How Hypnobirthing Helped My "Positive" Birth Experience During a Pandemic
Updated: Apr 24, 2020
I would start with the typical cliche “this is not what we had in mind”
I could say “I didn’t ever imagine it’d go this way”
I could also mention, “we planned this pregnancy as best as we could so that we could stay home as long as possible.”
But none of those would even make a difference when the time came. And it certainly could not have prepared us for the depths of how we welcomed our baby boy into the world.I tested positive for COVID-19 the day after William George was born. I was asymptomatic but needed to be tested because my husband Timothy was tested a week before I gave birth after experiencing symptoms.
I went into labor on the night after my birthday, March 31st after spending the day scrubbing the closet floors & cooking every recipe I saw on Instagram that looked the slightest bit intriguing. We sat down to eat around 8:30pm & I told Tim that I never felt this kind of uncomfortableness before. I finished the food on my plate and remember feeling a bit upset that I couldn't pull myself together to try the banana bread I baked. I took a few different positions on my yoga ball, while my dogs surrounded me with concern.
I had a strong feeling this was it. But, I did not want it to be.
You see, we haven't received Tim’s COVID results yet, and if this was “IT”, we un-spokenly knew the hospital wouldn't let him in. In fact, by the time his results did come back, they were invalid and it would already be past the “14 day” period in which he would have been recovered and clear from quarantine. My test was supposed to be done the next morning in preparation for my scheduled c-section on that Friday. And without my results, I faced a spiraling tunnel of a uncertainty for how exactly my birth would really go.
Preparing for Birth
I feared giving birth. Looking back, I still remember the “denial” phase of not believing this little human would emerge from lady parts. I discussed this fear with everyone. And of course, there was literally nobody who could tell me something positive other than the fact that you had a child in the end. Until one day, my husband's cousin, Iliana, who I seriously love even more dearly after this experience, gave me advice that I kind of brushed off at first glance. "Why would you sign up for a major surgery to do something God designed you to do on your own?", she said. Iliana also introduced me to someone who would open up the world of birthing to me in a way that I never knew existed.
Rachel was Iliana’s neighbor. She recently moved but they still kept in touch. We exchanged numbers after realizing we were due 3 weeks apart from each other, both with boys. Our first hangout was a prenatal yoga class that seriously opened my eyes to the supportive community I could have while figuring out how to navigate this journey. Prana Prenatal Yoga Studio in Portchester, NY was a Disneyworld for the moms of Westchester. It provided resources and community far beyond anything you could ever fathom for before and after birth. I could go into detail about that first yoga experience, but I’ll save that for another post. Rachel was preparing for birth through Hypnobirthing. She recommended a few reads and told me she was taking the class offered at our studio. It seemed like a stretch but, I wanted to believe this mindset was all I would need to conquer this experience.
My husband and I invested in the 4-week series of classes at our yoga studio with Sarah Martin from Confident Birth Westchester. This taught us the ins and outs of Hypnobirthing: The Marie Mongan Method. We went and dedicated ourselves to the practice of releasing oxytocin in preparation for a "calm birth." At the time, I had no idea how birth could even be calm. Who would think to put those two words in the same sentence? Yet as I listened to the research, watched birth stories & heard of first hand accounts, I started having faith that this could actually be. I even read additional books such as Your Baby Your Birth by Hollie de Cruz, the founder of London Hypnobirthing and Birth Without Fear by Hachette Books. Each night, Tim and I would play our meditation music to relax my aching body to sleep. I would soak in lavender baths while listening to pregnancy affirmations. We created a playlist of our favorite songs that made us happy. We had essential oils going at bedtime & would visualize how our birth would go. We spoke about each of our roles and how we wanted to room to be set up. It provided a sense of comfort for us, until the pandemic tried to take that comfort away.
When Tim was sick, I would chant the affirmations in my head while I sat alone on the couch for over a week. I would say to myself “I am prepared for whatever turn my birth may take” because I knew that was the only one that held true given the circumstances. Truth was, I had absolutely no idea what "turn" my birth would take. I just needed to trust that however this little human wanted to emerge, the world would open up just for him, as he wanted it to. Whatever was going to be, would be.
After my disappointment of being too uncomfortable to take a bite of the banana bread I just whipped up, Tim started timing the contractions. My vocalizations began to escalate. I started pulling from my “toolbox” what I could do to make myself comfortable. At that point, I was in the bath on all fours, working between cat and cow pose, just letting the water hit my back and allowing each surge to come over me. I continued to listen to my affirmations and remember saying the affirmation, “My surges cannot be stronger than me, because they are me.” Our bags had been packed for a week or so at that point, since the doctor had let me know I was dilated at my last appointment.
Two hours had passed by & Tim finally convinced me that we needed to go to the hospital. Into the car I went with uneasiness and mentally preparing for what laid ahead. We entered through the emergency room entrance which was a bit scary, because so many people had so many directions for us. Only then had it dawned on me that I should've asked where to go when I had called earlier. They rushed us up a side entrance way with a nurse, didn't ask us the pre-screening questions & failed to provide Tim with a mask upon entering. I had a mask that I found in the car. When we entered labor & delivery, that's when things turned quickly. The typical COVID-19 pre-screening questions were asked and our temperature was taken. I felt so guilty telling them we had outstanding results for Tim. It was heartbreaking. Everyone at the nurses station looked around at each other, as if they didn't know how to proceed or what to say. The doctor on call immediately stepped in, provided Tim with a mask and told him he needed to leave. I stood up out of the wheelchair, and I just remember him looking at me. I'm sure we exchanged words, but the only thing I could recall was walking away from him without a hug or a kiss, alone, into the delivery room across from the nurses station. I would stay in that room for the entire duration of my stay, in "isolation", as precaution.
I remembered the room from the hospital tour we went on earlier that month. I recall telling Tim it felt like the Hilton, with mahogany walls, built in cabinetry and large TV. I didn't know for sure if I was in labor or not, so I didn't want to take anything out of my bags, and I just wanted to know for sure if this was it before doing so. I experienced surges alone in that room for a full hour before the doctor on call came in to check my cervix. Through that time, I debated what to do. Should I empty the shower and sit in there? Should I try and lay on the bed? Should I pull out that yoga ball that was sterilized and wrapped? Again, I felt awkward, I didn't want to touch anything if I wasn't really in labor. I also questioned why I was being so freaking considerate considering they dumped me in that room alone and left me there. I think the intensity of the surges were driving that bit of frustration I was feeling. I didn't want to let it take over me and I knew how detrimental it could be if I did. It was then that I pulled out my "Crowning Rose" illustration, my
lavender oil and took out my headphones to play my affirmations out loud in the room. I knew my "birth plan" would be dismissed because precautionary policies and so whatever I could control, I did. No one could tell me I couldn't look at my visualizations, that I laid across the bed table. No one could tell me to shut off my meditation music. No one could tell me that I couldn't smell my lavender oil either. Those three components were key practices that reminded my body to remain relaxed and calm, while blocking out the fear and anxiety that I didn't want to experience.
When the doctor and nurses came in an hour later, they apologized and checked my cervix, confirming that I was in fact in labor. 5 centimeters dilated to be exact. I was relieved in a weird way. Relieved that this was happening. I felt like I was 9 months pregnant foreverrrrr. Relieved that baby was finally coming. Relieved that my body was healthy and ready to birth this baby the way it was designed to do. Her confirmation of labor empowered me. I was thankful the nurse stood in my room for a little while. She "checked me in" and told me what precautions would be taken given my circumstance. I swore to her I felt so great & there was no way I could have COVID. I was swabbed for precaution and asked if I wanted an epidural.
The idea of an epidural petrified me. But at that point, I knew it was something that could help me through the intensity of the pain that was to come. Especially knowing that I couldn't physically rely on someone, I decided to go for it. I meditated through the fear. Literally. I chanted "Inhale peace, exhale tension." I apologized to the nurse. And I realized I should really stop apologizing. I was confident that I didn't have COVID, but her proximity to me at that moment, during a time where we couldn't even hug our partners, made me feel bad to hold on to her for comfort during the procedure. When it was done, it empowered me even more. How was I scared of that? It was uncomfortable. But not at all to any degree that I feared. I held on to my Hypnobirthing vocabulary. I was not in pain. I was uncomfortable, but not in pain. And after that, I prayed, envisioned my guardian angels and told my husband to rest, as he was in contact with me over the phone on and off. It was about 4am at that point, and my dear nurse & comfort companion advised I rest for as long as I could.
My mother told me before I fell asleep, that I would not remember this person I am today in the morning. For a new person awaits that I could not even fathom at this point in time. And I would not know how I ever lived before this little person came into my life. Boy, was she correct.
I was in and out of sleep through the next few hours, leaving messages to those who helped me with the tools I needed to remain calm up until this point. I reached out to my yoga instructor, Dee, and let her know that even though I was birthing alone, I felt so amazing. I thanked her from the bottom of my heart. She later reached out to our community to send some love over to me through a Facebook post, which continued to fuel the energy I was feeling.
Before switching shifts at 9am, the doctor who welcomed me the previous night checked me again. She said, “Wow, you are 9.5 cm.” She said my water was bulging right in front of his head, so she advised to rupture it so we can get ready to push soon. I wasn’t against the artificial rupture, and I didn't even feel the leak of fluids after. My husband was on Facetime at that point. He played our playlist of choice in the background of our bedroom from home. The new nurses on shift introduced themselves to me and were so extremely calming. Edina was my nurse. Her aura radiated. She sang the songs that my husband played, including Lionel Richie, Michael Jackson & Stevie Wonder. We started singing and laughing and she began dancing around my bed. It wasn’t anything like I had envisioned it, but it was everything I wanted, in its own beautiful way.
The surges were beginning to intensify and I felt the pressure the doctor warned me about. I was soon greeted by my doctor, who happened to be on call that morning. I was so delighted to have her familiar face. And she seemed happy to see me too. Within 30 minutes of pushing, my beautiful boy was placed on my chest. He was quickly removed, and I was doing my best to soak in the triumph that overcame me. My husband was sobbing on the phone, and I was beaming. Not only because my boy was finally here, but because I conquered childbirth! I literally owned it, and I never felt more proud of myself.
My doctor had asked in the midst of everything if I wanted to keep my baby in the room. And I did. But apparently, they needed the results of my COVID test before they could give him back to me. They said the results should be in that evening. I sensed that they were unsure of what the protocol was. I learned in the later days that we were the first family with a COVID suspected (and positive) mommy. I figured a short wait was okay considering my body literally just went through the most traumatic experience of its life. I called my mom and sent photos the nurses had taken of him & requested an iced coffee and some coffee cake from my husband to drop off. The nurses were so calming and reassuring. They felt my hurt & were truly so comforting given the circumstances.
Then, I fell asleep again reminiscing of what just happened. And how beautiful it was. Hypnobirthing was my saving grace through this. It allowed me to release all fear and anxiety, not only that I had toward giving birth, but toward the anxiety I could’ve experienced given the circumstances I faced in the last 12 hours. I held it together, I felt amazing and I did exactly what I wanted to do. Sure, my partner wasn’t physically there, and my baby was taken from me after I pushed him out, but my birth story was truly awesome. I birthed alone, with my husband on a screen, my affirmations & playlist going in the background. I even got the nurses to sing and dance with me during my final stages of labor. I was happy & empowered and felt so badass.
Considering this is already such a longggg story-long story short- I didn't go home with my baby. And I didn't hold him until he came home from the hospital. My test was positive & I wasn't able to directly care for him until 7 days of continued no symptoms. My husband would be considered clear to care for him 2 days after he was cleared to come home. We are so truly blessed to have loved ones knowingly come, risk their good health & sign up to help care for our newborn child for the first few days of his life. The hospital wouldn't release baby William George to either of us, we needed a “healthy caretaker”. Yet, the unknowingness of this all is what stumped me through it all. I couldn't care for my child, but I could go home to the same house as him. I couldn't care for my child yet every 2-3 hours, I could breastfeed him on my breast. It made no sense. I stayed behind my bedroom door as I heard his little cries through the days and nights that passed. I was asymptomatic, so after 7 days of quarantine I was considered clear, not 14… it was all such a foggy blur. Ultimately, the advice our doctor provided was “do your best to wash your hands, and wear a mask for the first few days.” Poor babe. Born into a Darth Vader world of yellow masked people and caregivers who couldn't even feel his soft newborn skin on their cheek. Looking back, this was all such a short snippet in time that felt like an eternity. Eventually I transitioned out of the gloves and then out of the mask I wore when I held him.
Why do I share this? Because birth can be empowering even in the middle of crisis. We are amazing beings. We are resilient and we are strong. Sometimes, we don't meet our strength until we need it most. Our mind is powerful. It can build us up just as easily as it can break us down. Through hypnobirthing, I was able to train my mind to remain calm far beyond what I thought I could handle. That is just the thing. We don't know what we can withstand until we are faced with no other choice. Sure, I could've broke down the moment my husband was separated from me. Or when I was left waiting by myself with my surges intensifying before my labor was even confirmed. Or at any given moment during my birth. Even after, when they took my brand new baby away from me because my results were still "pending". But I did not want any of that to be my story. I worked too hard to get through this moment. I trained for it like a race. I literally trained my mind for birth. I practiced in a few short months how to calm myself enough to release Oxytocin so that my body would feel safe enough to relax and birth my baby on my own. I knew that fear would cause tension in my body and that tension would affect my baby. You are in control of your story. You can choose to be the victim or choose to be empowered in the process. You can understand what you can't control, and take a hold of what you can. You are able, you are important and you will get through this. This is one important moment that will be told to your child for the rest of their lives. You can control the story you tell.
**I am not a medical or mental health professional. I am merely sharing my personal experience.