I Gave Birth During the Coronavirus Pandemic. This Is Our Story.
Updated: Apr 15, 2020
This delivery did not go as expected... for many reasons.
In preparing to welcome my second child, I had been assured by my doctor and loved ones alike: "Childbirth will be faster! It will be easier!" The former was technically true. The latter, hardly... no thanks, in part, to this little ol' COVID-19 pandemic.
While I found myself terrified of welcoming a newborn into the world during this health crisis, the timing couldn't have been worse. As I neared 39 weeks of pregnancy in my home of Los Angeles, women across the country in New York City and elsewhere were being forced to deliver their babies without partners by their sides -- the spread of coronavirus continuing like wildfire. (A policy that has, thankfully, since been overturned.)
While I knew there wasn't much I could control about the process of delivering this child, I did know two things to be true:
1. Home birth was absolutely not for me.
2. My husband, Mike, needed to be present.
Are We There Yet?
On Thursday, March 26 -- 38 weeks and 5 days pregnant -- I reported to my weekly OB appointment in Beverly Hills.
Already, the hospital where I planned to give birth had scaled back its visitor policy. For women in labor and delivery, only one healthy partner would be permitted on the premises for the duration of their stay. With Los Angeles projected to be about one to two weeks behind New York City in terms of the severity of the pandemic and the strain on our hospitals, I wasn't keen on waiting around much longer for this baby to arrive.
Hoping for an early induction, Mike and I packed our hospital bags and rode together to my appointment. No partners were allowed in the office, so he sat outside in the car while I nervously awaited my ultrasound inside. The week prior, my amniotic fluid levels were determined to be fairly high, though not yet dangerous.
As my doctor began measuring fluid levels, she suggested we wait one more week to deliver -- but assured me that she would not allow me to go past my due date. We discussed my own fears and uncertainties about the weeks ahead, which she acknowledged as fully legitimate. For those, she simply didn't have answers. No one did.
She offered to electively induce in two days, when I would officially pass the 39 week mark of pregnancy.
Then, the ultrasound screen delivered an alert: I had crossed the threshold to polyhydramnios, a medical condition in which there is an excess of fluid in the amniotic sac. That, combined with an earlier high blood pressure reading, would typically be cause for mild concern -- but on this day, it was a welcome cause to induce right away.*
*A note about induction: While it's not the ideal circumstance for everyone, I had previously undergone an induction with my first child at 39 weeks and 2 days. The process was relatively smooth and I was pleased with the outcome. After one successful induction, I had little reason to be wary of a second one.
At the Hospital
The first rule of being induced is to eat a full meal beforehand. The process can take up to 48 hours, during which mama is only allowed to have clear liquids. But finding a nice, pre-baby lunch spot during a pandemic is no easy feat.
Mike and I stopped at a sandwich shop that was offering curbside pickup near the hospital and drove to a nearby park to eat in the car. Then, it was off to labor and delivery.
When we arrived, we were greeted by a woman wearing a face mask and wielding a thermometer. We were asked a series of questions: Had we experienced a dry cough? Shortness of breath? Fever? Had we recently traveled outside the country?
Our temperatures were taken and we were allowed to proceed to the front desk to check in.
Once settled in my room, we were greeted by two nurses wearing face masks. It was the first day they were required to wear them on duty, and each person seemed to be feeling some kinda way about it. Some were relieved to have the protection, others seemed agitated by the inconvenience. Either way, not being able to see the faces of those helping me through labor was a glaring change from the last time I gave birth.
Mike and I were not required to wear masks throughout our stay, except on the rare occasion that we were allowed to leave our room. Just two days later, as we were leaving, we were told that all incoming patients would need to wear face masks throughout labor.
Now, for the nitty gritty. Here's how the birth went down -- and it was neither as quick nor as easy as I thought it should be for a second baby... at least not compared to my first. You can read about my first delivery here and at the link below.
The Birth of Colton Dean
Thursday, March 26:
Began Pitocin drip at a level of two, increasing by two every 30 minutes. Along the way, I bounced on my yoga ball, watched a Harry Potter marathon on TV and ate lemon Italian ice.
My cervix pretty much refused to dilate beyond 1 cm, much like my first labor. (My doctor assured me that having gone through a vaginal delivery once prior, my body would know what to do this time. Apparently it still didn't get the memo.)
Doctor performed a membrane sweep and inserted a Foley Balloon. Unlike my first delivery, I was not offered pain management at this point. I'll just say it was... unpleasant.
The Foley Balloon came out sooner than expected. At that point, I was 4.5 cm dilated and 70 percent effaced. Contractions became more painful, but I was managing by taking deep, slow breaths in and out while counting to myself.
Periodically, a doctor would check to see if my water was ready to break. But we never got to that point. With all that extra amniotic fluid and baby's head not yet fully engaged in the birth canal, breaking the bag of water too early would likely cause the umbilical cord to wrap around baby's neck. So, we continued waiting.
Friday, March 27:
At the end of one contraction, I felt something large and slippery pass through my body onto the bed. I couldn't see it over my belly, but I told Mike and our nurse what I felt. "Maybe that was the mucus plug...?" I suggested.
I watched as both their faces silently froze. The nurse shook her head.
As she cleaned up the pad and set it on a nearby counter, rather than the garbage, I saw an enormous blood clot. My contractions were too painful to linger on that image for much longer, but I did notice another nurse snap a photo with her phone to send to the doctor. Over a call, she said that my bleeding hadn't worsened. Then, she assured me that it was nothing to worry about and was likely caused by my cervix dilating so rapidly.
Epidural time.* Sweet relief -- for a while.
*A note about the epidural: I waited a bit longer to make the call this time because I wanted to see how far I could push myself. If labor really did go as quickly as people said it would, I felt confident that I could power through. But this was not going quickly.
An agonizingly painful sprint, I felt I could handle. A marathon, not so much. And this was turning out to be more of the latter.
At this point, I allowed my body to rest with one leg draped over a peanut-shaped ball. I was told the position simulated a squat, although I was skeptical. Mike convinced me to have a strawberry Italian ice at this point, which we jokingly credited as the reason my water broke during my first delivery.
Turns out, it worked again.
As I shifted to flip onto my left side, my water broke and flooded the bed. Hallelujah!
As I reached full dilation, my entire body was shaking with full-blown, teeth-chattering chills. Suddenly, I felt an overwhelming urge to vomit. I was unable to move or even lift my head, becoming largely unresponsive but still awake. I held a bag to my mouth, but never actually filled it.
My blood pressure had dropped to 87/52 and my Pitocin drip was promptly stopped. I heard the nurses talking about a c-section.
I snapped back enough to send a message to baby boy: Listen, I thought. They are going to pull you out of here either way. Please just help me out and cooperate here, it'll be better for both of us.
4 am (ish)
Apparently, he did listen. My doctor arrived and I began to push
Progress was slow, but steady. I could feel him coming, but I couldn't see anything beyond the eyes of my doctor and the resident she was working with. What I saw was panic on the resident's face and my doctor, swatting his hands away, telling him, "I got it. I got it."
What I heard from the nurse in my ear was that a large group of people would be rushing into the room at any moment... But they never did.
Thankfully, as he did with our first, Mike was committed to watching the whole process and gave me the lowdown afterwards.
Our baby (and his gorgeous full head of hair) was stuck. As I gave a heroic push and he began to emerge, his coloring looked like a shade of blue Mike hadn't seen with our daughter's birth. Quickly, my doctor muscled him around, twisting and turning him while looping the umbilical cord up from around his neck. A nurse, meanwhile, pressed down on my pelvis with her full strength and body weight.
With one more tweak of his shoulder, the doctor pulled him out and placed him right on my chest. Mike and I both cried, and my heart doubled in that instant.
He was more quiet than my daughter was, yet beautifully responsive to the sound and smell of his mother. Nurses rubbed him vigorously until he cried, sucking the fluid from his nose and mouth with a bulb syringe aspirator. It wasn't long until he was rooting to breast feed and he took to it right away.
He weighed in at 8 lbs 2 oz, 22.5 inches long. His head was perfectly round and his face a little bruised from the journey. He was flawless.
After the placenta was delivered, my doctor took a few moments to examine my body before declaring, "Hm, you don't have any tears at all. I don't need to do any stitches."
Shock is not a strong enough word. I was floored. I probably could have fallen right on the floor from the pure shock of that statement. The human body is a CRAZY thing, you guys.
Recovery and Discharge
Our stay in recovery was brief. The door stayed closed and we were asked not to roam the hallways. No visitors were allowed in, so the most human contact we had was with our nurses and the women delivering meals from the kitchen.
My husband, meanwhile, ate nothing but lemon zest Luna bars that I packed from home and some scraps from my meals. With active coronavirus cases elsewhere inside the hospital, he couldn't bring himself to risk a trip to the cafeteria to feed himself. The maternity snack room he frequented on our previous stay was now closed to everyone except the medical staff.
We FaceTimed with friends and family, met with a lactation consultant and debated what to name our baby. Almost 12 hours after he was born, I wrote "Colton Dean Boya" on his birth certificate paperwork.
By Saturday afternoon, about 36 hours after the birth, we were discharged.
Colton and I have been recovering at home in self-quarantine, save for his well-baby checkups at the pediatrician's office. We are screened for temperature at the door when we arrive, I wear a cloth face mask, and Colton stays zipped up in his carseat cover.
Rather than receiving guests at home, I receive text messages: "Hey! Just dropped something at your door. Hope you and the little one are doing well!" It's a strange time, to be sure, but I've been blown away by the thoughtfulness of our tribe near and far. We've received meals, treats, flowers and gifts not only for the new baby, but for his big sister and Mama, too.
As for Colton, he is growing and thriving better than I ever could have hoped for. Beyond that, he simply has the sweetest demeanor.
He can be noisy, but hardly ever cries.
He radiates joy and we feel beyond fortunate that he's ours.
Thank you, beautiful boy, for brightening our world more than we ever could have imagined. You, and your timing, are perfect.
Mom Needs Merlot