There are many things you can’t foresee when creating a birth plan, but there are two words I never thought I would have to include: global pandemic.
I gave birth during a global pandemic three weeks ago in Burlington, right as the proverbial coronavirus doodoo hit the fan in the United States. As my husband and I welcomed our second child, we had no idea that the world outside was panic shopping and that we probably should have stocked up on toilet paper and household cleaners before heading to the hospital.
I won’t sugarcoat it. Giving birth during a global pandemic is a real trip, and not a pleasant one.
While each day gets a bit easier, I am still angry that this season of my life is not in any way how I envisioned it. Many of my friends and extended family members are pregnant right now, and they have all expressed the same set of emotions as I feel: fear, uncertainty, disappointment, and mourning. We’re afraid for our babies, and the pregnant women in my life are afraid of giving birth alone. The directives from the government change daily and everything feels uncertain. We are disappointed that we will not have our village to support us in person. We are mourning the loss of the idea of what giving birth and caring for a newborn should be like. I wanted my infant to be welcomed into this world by the loving people who are our family and our friends… and I wanted to let them love and support me as I recovered from giving birth.
A few weeks have passed since I gave birth, and I am as fresh and renewed as anyone could be with a few hours of sleep here and there. I’m going to share what giving birth during a global pandemic was like for me in hopes that it helps others remove just a touch of the uncertainty and fear around new birthing practices due to COVID-19. I have collected my most frequently asked questions regarding my experience.
I should also note that I can only speak to my personal experience at UVM Medical Center, and urge you to contact your specific hospital with questions. I called UVM’s Labor and Delivery Unit the day before I gave birth and they were happy to answer every question I could come up with.
Was your partner able to be present for the birth?
My spouse was able to be present for the birth and postpartum hospital stay. He could also come and go to the cafeteria, and one night went home to put our big kid to bed. Hospital staff did screen him for any signs of illness upon each entry to the labor and delivery unit.
I have been told by my obstetrician that it is unlikely that Vermont hospitals will need to remove all support persons from the delivery room. But if things get bad enough, they will do what they have to protect moms and newborn babies.
Were you allowed visitors in the hospital?
We were allowed one visitor other than my support person. That person was the only visitor allowed during the entirety of my stay, and could not be a child. This meant that our first-born did not meet her younger sister until we came home. I was disappointed at first, but seeing our new sisters meet wound up being a very sweet moment that was that much more special because it was in the comfort of our own home.
How has it been navigating the healthcare system postpartum?
This has been one of the hardest pills to swallow and makes me glad I am not a first-time mother. I can’t imagine how the mamas out there with no experience are feeling after giving birth during a global pandemic. When we came home on Sunday, no stores, restaurants, or businesses had been shut down yet. On Tuesday, when we went for a weight check for our newborn, I was told I was the pediatrician’s only in-person patient that day. I was informed that a doctor would not see my newborn in-person (unless there was an emergency) until she is two months old. I also have not seen a doctor for a postpartum checkup, and have not been able to have a lactation consultant visit.
With my first child, I struggled with postpartum depression, and I have not been able to meet or talk with my therapist since giving birth. When we talk about support systems for new moms, it’s important to note that those traditional venues are just not the same as telehealth video chats and phone calls. Video chats and calls are better than nothing, but it’s just not the same.
I do think it’s important to recognize that this is new territory for all of us, including healthcare workers. My pediatrician noted that she really misses seeing the new babies in person, because snuggling them is a serious perk of the job! This is a big change, for everyone involved.
Was there any decrease in quality of care? Were the staff responsive?
I did not notice any reduction in the quality of care I received during my stay. While everyone was fine in the end, I did have complications during my labor and I never once felt like I was neglected.
When I asked for an epidural, the anesthesiologist was there in a flash. My nurse stayed by my side the whole night. My midwife delivered three babies back to back that night and I never once felt like I was one of many. I can’t sing the praises of the UVM nursing staff enough, they are truly heroes.
Since this wasn’t your first, what else was different this time?
I forgot that newborns poop no less than five million times per day. I joked about this earlier, but the panic shoppers and hoarders made it almost impossible to find diapers and wipes when we first came home. I had bought small packages to get us started, but never anticipated I would need to stalk Amazon constantly for when certain sizes would be back in stock. Or that I would have to ask family and friends across the country to scour their shelves for baby wipes. I highly recommend purchasing a box of both newborn and size 1 diapers to make sure you don’t run into the same problem I did. I had no way to anticipate I’d be giving birth during a global pandemic and would be fighting tooth and nail for toilet paper and baby essentials.
Also, remember that time I wrote about how I was going to ask for help when I needed it, and vowed that this postpartum experience would be different? Coronavirus had other plans, as it turns out. No one can come hold the baby so we can catch up on sleep. I can’t ask anyone to help me clean the house because we are social distancing. I’m lonely, and I miss my people. Our parents haven’t even met our new baby yet, in fact none of her extended family or our friends will get to see her until this is all over.
I do, however, find comfort in the fact that we’re all in this place of isolation right now. It’s nice to know that every mother I know is also navigating uncharted waters. Yes, things are different for me, but they’re truly different for all of us.