Giving Birth During a Pandemic: An Experience You Can’t Plan For

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The Pandemic Snowball Effect

I gave birth to my daughter Harriet in March via C-Section during a pandemic. We knew she was going to be a C-section birth in early February because she was a breech baby. As an avid reader of historical fiction and period dramas, I knew this was a situation where I needed to be at a hospital. My birth plan for my son and my daughter, until we found out she was breech, was to receive an epidural and an old nurse who had seen some things. My birth plan was screwed.

As a result, my family bubbled with my mother in case of an emergency before this all happened and made everything easier as things went downhill. In early February, my mother had traveled to visit my Grandma and was concerned about flying through Chicago. My OB had said not to worry about it. In early March, her tone completely changed.

We were told to social distance and plan on not having anyone come visit our daughter. We were told to take her to well visits and that was it. My weekly visits became more and more intense as my OB told me that this was going to be bad, to pull my son out of daycare, and get a month’s worth of supplies for the kids. We had a 48-hour notice to do this before the state started shutting things down and it made a world of difference. We made the difficult decision to pull my son out of daycare until further notice.

At 10:30 PM, the day before my scheduled C-Section, we found out a teacher at the daycare had been diagnosed with COVID. Since my son had been out of school that week, we didn’t have to quarantine. We had been following the Italy model of what was going to happen and it was dire. A friend of mine who is a physician, called me and told me to follow that model and know I might be in the hospital for the first three days of what was going on. It didn’t hit Ohio that way, but it hit New York. I had my baby in the middle of the worst parts of the pandemic in that city. Holding my newborn and reading about what was going on was heartbreaking. It was surreal.

Anxiety at 11

I’m an anxious person. Before I gave birth, I was reading horoscopes and looking for any hint everything was going to be OK. I looked for any kind of guidance. I was really truly fortunate to have an OB who knew what was going on and was calm but firm. When I was pregnant with my son, she was really strict about Zika guidelines. Ironically, I was talking to an epidemiologist friend in January about how having a baby in March was a good time because it’s the end of flu season and they are old enough to get their flu shot when they need it.

Giving Birth During a Pandemic

I was freaking out about giving birth at the hospital. I had a plan for my son to meet the baby and get a big brother ribbon. As my child was being delivered, the hospital officially announced that all guests were not allowed in and I could only have my partner there. The hospital felt empty. Usually, hospitals are bustling places and a whole ecosystem. If you like to be by yourself but surrounded by other people, they are great. You know what I mean? You feel safe around other people but no one really bothers you. Anyway, there wasn’t that white noise. It was just still. That being said, there was a vibe of like “everyone’s here so we might as well enjoy each other’s company.” 

At that point, we were all bracing for impact. So I had a few really good conversations with doctors and nurses. We were all in it together. The nurses were amazing and kind. The C-section part was the least of my worries, although I will admit I broke down as they were administering the anesthetic on the table. My OB said C-sections are the best kind of surgery because you get a treasure at the end.

Full disclosure, my daughter refused to get her foot out of my womb making everyone laugh. She’s a stubborn girl my Harriet. It’s weird to describe those days, but it was actually kind of a break from everything. We knew we had to be in the hospital and we felt really really safe there. We watched a ton of Food Network and laughed a lot. We got to sleep which was a nice treat. If you have small children, you know.

My husband would run out and get food and he noticed that the rules got more and more stringent as we got in. When we first arrived they were very chill about who got in and by the end, my husband had to call up to prove he was my partner. Originally, we had thought that if they only allowed one person in, that my husband and my mom would switch occasionally, but that didn’t come to pass.

All of our plans, and I mean ALL OF THEM, were different than we thought. My husband and I were doing a walk around the ward and a nurse said “I’m sorry. It shouldn’t be like this.” They had a little coffee kiosk where people could just pick up snacks. By the end of our three-day stay, that was gone too. As we took our child home from the hospital, Governor DeWine announced the shelter in place order

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

Ever since I was a child I was prone to catastrophic thinking. When you have anxiety, you are used to spiraling and then realizing the world isn’t that scary. This is a time when it actually was worse than I thought. After we announced Harriet’s birth, my husband and I got all kinds of phone calls from people we hadn’t heard from in years. Lots of people were praying for us and thinking about us. My husband was joking that we were doing PR. The amount of care that people had was incredible. Again, having a newborn during this time was scary but it also gave us a reason to bubble. We didn’t have to go anywhere, we didn’t need to.

I realized that I had postpartum after my son, but I was on survival mode with my daughter. The adrenaline actually kept those feelings away. My mom was great with my son and we FaceTimed with him and let him know what was happening. I don’t think it hurt with the bonding but again, birth plan out the window. It was the longest we had ever been away from him. We were lucky because we gave birth at a time when our state was working really hard to flatten the curve.

I wish I could say my experience wasn’t that scary and that everyone will have a similar one. Everyone has their own experience- when it comes to their pregnancy and delivery. Situations are changing every minute right now and pregnant women feel vulnerable no matter what. I remember being pregnant with my son and realizing if I needed to run I could only waddle (anxiety talking). But it’s especially scary when there is a global pandemic and hospitals are considered the wolf’s jaws. No one in living memory has experienced this. I desperately wish I could talk to my great-grandparents who lived through the last one in 1918.

This whole situation is so bizarre and it makes your past life look woefully naive. I mean asymptomatic transmission of a respiratory droplet disease that attacks all kinds of body systems? It’s a nightmare. I took a gothic fiction class in college and they talked about how a lot of these monsters are based on the idea of disease which in the nineteenth century (when gothic fiction was created by Mary Shelley) people were just beginning to understand. Think about how Dracula had to be invited in and could shapeshift. Disease as a monster.

We are dealing with a historical fear that people in our generation have had to forget about. It’s almost like the concept of Jurassic Park, like we don’t fear dinosaurs because why would we? But then it’s in our environment and we have to think about how to react. We are empathizing with people in the past. History is important you guys. Honestly, I’m still processing it and it’s hard to describe except to give my own experience at the beginning of this pandemic in a place that wasn’t too hard hit (yet). 

Pandemic Birth Choices

Everyone is allowed to make their own (reasonable) choices about their birth plan, whether you agree with them or not. Especially right now. Due to my higher risk pregnancy, I was not going to rough it for whatever reason. During that time, I read some article about how everyone wishes they could have a vaginal birth, and some people commented about how even breech babies can have one. You can have a vaginal birth under certain conditions but it’s generally not recommended by healthcare providers. There was no way I was going to risk my baby’s life or have myself spend any more time recovering than I needed to with a toddler at home. The risks of having an at-home birth completely outweighed the reward.

There is no shame in a c-section. If someone makes you feel bad about it, you don’t need that toxicity in your life. Believe me. Let me put on my librarian hat, do your research from credible sources. But I’m not gonna lie, I was seriously considering having a different home birth or birthing center if the baby was going to be a vaginal birth.

I get the fear because I lived it. Lots and lots of people are making the choice to have babies at home right now. It’s terrifying. The idea of being on constant alert with being around other people, one person being able to be with you, being apart from your kid, and worrying you could bring it home to them are legitimate concerns. People are having to figure out how to deal with this in pregnancy in real-time, which is not the scientific method or ideal in any way. I remember being worried I would take a hospital bed from someone who really needed it.

For all of the pregnant people reading this, take care of yourself and your family. Do what you know is right. There’s a saying that every pregnancy is different and every birth is different. This pandemic has brought all kinds of truth to that statement. For more info please check out the CDC Guidlines for Pregnant Women or look up info from the UK here.

Here’s another mom’s story of Giving Birth in the Time of the COVID-19 Pandemic.

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Alison Gehred
Alison is an Air Force brat, who was born in Wisconsin (and she still visits there often to see extended family) and lived all over the West before her family settled in the Dayton area. Alison received her BA from Bowling Green State University where she met her husband, best friends who are like family, and worked at her college radio station. If there was a cool band in the mid aughts, chances are Alison played them on her show "My Aim is True." Alison received her MLIS from the University of Wisconsin and moved back to southwest Ohio. She reconnected with her now husband Mark and moved to Columbus a year later. Several years later, she is still working at Nationwide Children's Hospital as a medical librarian and they have a little boy named Rhys and two feisty cats. They are enjoying re-discovering Columbus as parents and enjoy what the city has to offer in the food, music, and art scene. Alison enjoys fashion, cult movies and tv shows, discovering new music and meticulously keeping track of it in various journals, BBC crime dramas, SCIENCE, reading all kinds of books, and cooking. Alison has her own personal blog about her life and things she finds interesting at www.radiancereflected.com. She loves to write and hope you enjoy her vignettes about motherhood and this fair city.

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