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As the Coronavirus spreads rapidly and the United States changes to isolation recommendations change daily, many pregnant women face a daunting possibility they’d never imagined: give birth alone at hospital, or stay home so they can birth around family.

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New York Presbyterian Hospital recently announced that partners will not be allowed in delivery rooms, largely due to a shortage of safety supplies like gowns and masks. Other hospitals are strictly limiting the number of people allowed to visit, leading to anxiety and extreme birth disappointment for many expectant mothers.

When you’re pregnant and planning the birth of your baby, you make lots of decisions, such as:

  • Do I want an medicated or unmedicated birth?
  • What happens if I need a c-section?
  • Should I hire a doula?
  • Who will be in the room at the time of birth?

For expecting moms amidst COVID-19 madness, hospital birth plans have largely gone out the window, as every experience is essentially a birth plan gone wrong.

Here, we’ll hear from one mother dealing with this current struggle, and get her advice on managing disappointed birth expectations.

pregnant woman taking picture of herself in the mirror in a pretty gray dress
One of the few photos Colleen has taken during her current pregnancy.

Colleen’s story of recurrent miscarriage and more

Things you should know about me: I am type A. I love to plan. I love organization. But, when it came to the birth of my first child, I was remarkably laid back about it, all things considered. There’s a reason; I’ll explain.

Before my son Liam was born in August of 2018, I thought my dream of motherhood was over. My husband and I had tried to have children since 2015.

I had 5 miscarriages, including 1 ectopic pregnancy.

We went through 2 full rounds of IVF that resulted in 0 genetically healthy embryos.

We had a full recurrent miscarriage workup–every single test offered for fertility–and found no cause for our issues, and yet we had no babies.

After our last round of IVF, we reached the point where our doctor was recommending we explore “other options,” including using donor eggs or sperm.

Heartbreak and joy sometimes go together

We decided to take a break, plan a trip, and tackle our options when we returned.  But, in January of 2018, everything changed.

I thought I had some horrible phone calls during the infertility roller coaster, but I definitely got the worst one of my life on January 17th, when my mom called to tell me that my dad had suddenly passed.

The very next day, after going to a pharmacy to get supplies for photo collages for my own father’s wake, I found out I was pregnant for the 6th time.

I wasn’t excited.

I knew it would end the same way all the others did.

In fact, I was mad that the universe would do this to me during this sad time.

But, I was wrong.

Much to my shock, at every turn and every appointment, I was blessed with a miraculously calm, normal pregnancy.

Managing birth expectations helped me avoid disappointment

I purposely decided not to make a birth plan.  I felt that this entire journey was in no way within my control, so I should just let the birth happen.

I am sure I pictured a movie style delivery and postpartum experience. But it was anything but that.

I traveled to New York to enjoy my baby shower with my husband’s family, and instead my water broke. I was 33 weeks and 6 days pregnant.

I was put on meds for 24 hours and then an induction began. For three days, I sat there eating chicken broth and ice chips waiting for something to happen.  Finally, my baby was born on August 15th, 6 weeks early.

He wasn’t laid on my chest. I didn’t get to hold him. He was rushed into the NICU for testing. It was such a blur.

I was alone in the recovery room without a baby with me. I sent my husband to our baby, Liam, and I recovered solo because I didn’t want our baby to be alone.

tiny baby in white outfit yawns during his stay in the NICU
Tiny. baby Liam, whose birth went nothing like I planned.

It was not the birth story I’d imagined.

What was supposed to be 24 hours in New York turned out to be a five-day hospital stay and ten days commuting back and forth to the NICU until Liam was ready to come home.

Liam’s first car ride was six hours, including stops, back to Boston.

NOTHING about that experience was what I expected.

Birth plans can bring a sense of control, or disappointment

Some people who’ve been through trying to conceive (TTC) or infertility journeys want to plan every second of their birth experiences, which I totally understand, because they were able to control nothing else about how they got there.

I went the other direction. But still, the impact of my traumatic birth experience lingered with me for months.

We had hardly any visitors in New York because of the NICU rules, and many of our friends and family lived far away.

When we got home, we were told to isolate and restrict visitors as much as possible to protect Liam’s fragile immune system.

It was extremely lonely and isolating.  Not the joyous, celebratory community experience I expected after our long wait to become a family of three.

Giving birth during Coronavirus

Cut to just under 2 years later.  We are expecting our second little miracle.

This one came along a lot faster and more easily than the first, and caught us very much by surprise. Thrilled, but shocked, is how I’ve described the past 8 months.

While we can’t exactly determine what caused my early delivery last time, I’ve been monitored closely and have been daydreaming about the positive birth experience I never had:

Actually delivering at our local hospital, visitors, food drop offs from my favorite local places, having our toddler come meet his sibling, not being induced, breastfeeding, getting flowers and balloons and a commute time of less than 30 minutes when we get released.

But, here we are, in March 2020 in the middle of a global pandemic. A catastrophic, life-threatening, medical crisis.

Schools are closed, stores are closed, restaurants are closed.  People are working remotely, or not able to work at all. We’re not supposed to leave our homes unless absolutely necessary.

I’m supposed to be nesting, but instead, I am disinfecting and cooking everything in my pantry.

I have been hoarding all these self care gift certificates to treat myself before the baby arrives. Instead, the only treat I can have is a walk around the neighborhood.

It is so disappointing.

Hospital regulations lead to birth disappointment

I heard about how hospitals are restricting guests, which makes sense, and suddenly it hit me: What about labor and delivery?

I emailed my doctor, one of many frantic messages she received, I’m sure. 

I went on my hospital’s website to read: “You are allowed 1 support person in labor and delivery and 1 pre-screened visitor postpartum.”

I felt like I was remaining calm, heeding all the warnings, following the guidelines, trying to take it in stride, but that hospital website put me in a tailspin.

Nothing I had pictured was going to happen. I didn’t even make a birth plan, but this felt like a birth plan gone wrong. Again.

I could have my husband with me (for now, and as long as he is healthy), but I will have to leave my toddler behind, maybe for several days if I have to be induced again.

I will need to arrange care for Liam in the midst of this chaos.

During my long induction last time, at least I had a few people who could visit and give my husband a break. That’s not likely now.

I probably won’t be able to have my son come meet his sibling in the hospital. We’ll have to wait until we get home. I don’t have a doula, but my heart breaks for those who can no longer have that support with them.

And what if I go into labor early again?

What if there is a NICU stay again?

What if I get the virus?

What if the baby gets it?

What if there are complications?

What if this is still going on when I get home and again I have to be completely isolated for weeks?

My head was, and is, still swirling with questions and what ifs and worst case scenarios.

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Finding the bright side among the chaos

And yet, I know I am incredibly lucky.

People are dying. People are losing their jobs.  Businesses are closing. Healthcare workers are at risk and running low on supplies. People’s life-saving treatments for other ailments are being postponed because it isn’t safe.  My sisters in the IVF community are having their cycles cancelled and dreams crushed.

I am sitting in my home, chubby, but comfortable. We have enough supplies. We are both able to collect our full salaries while working remotely. We are all healthy. 

So much to be grateful for.

two pregnant women smile in purple shirts that say on stage dance company
Colleen and a friend, before the isolation, healthy enough to dance during her pregnancy.

But, if there is one thing I learned in my infertility and motherhood-after-loss journey, it is that you can be both grateful and grieving.

Even if the grief is over an experience you envisioned or expectations you had, that grief is valid.

And gratitude does not negate grief.

I was so grateful to have a healthy pregnancy with Liam, and so sad my dad wasn’t there to see it happen.

I am so grateful to have a flexible and understanding employer, and so sad all of my students worked so hard and are missing out on their spring traditions and senior memories.

We can feel grief and gratitude together.

What if I’m giving birth alone at the hospital?

I never thought I would have to consider this, but what if I am completely alone?

There are women currently in this position as more hospitals such as New York Presbyterian Hospital are forced to eliminate visitors–even partners–from the delivery room. I don’t know what my hospital will do, or what the State Department of Health will require.

These safety precautions may seem extreme, but with a massive shortage of protective equipment, what’s there to do?

First, let me acknowledge that I am considering this in the hypothetical (for now), and it is bringing me to tears just thinking about it.

If you are giving birth soon, and currently, in this situation, I am so sorry.

ESPECIALLY if you’ve never given birth before.  This is scary. Very scary.

But you CAN do this. Women are truly superheroes.

Ideas for giving birth alone

Note: This is not medical advice for obstetric patients. I’m just thinking about how I would try and survive not having my partner in the delivery room.

(1) Explore hospital options

If this is the policy at my hospital, are there any other hospitals within a reasonable distance where I could give birth that does not have this policy?  I know from my first child deciding to be a New Yorker, for me, it didn’t really matter what doctor was delivering.  

Can I call my insurance to see which hospitals are in my network and would be covered if I change my destination?

(2) Consult

If this is the policy everywhere around me, then I would want to have a phone or in-person consultation with my OB, with my partner involved somehow, and discuss the options.

I trust her and would want to know what recommendations she might have for me.

I assume she would have advice on all parts of the process including deciding when to go to the hospital, the check-in process, what kind of communication I could have, how to get through the labor process, making sure I pack my bag differently (I didn’t even have one last time!), etc.

As my doctor, it’s her job to be concerned about her patients and their loved ones, so I trust the advice she would give.

(3) Find groups online

There are groups for everything.  So, there must be ones for women who gave birth alone.  Either because they were having a child on their own or other circumstances resulted in that outcome.

But do the research and find those who could relate, at least somewhat, to what is going to happen.

Any group of women approaching their due dates will include these conversations. I’m certain of it.

(4) Talk to your partner

While it is very scary for the birthing mother, it would also be a huge disappointment for most partners to have to miss the birth, as well.

Being part of the delivery–however they envisioned that happening by being a coach, cutting the cord, playing photographer–would not come to fruition.

They are also probably afraid to leave you alone during that experience as well, so discussing beforehand how you will both manage these expectations is imperative.

(5) Call a therapist

I would arrange some solo teletherapy sessions, as well as some with my partner to talk through all the feelings we were both having and how to stay calm and positive through the process. 

If you are a religious person, I would recommend consulting someone from your religious or spiritual community as well.

Looking for a therapist? Check out the directory on Psychology Today, or contact Postpartum Support International (their therapists are trained for perinatal mental health, not just postpartum mental health.)

(6) Cry

I would/will cry.  A lot.

Having a baby is a beautiful, miraculous thing.  It is also mentally, physically and emotionally exhausting, even in a normal world, with your support system around you, exactly as you pictured it. 

Take all of that out of the equation and add the management of extreme birth disappointment, and it is an entirely different beast.

So it’s okay to have a good, solid. Cry. Let it out, and then work on planning and strategizing after you’ve let yourself experience the grief of it.

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(7) Prepare for afterwards

You will be disappointed.  Even with a happy, beautiful, healthy baby on your chest.

Once you get through the initial shock and awe, you will remember that this wasn’t how you planned it. It wasn’t your vision. So much was missing from your dreams of this process.

You will need to work through those emotions, ideally with the help of a professional.

And that is ok.

That does not make you a bad mom. It makes you human.

(7) Remember, you’re not truly alone

You will be surrounded by excellent medical professionals who know this situation sucks and is out of everyone’s control. 

They will be there to support and encourage you every step of the way.

(8) Game plan

Act as if you will be alone.

Have an inner monologue conversation with yourself, like: “Ok, Colleen, you’re in this alone. What are you going to do?”

Other thoughts on handling labor and delivery alone

I would, in consultation with my OB GYN, do as much of the laboring as I could handle at home. That will allow your partner to be as much a part of the experience as possible.

I would wait until they told me I had to go to the hospital to go there.

To me, that is less time to feel alone in this process.

I would also:

  • Make sure I had multiple technological devices and chargers
  • Make a list of all the badass women I could think of as inspiration and channel them 
  • Develop a mantra and repeat it constantly
  • Prepare to have my favorite meditation app and music handy
  • Remind myself of all the hard stuff I have gone through that I didn’t think I could handle, but I did
  • Remember the end result of bringing a precious life into this world
  • Think about the joy it would bring to everyone once they finally got to meet the baby
  • Get the epidural as soon as humanly possible.  I know that isn’t for everyone, but for me, there is no need for me to go through that pain by myself.

And, I would cry some more.

Because this is sad and scary and is not something that has ever before felt in the realm of possibility.

If you are a pregnant woman, it is okay if you are feeling disappointed right now!

But, in the end I would get through it, because we are moms and we can do things beyond our wildest imaginations.

8 Tips for Managing Birth Disappointment

Whether you’re in the situation of giving birth at a hospital alone or are dealing with less strict new guidelines thanks to a global pandemic, you’re still dealing with the fact that your birth plan has gone completely wrong.

So, here is my non-expert advice for anyone in a similar position to me.

(1) Allow yourself to feel your feelings

It is ok to be disappointed, scared, and anxious that your birth may not be exactly as you had pictured it.  Don’t discount those feelings. They are real and they are valid!

(2) Have perspective

As much as your feelings are real, try to find gratitude for the things in your world that are positive. That often helps me shift my mindset.

Just make sure you do this in conjunction with feeling your actual feelings. If you always try to look on the bright side, you may come to resent it.

(3) Don’t time travel

This one is stolen from my therapist, but she always reminds me of this.

When I jump 5 steps ahead, it doesn’t help.

If, like me, you have over a month to go and even if you don’t, things are changing rapidly. Imagining what will happen will send you into an emotional tailspin.

Try to take it day by day. Baby steps.

(4) Focus on the things you can control

So much of this is out of any of our control.

But what we can do is game plan for different scenarios by doing things like the following:

  • Talk to your trusted medical professionals or providers
  • Follow CDC guidelines
  • Stay up-to-date on your hospital or birthing center’s policies
  • Eat well
  • Sleep
  • Move your body in a way that feels good

(5) Breathe

Whatever works for you to help you breathe in and out and relax, do it.

Long walks, yoga, meditation. Whatever works for you.

I use the Expectful app. This is not an ad and no one earns money from me telling you that. I just want you to know I like it because it might also help you.

A 5-10 minute guided meditation helps me release some tension and recenter myself.

(6) Limit social media/news intake

It is good to stay informed, but the internet can be a scary place, especially right now.

Give yourself an amount of time that feels right, choose your reputable sources, and stick to that.

If you’re feeling anxious and desperate to Google something, don’t! Those are exactly the times to wait, let the anxiety pass, and return to the internet later. Otherwise, you may develop an emotional cycle that leads you to more worry.

Seek out some of the stories that show the goodness in humanity to balance out the scary.

(7) Schedule your worrying

I know this sounds silly, but hear me out. In these times, you can (I know from experience), spend an entire day worrying about every single thing.

Telling yourself not to worry isn’t going to work, but giving yourself a window to do it in or utilizing a journal to release your worries, is a more productive way to do it that doesn’t take over your whole day.

(8) Trust your gut

Intuition is strong, and it is real.

During the birthing process, and afterwards, listen to what your gut tells you and don’t apologize for it.

If people want to come visit, and you feel it isn’t right, say not right now and don’t bat an eye.

I hope you can learn from my experience.

I know this isn’t ideal.  I know isn’t what you pictured or hoped for, but you can do this.

One major takeaway from infertility, loss, and motherhood, it is that we are stronger than we ever thought possible.

Also, needing help does not make you a failure. Needing help makes you human, and asking for it shows your wisdom.

My trauma with fertility and my disappointing birth experience led me to seek therapy, and it was the best decision I could have made for myself and my family.

You’re not alone, we’re all in this together.

And as everyone told me in 2018, you will have one hell of a story to tell down the line.

tiny-baby-born-prematurely-wrapped-in-blanket-shows-things-can-be-kay-after-a-birth-plan-goes-wrong

What are your best tips for managing birth disappointment?

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