scorecardI had a high-risk pregnancy, and was terrified to give birth during the pandemic. Everything's even scarier now that my son has been born.
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I had a high-risk pregnancy, and was terrified to give birth during the pandemic. Everything's even scarier now that my son has been born.

Lauren Wellbank   

I had a high-risk pregnancy, and was terrified to give birth during the pandemic. Everything's even scarier now that my son has been born.
LifeScience7 min read
  • Lauren Wellbank gave birth to her third child, a boy, six weeks ago at a hospital in Pennsylvania.
  • The mother of three shares the terror and unknowns she faced while giving birth amid the coronavirus pandemic.
  • She struggled to labor while wearing a mask, she missed having her mother by her side, and now just wants her son's grandparents to be able to hold him.

Filled with terror, anxiety, and excitement, I waddled into the kitchen to the chalkboard that counted down the days until my due date.

That morning, on April 2, I replaced the seven with a six. I was less than a week from my due date.

My last pregnancy had ended in a miscarriage and all I wanted was the relief of finally being able to hold my baby in my arms, to see him and smell him, and know that he was safe.

But now that there was a global pandemic, I worried whether my arms were going to be the safest place for him.

Instead of relaxing with a prenatal massage, I spent afternoons bouncing on my birth ball while watching the local news in horror, as the death toll from the coronavirus rose to 49 in Pennsylvania, where we live, just before I gave birth. Even though the death toll had remained relatively low compared to our neighboring states of New York and New Jersey, it was still high, compared to the rest of the country.

Instead of shopping for an outfit to bring my baby home in, I obsessively scrolled through my social media feed, reading about rumors of the National Guard getting called in to enforce a lockdown.

I worried that we wouldn't have enough food. I worried that the stress of it all would send me into an early labor.

Every time I left the house while pregnant, I worried about endangering my unborn baby

Even my doctor's visits became a source of stress. Each time I walked into my obstetrician's office, I worried about catching COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Since we didn't yet know what that would mean for pregnant people or their newborns, every time I left the house, I felt like I was gambling with our lives.

When I wasn't worrying about the unknown health risks, I worried about the new rules that were being put in place for my delivery.

I obsessively checked the hospital's website to see the protocol changes. As I watched hospitals in nearby New York City ban support people from the delivery room, I fretted over whether my husband would even be allowed to accompany me when I gave birth.

I'd have to wear a mask while I was there, yes the whole time, yes while laboring, yes while pushing. I'd have to meet my baby with one on. How would I kiss him or get a whiff of that sweet newborn smell? Would he be scared of me?

By midday, I realized I was in labor. I waited at home for as long as I could before I headed to the hospital. I figured the less time I was at the hospital, the less chance we'd have of exposure to the coronavirus.

As soon as we arrived, after dinner time, we put our masks on, and met with a team of masked staff members who helped us make our way to labor and delivery.

The labor and delivery floor was so quiet, it felt like we were the only ones there

It was quiet. Both my parents were there when my oldest was born. My mom was there for my second. Each time I'd delivered with my two other babies, the ward had been bustling with movement and sound. Now, it felt like it was just us.

That's because all laboring moms were confined to their rooms. We weren't allowed to move about in the halls in an effort to limit exposure. The nursing staff was halved as well since many of them were redirected to another hospital location.

I was shocked while a nurse explained how, because of the new policies and procedures, my OB wouldn't be called in until right before I delivered. When she left the room, I cried.

Even the nurses stayed away, as they tried to limit their patient interactions to a quick in and out whenever they absolutely had to come into the room.

I was making progress and dilated another two centimeters quickly. Then, my labor stalled. A doctor I'd only met once before came in to tell me I'd be induced and to suggest I take the epidural.

I was terrified that an epidural, combined with the induction, would lead to a C-section, or worse, that I'd lose the baby.

My pregnancy was high risk because of my age and a previous hemorrhage during delivery, and I wanted as few interventions as possible. Both the doctor and the nurse tried once more to convince me to get one, but I told them I wanted to try and tough it out, at least for the time being.

That was the last time I saw either of them. They closed the door after starting my Pitocin and I was left alone with my husband to labor until morning.

I wanted my mom by my side to comfort me

It was a long night. I missed having my mom there to tell me everything was going to be OK. I was uncomfortable in my mask, which made breathing through my contractions hard. Mostly, I was scared and I desperately wished that this labor felt more like the prelude to the excitement of having a baby, and less like a crisis we were all hoping to get past.

I told my husband to sleep because I knew from experience I wouldn't be able to. It was a mix of nervous excitement and fear, at first, and then it was the pain. I'd never been induced before and the Pitocin ramped up both the frequency and the intensity of my contractions.

I breathed through them easily at first, and then less easily as the night went on. I texted my mother and sent Snaps to my sister and sister-in-law. I chatted with my best friend after everyone else was asleep. Once I couldn't stand it anymore, I woke up my husband and he held my hand through the rest.

In the morning, when the sun broke through the high windows of the hospital room, a new shift of nurses came on and told me it was almost time to deliver. My husband let our family know and my nurse tracked down my OB. She'd been on her way to take her dog to the veterinarian when she was notified.

My doctor got to the hospital just in time to break my water

She arrived just in time to break my water. After a quiet night with only my husband by my side, it was jarring to see the room suddenly fill up with people.

All I could see of the staff were their eyes. I couldn't tell if they were smiling or if they were worried. I didn't even recognize my OB until she introduced herself to my husband.

When I gave birth to my first, I remember the doctor joking with my husband about what he was wearing, a Batman T-shirt. There was no time for banter this time around. Everyone came in to do their job and get back to the safety of the empty corridor as soon as possible. A few minutes later, my baby was in my arms, and he was perfect.

I took my mask off momentarily when my baby was born

My mask, which had come down while I was pushing, brushed his head. I gave him one quick kiss, before putting it back on. I hoped he could tell we were smiling.

We spent the next 24 hours in the hospital, which was the absolute minimum amount of time we had to be there before getting discharged. I was desperate to be home and away from the millions of ways we could get infected.

Since we weren't permitted to leave our room — even going out into the hallway to refill our waters at the fountain was prohibited — we had to rely on the hospital staff for absolutely everything. We packed snacks, which helped to offset the small (and often not very good) meals the hospital provided, but I still felt hungry.

I was so much more scared about the coronavirus after my baby was born

I thought I'd feel less scared after I delivered, but for those next 24 hours I was more afraid. Holding that tiny baby in my arms really drove home the fragility of it all. Laboring through the confines of the pandemic was just been the beginning. Now we'd have to live in this uncertain world as a family of five.

I have a lot of emotions about my experience giving birth during a pandemic. I'm angry that my mother wasn't there. I'm sad that my final pregnancy ended in a way that was so different than how I'd envisioned it.

But mostly, I'm heartbroken that my son is now six weeks old and my parents have never held him, and my in-laws have only seen his face through video chat.

The day we came home from the hospital, my parents arrived to drop off our two older kids who they'd been watching. My mom and I stood across the patio from one another as I held up her new grandson so she could see him for the first time and we both cried.

I feel sad that the memories I'll have from my son's first few months of life will be of wearing masks when we go to see his doctor, of holding him in my arms while trying to coach my five-year-old through her Zoom classes, of standing at the window in my kitchen with all three of my kids while my parents stand on the outside to wish my three-year-old a happy birthday.

I know I should be grateful because we're all healthy and safe, but I find myself mourning the world that existed before, and a little bit scared of the kind of world I've brought my son into.

Read the original article on Insider