When I found out I was pregnant with my third child in January of 2020, I, nor the rest of the world, anticipated the global pandemic that was underway and would soon uproot our lives. Pregnancy is already a time of nervous anticipation, but the coronavirus added layers of apprehension, inner turmoil and fear of the unknown.
I remember going to my confirmation appointment around 8 weeks with my regular OB-GYN, and another doctor made a passing comment that the virus would probably be over soon and wasn’t something to worry about. I didn’t return to that office until my 20-week anatomy scan.
Once the CDC started quickly releasing guidelines for social distancing and additional safety for higher-risk groups, including pregnant women, I became a prisoner of my tiny midtown apartment with two extroverted small children (who were not fans of excessive hand washing) and a full-time job. My husband’s career is considered essential, so he was working away from our home even more than usual in an attempt to keep things afloat. Like so many others, I felt lost and panicked every day trying to manage both roles under the same roof, leaving much of my second trimester unnoticed with everything else requiring constant attention. My focus was on my kids’ well-being and whatever task I could try to accomplish in 15-minute spurts at a time. It was rough on my mental health to say the least.
(Side note: I will forever hold a special place of solidarity and compassion in my heart for parents who dealt with—and are dealing with—the unimaginable stress and heavy weight that the coronavirus pandemic brought into our homes. Some of you are also frontline workers, and many of you have lost loved ones this past year. You all are actual amazing superheroes who did really hard things for a really long time. I applaud you!)
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Eventually my active baby started providing daily reminders that she was still very much a part of the story. At that time vaccination was an obvious discussion but far off in the future. Hospitals were adjusting their operations drastically in an effort to maintain safety, which unfortunately affected the maternity wards as well.
I started hearing horrible stories on social media of protocols that made me very uncomfortable:
Mothers being cared for by staff also caring for sick patients if a COVID-19 rapid test was refused upon admission (though they were thought to have a high percent of inaccuracy—both for positive and negative results—at that time)
Mothers being separated from their newborns temporarily if the test results stalled
Mothers being separated from their babies for an unknown amount of time if the mother tested positive for COVID-19 infection (which also could affect breastfeeding)
Parents having child protective services called on them because they opted to leave the hospital with their newborn and refused separation
Partners not witnessing the births of their children, and no additional support person allowed in the room
Women having to wear masks in labor
While stories are just that, stories, I couldn’t help but feel threatened and unsure of my current prenatal path. My plan in January did not include details on all of these possible pivot points that could drastically alter the story of my baby’s birth. I knew that hospitals all across the country were making their own plans, so I called my healthcare provider.
I ran through the obvious FAQs and realized that she didn’t fully know what I could expect; it was changing all the time and *did* include some of the unfortunate things mentioned above. I knew hospitals were in a very difficult position and doing everything possible to keep everyone safe … just doing their job as healthcare professionals … but I decided I had to make a change to feel safe and started looking into alternative birthing options.
A home birth was not happening. I was just shy of 32 weeks at this point and knew my state of Georgia had limited resources for at-home midwifery and doula services. However, my home city had a birth center called The Atlanta Birth Center (ABC). Thankfully being free of any medical conditions or previous high-risk pregnancies, I was able to quickly gather my intake details and start care right at their 32-week cutoff.
Appointments with the ABC were similar to my previous practice and were also largely remote or divided in half (discussion in the car, testing or ultrasound scans in office) to reduce close contact and in-person meetings. They screened for symptoms of COVID-19 beforehand and required temperature checks and masks in the office.
I was immensely grateful to be in a place that was solely concerned with birthing women. There would be no other types of patients present, and the focus would remain on protecting the integrity of me meeting my baby for the first time. That was my why. It was almost all about meeting her and doing everything within my power that felt right to protect that moment. There was also an emphasis on avoiding interventions that (I believe) contributed to having bad postpartum depression with my firstborn, but that’s a different story. Let’s just say I felt safer and more in control, which was priceless to me with the outside circumstances.
(Another side note: Breaking up with your doctor is uncomfortable at best, but it’s vital that you care more about your confidence in your birth plan and the people that are a part of that intimate process. My OB was wonderful and not only respected my wishes, but partnered alongside me while I was going through the intake process to ensure all important questions regarding safety around the virus were answered, so I could weigh my decision properly. She wished me well, like an old friend, and I got to leave that practice without any bad blood.)
My husband was a bit unsure, but he knew that my intuition was key and that it was important for me to feel empowered. We hired a doula (who could be present) immediately, bought the Mama Natural curriculum and started immersing ourselves in all-things natural birth. (It would be my first!)
Per usual, I was halfway through week 41 of pregnancy with no indication of labor starting soon. All of my kids arrived around the same time. I’m what they call a 10-month mom. Yep, that’s a thing. It is me. One caveat to the birth center is that if you go beyond 42 weeks, you get transferred to their partnering hospital to be induced. Hell no, I kept thinking. I went through way too much to have that happen!
The early morning of week 41 and five days, I woke up to mild contractions! I was thrilled and a little nervous I would have my baby in the car or in my bathtub because surely third babies arrive swiftly? Not so much. I’ve actually heard they are little wild cards, and things didn’t pick up for me until that evening around 5:30 or so.
I finally started breathing through some pain and called the on-call midwife. She kindly informed me that a good indication of active labor is getting to a point where you’re “somewhat out of your head and body.” She described being present but also being separated from your surroundings, and that if the discomfort started to get to that point, it would be time to hit the road.
That was a hard thing to judge since I had never really felt active labor before, but I took it as a sign I needed to stick it out a while longer. Around 11 p.m. I was in the shower trying to get through contractions with the hot water on my back when I felt this need to me monitored. I didn’t feel safe at home and wanted someone watching over me. We texted my doula and made the 30-minute drive downtown. I was so thankful no major contractions hit while in the painful position of sitting in the car, but once we parked, everything was bringing them on. Walking, standing, breathing … they hit one after the other after the other. The midwife greeted me at the door and said, “You are safe here.” I knew I was.
I was allowed to remain unmasked, but my husband and doula were asked to wear one for the birth and beyond. Honestly, I had no recollection of what I was or wasn’t wearing by that point and probably wouldn’t have cared if I did have to use one. I stayed in a hunched position leaning on both elbows over anything in front of me: the sink, the bench, the chair. I walked into the ABC with a desire to not be checked at appointments or during labor, so no one had any idea how far along I was—including me! While filling up the tub I felt involuntary sensations of pulse-like pushing but couldn’t communicate well enough to tell anyone (or perhaps I was assuming it wasn’t time to push). I got into the water and remember being worried that my doula wouldn’t get in the pool with me if I needed her to squeeze my back. Of course, she would have, but I was saying so little that everyone just sort of sat back, gave me space and watched. I was center stage.
That outer space place I mentioned earlier had officially taken over and I was having an inward conversation with myself. I had continued to feel those pulse-like sensations of pushing and at one point was asked if I felt “pushy.” I don’t recall what I said, but I remember making the decision to just push and not worry about who was involved. I felt some burning as another contraction started and finally blurted out, “I think it’s a head!”
My doula and my husband both informed me that they both, plus the midwife and her assistant (and whomever else was there watching) all exchanged sympathetic eyes with one another assuming I probably had more time to go. But my husband said I then started breathing differently and that something about the atmosphere just changed. He looked at my doula for permission to get in the pool. He barely made it in before my body ejected my daughter with one big push and was caught by my ungloved midwife. (It’s called FER: fetal ejection reflex, and it’s intense.) No one saw it coming, and I was so relieved it was over! My husband gleefully announced that she was a girl, something I had felt all along.
The moments afterward are blurry, but I’ve gathered that I had a look of disbelief on my face (no surprise there), that I held my daughter while my husband held me and that her cord was short, so maneuvering getting out of the pool and onto the bed to deliver the placenta was a little tricky.
My disbelief continued when I was told no stitches were needed, and we were free to marvel at our new baby, eat the pound of snacks I packed and bask in a few golden hours. Though we missed our other children, it was special to know that it would just be the three of us until we slowly saw visitors at home. Romy nursed well from the start and was my biggest baby to date, which makes sense since she stayed in there forever and got to enjoy all the extra treats I had while staying home for half my pregnancy. Through the weird mix of exhaustion and euphoric post-birth adrenaline, I had a moment of reflection that everything came together, and everything was worth it.
I know so many women have bravely gone through pregnancy and delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic and have had an array of different feelings, birth plans and experiences. I’m thankful for my own and hope fellow expectant moms can receive the full support they desire and approach having a baby during COVID with confidence, trust and peace.