Rachel’s Pandemic Birth Story

Rachel holding her daughter

I hate being pregnant.

I had my first child at age 33 via labor induction, which ultimately led to 22 hours of labor, 2 of which were spent pushing, only to end up with a late night emergency cesarean section.

I only knew the birthing process to be long, painful, and at great cost to my body.

This reality proved oddly beneficial, however, because all I knew was essentially the worst case scenario. Should I fall pregnant again, it could only be an improved delivery. Right?

Wrong. Try giving birth in the middle of a global pandemic.

In what follows, I’ll tell you all about my wild ride of a pandemic birth story and what it was like to give birth during one of the most confusing times in recent history.

Spoiler alert, it ends up with a sweet baby, so that’s all that matters!

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When Birth Doesn’t Go as Planned (During a Pandemic)

When, at 35, I was begging to be rid of my second bulbous baby-laden belly, I was told by my OB that because I had previously had a C-section, their clinic’s rules did not allow me to pass 39 weeks.

I would be scheduled for another cesarean due to the concern of uterine rupture.

Uterine rupture is when the C-section scar on your uterus bursts, leading to obvious major complications for mother and baby.

A scheduled C-section honestly didn’t sound nearly as daunting as my previous birth process. There would be no induced, artificial contractions. No pushing. No hemorrhoids or perineal tears.

I could roll into the hospital with a full face of makeup and my hair curled to the nines, ready to take stunning Olan Mills quality photos with my newborn, whose head would not be mushed into a cone, nor his face swollen from slowly inching through my pelvis.

It didn’t seem so bad, as long as the anesthesia didn’t make me vomit through the whole procedure again.

But like with most births, the scenario I had prepared myself for did not ultimately play out, and those Olan Mills newborn photos would, unfortunately, have to wait.

Phase One: Stripped Membranes and Hope for a VBAC

After being dilated to 2cm for a week, my OB stripped my membranes at 37 weeks and 3 days.

She offered, and I jumped at the chance to go into labor on my own, thus ridding my heaving, bloated, wheezing body of the huge belly by which I was so exasperated.

But more importantly, I needed to try to have a VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Cesarean) because I had a 2-year-old at home who I would need to lift and take care of.

I knew that my sad reality was this: I had nobody to help me with my daughter for the 6 weeks it takes for a C-section recovery once my husband returned to work.

Phase Two: Bloody Show and a Damn Birthing Ball

According to my OB, there is only about a 50% chance the stripping of one’s membranes will induce labor, but two days later, I experienced the glory of a “bloody show” followed by low, aching back pain.

I bounced and bounced and bounced on that damn birthing ball, but the mucus disappeared and the backache stopped.

It was at this point I figured I was in the unlucky 50% of expectant mothers whose stripped membranes did nothing more than get hopes up.

Phase Three: Surprise! My Water Breaks

At this point, my mother, who had driven 5 hours down from another state, left to return home.

Her choice to leave is another article altogether, but not having family living nearby to keep our two-year-old who was not welcome at the hospital due to COVID-19 safety protocol created its own, very serious issues regarding my pandemic birth story.

Now that my mother was gone, my husband would be forced to stay at home with our daughter should I go into labor.

As anyone could have guessed, it was the very next afternoon at approximately 4:30 pm that my water broke at home.

I had read that only something like 8-15% of women had their waters break during early labor, so I knew for certain that was something I could count on not happening to me.

Again, if you’re seeing a theme here, it’s that with your birth story, you can bank on nothing going according to the statistical plan. Write a birth plan, but know your birth could venture way off course.

My water didn’t burst out of me like a bucket of mop water in the movies. It was a slow trickle like standing up post-bubble bath, warm and unstoppable by even the strongest kegel clench.

I wasn’t contracting, so I got in the shower and let it drip out of me while I waited for the weekend nurse on call to phone me back.

When she called, she told me to go to the hospital, take my bags, and report to the Emergency Department in the Womens and Childrens Center.

Excited to finally get rid of the prison of my pregnant body, I said goodbye to my panicking husband and the toddler from whom I had never spent a night away, loaded myself into the car, and began my solitary 30 mile drive to the hospital.

My husband was losing his mind, but what choice did I have? Plus, not much could stop me from heading to the hospital to get this baby OUT.

Rachel wearing a comfortable dress in front of her car, ready to go to the hospital
Rachel gets ready to drive herself to the hospital after her water breaks.

Giving Birth (almost) Alone During a Pandemic

Why was I alone?

Well, this was, after all, only three months into the 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic. Hospital rules were that women in labor could only have one support person in attendance.

That person, in my case my husband, could not leave at any point during the 2-5 day stay.

He could not fetch non-cafeteria food outside of the hospital walls.

He could not run to the car in the parking deck attached to the hospital.

And he certainly couldn’t bring a two-year-old who otherwise had no other available caretaker in the area.

So my husband and daughter stayed home while I drove myself, now wholly in labor, with contractions beginning and increasing as I hit patch after patch of stopped interstate traffic.

This is, of course,  an anomaly I’ve never seen to this degree on local roadway on Saturday, but again: with childbirth, you can bank on nothing

Beginning to panic as my contractions grew more and more painful, I called the hospital Emergency Department and asked if I should report directly to Labor and Delivery, as I was now clearly in labor and would like to deliver.

I was firmly instructed to report directly to the ED.

Hospital Protocol

For weeks, I had been following hospital pandemic protocol.

Masked, I was to enter into the main lobby, have my temperature scanned, and then an “approved” sticker was placed on my shirt.

Then, I was sent up to my OB’s floor, temp scanned again, and asked to sit in waiting room chairs spaced six feet apart until my masked OB and her masked nurse saw me.

I was not allowed to have anybody with me during these visits. I could not bring my child, even though we had no childcare, and I was the sole stay-at-home option.

It had become a big to-do to attend my now weekly doctor’s appointments, but I appreciated the hospital taking this pandemic seriously, particularly because we live in one of the most conservative states in the nation, where scientific recommendations are poo-pooed in lieu of thoughts and prayers.

When I parked that fateful Saturday and waited for my current contraction to end before unloading myself and my go-bag from the car, I knew I must already have my mask applied before I hobbled into the lobby.

When asked by the table of temp-taking lobby nurses why I was arriving on a Saturday afternoon, I croaked a dry “I’m in labor” as I felt more amniotic fluid leak onto my now heavy sanitary napkin.

Before two nurses escorted me onto the elevator en route to the Emergency Department, I had my temperature taken and sticker applied yet again.

Enduring Contractions Alone in the Emergency Department

In the ED, still masked, I was put into a room, stripped and gowned, triaged, and my mystery fluid confirmed via cotton swab to be indeed amniotic fluid. (Are there other options??)

And of course I had the depths of my sinus cavity swabbed during a COVID-19 test: something almost as painful as my now crippling contractions.

An apologetic masked nurse explained that, although I usually would be able to have an epidural at this point, I would have to endure my contractions for an additional hour while they waited for my COVID-19 test results to return.

Only then could I be moved to Labor and Delivery.

So I waited and waited and waited and contracted and shook and sweated and yelped until a new nurse arrived with a wheelchair to take me downstairs to my second hospital room.

Every move, every bump, every breath seemed to cause another contraction.

By the time I was wheeled into my room in Labor and Delivery, I was wondering how I could possibly endure another one.

Would I throw up?

Would I pass out?

I’m only at 4cm. Aren’t they supposed to get worse? How is there a worse?

All these questions raced through the confines of my mind as I explained to the L&D nurse that no, my husband wouldn’t be joining me.

I had driven myself alone. I would labor alone. And I would deliver alone.

The Epidural Arrives (Hallelujah!) with a Side of Loneliness

Over two hours after arrival at the hospital, I was finally given an epidural.

By 7:40pm, my pain began to slowly fade, as did the feeling in and ability to move my legs. I could no longer move myself, and without a support person of my own in attendance, I was completely reliant on the nurses coming and going from my room.

This was a weekend night shift, so the nurses were busy with a variety of other patients, none of whom were scheduled. Because of this, the floor was bustling with laboring mothers and spread-too-thin, masked nurses.

I kept my husband abreast of my state via text and a few videos, trying to assure him I was just excited to finally see the light at the end of this bloated tunnel, but there were a few moments where I would glance over my surgical mask and around my empty room and feel sorry for myself.

Loneliness aside, I felt like I was actually the best option to go at this alone for a number of reasons:

  • I wasn’t a new mom; 
  • I happen to love hospitals and medical settings, as I find them fascinating and not at all scary; 
  • I was truly excited about getting this baby out of me, and
  • I wasn’t overly sentimental about how he would come into the world as perhaps many other mothers may have been.

Even for someone as emotionally prepared as I felt I was, the birth of a child is an enormous event for a family, but my family was disjointed.

My mother wasn’t here to help with my daughter, and thus my husband was at home.

I was alone.

From 5 cm to 10 cm and a Special Surprise

Ninety minutes after my epidural, I went from 5cm to 10cm: fully dilated.

I was thrilled to be ready to push, but I was told I needed to wait, as I was second in line to another mother about to push, and she was choosing to do it au naturale.

Having the very fresh memories pumping through my brain of what unmedicated contractions felt like, I instantly agreed to these conditions.

I encouraged the nurses to tend to that brave soul next door, as I couldn’t feel anything below my ribs, and thus was “chillin’.”

This actually ended up working out in my favor, because my husband had been able to find a last-minute babysitter.

He jumped in the car and began flying down the interstate for the 30 minute trek to the hospital.

I explained that while he was unlikely to catch the birth, he would likely arrive just in time to snuggle a cleaned-up, swaddled baby boy.

This wasn’t the ideal situation, but having spent the day thinking he wouldn’t see his wife or newborn son until discharge day, pulling up right after the birth seemed almost perfect to him.

I glanced at the clock, timing my husband’s departure and potential arrival the whole 30 minutes I pushed.

Two nurses held my heavy, dead legs while I pulled myself up into position using padded bedside handles.

Other nurses came and went, updating the doctor next door on my status.

Around 11pm, the room door slammed open again, but this time it wasn’t another faceless masked nurse.

It was my panting husband, baby carrier in tow, Cosmo Kramer-ing into the birthing suite (and into two dirty linens bins) seconds before the next round of contractions produced a tiny, crowning blonde head.

The doctor was fetched, and two sets of contractions later, at 11:16pm, my son was born via successful VBAC with his father present for every moment of the important stuff.

Rachel holding her son shortly after his birth, in the hospital bed
Baby M, born at 37 weeks, weighing a perfect 7 lbs 3 oz and stretching 20 inches.

The Third (and final) Hospital Room

By 2am, my husband and I were shuttled off to my third and final hospital room of my less-than- 48-hour hospital stay.

The hospital moves all post-delivery mothers and their babies to a secluded wing away from laboring mothers, again, for further COVID-19 safety protocol.

It was in this room I was able to bond with my baby– and my husband– with no interruptions from visitors.

While the pandemic made our birth story unimaginably complicated and dramatic, there were some surprisingly positive outcomes.

Because no family, coworkers, or friends could come see us during those ever-important recovery days, I was able to establish my milk supply.

I got some uninterrupted rest.

And, most importantly, I was able to drink in the euphoric newborn smells that I now know disappear far too soon.

He was here. I had time and space to drink him in. We were safe.

Rachel taking a mirror selfie while holding her newborn son in a swaddle
Rachel and baby M safe at home a few days after coming from the hospital.

Worried about giving birth alone at the hospital? Read about Colleen’s experience and tips.

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