, squirmy body was plopped onto my chest! I breathed in relief that this was all finally done.
The rest of our time at the hospital was fairly uneventful. Immediately after the birth, I had full body shakes for hours, which is a common occurrence after delivery. We had a wonderful postpartum suite, which to me was ironically huge since no visitors were allowed, but we enjoyed it! Because of Covid, the newborn nursery was also closed, so we had to have our baby room in with us overnight. Don’t get me wrong, I love my children. But after 16 hours of labor, all I wanted was to sleep and try to recoup. The nights weren’t great for us because of that, plus all the interruptions of being checked by hospital staff, but we made it. After getting clean bills of health for both mommy and baby, we strapped him in the car seat and headed home!
The pandemic has had a major effect on my pregnancy and mental well-being this year. It was unknown, unprecedented, and unsettling. We did the best we could to cope with the new changes in our world. In the end we were given a beautiful new son to join our little family, and I gained a new perspective on what it might look like to care for others who are vulnerable in our community. I hope I can look back on this year and this pregnancy and remember not only that it was one of the most challenging years of my life but also that despite being physically and emotionally drained, I was able to persevere. As we continue to experience this difficult time together, I will continue to remind myself that while this all feels crazy and unsettling to us now, God knew that it was all going to happen. He is bigger than the fear, sickness, and chaos in our world, and I can trust that when things feel like they’re in shambles, he is the constant and solid ground. I am safe in His care.