Once Upon A Pandemic Birth: Chantal Eder's Story
Monday, September 26, 2022
On Tuesday (38 weeks 5 days) something had changed. My braxton hicks contractions, which were normally happening at night, started first thing in the morning. They started to come more frequently and I thought maybe this was it! Time to meet our baby girl.
Fast forward 4 days later, to Friday. I had alternated between days where I had energy and could work through the constant tightenings and days where I had to spend most of the day in bed. I worked on some exercises to open and align my pelvis but I was feeling frustrated, annoyed, and exhausted. I’d been wanting to cry all week and I finally did. I wrote my baby girl a letter, I journaled, and I cried.
Saturday I woke up with a renewed energy. I accepted that this was my life now and the tightenings could continue for days or even weeks. I made açai bowls (which I have never done), finished my postpartum sanctuary plan, had time to connect with Mark about his feelings and how we could stay connected postpartum, finished some admin, hung out with Josef, did more exercises, and just generally had a very productive day.
Is this it?
Saturday night we watched Together At Home, as I rolled on my birth ball. I went to bed around 10:30pm and got a tightening that felt a bit stronger but dismissed it, as they usually got stronger in the evening, so I didn’t think much of it. I fell asleep and woke at 11:45pm breathing heavily through a tightening. My body instinctively instructed me to breathe, even in my sleep. This one was definitely stronger. Since I had had days of these I was still skeptical but I got up anyway, told Mark I was taking a shower and to do whatever he needed to, in case this was it. He didn’t believe it either so took his time mustering up the energy to get out of bed.
I had another tightening in the shower which I had to breathe and move through. Mark was busy changing the sheets, emptying Josef’s bathroom – as this is where everyone would change their clothes, wash their hands, and mask up to ensure a protected environment from Covid-19. Another strong surge came. Now they were about 10 mins apart.
I dried off and changed into comfortable clothes. I had set some birth altars up in the living room, as I had anticipated a water birth but at the moment the bedroom felt like the safe space, so I quickly set up a little altar there. I lit a candle but questioned whether I should start my playlist. For some reason it felt a bit silly, unfamiliar, since I never got to do this for my first birth. I reminded myself that this was MY birth space and pressed play, I read some birth affirmations and started the contraction timer.
Mark pumped up the birth pool, put the coffee on, and prepped some snacks for the birth team.
I was working through the tightenings on my own, leaning over on the bed and rocking my hips, starting to moan through them, then standing and walking in between. They started to come every 6 mins or so. At 12:50am, after about an hour, I called Robina, our midwife.
By the time I got a hold of her I was already on to my next contraction. She heard me work through it and decided to head over, saying at worst she would spend the night on the couch.
Time started to blur. I remember being alone for a lot of my waves, tuning into my playlist, remembering to relax my jaw and shoulders. Connecting with my baby girl. At one point I went out to find Mark and ask what he was doing…’I’m about to chop some vegetables’ he said, as he was preparing the snacks. ‘They are just parking’. I asked him to come move through the next contraction with me, so we could have one together just the two of us. I sat on the birth ball and he was on the bed. I took this position as we laboured like this when Josef was born. Turns out this time it was very uncomfortable. By the time we had moved through one contraction the birth team had arrived. Mark left again to help them set up.
I was alone, back in between the bed and the closet, the smallest space in the apartment. The waves were getting stronger. I moved my hips, almost dance like, and breathed with the music on my playlist. I thought of my friend who recently had a 40 hr labour and said to myself, if she can do that I can do this, trying to channel some of her strength. At one point I remember standing up and reaching my arms out and holding the hands of all other women in labour at that moment. Sending and receiving strength. I moved through about 3 contractions like this, alone, in my own world of labourland.
The birth team checked my vitals as Mark started to run the water in the birth pool. It was around 1:45am. Maggie, the birth assistant, tried a hip squeeze to help, noticing that I wasn’t holding any tension in my body. By that point I was beyond wanting to be touched. They eventually switched places so Mark could be with me. I lost my rhythm a bit with everyone in the room and I couldn’t find a comfortable position. Robina joked, ‘nothing is going to be ‘comfortable’ but she offered me some pillows to lean into and it felt like heaven. I could have almost fallen asleep. I knew I needed to stop standing. My legs were starting to shake. My next wave was strong and brought me down to my knees. Mark was trying to hold me up and I yelled at him to just let me go. In a fit of frustration I threw the washcloth off my back and pushed the bucket away, that I had gone to get as I was feeling nauseous earlier. I went down into a kneeling side lunge and eventually found myself on the pillows on Mark’s lap, moving between all fours and collapsing into his arms.
In both pregnancies I always ask my babies when they will arrive. Josef gave me the number 8 and he was born just after 8 am. This little Love Warrior was more specific. She said April 18 and gave me the number 3. At this point the clock read 2:18am. I thought there was no way she was coming that fast.
The tightenings were getting stronger and I was getting louder. I was waiting for someone to take me to the pool but everyone was just in the room with me. I had no idea how much longer it would be before she arrived, my concept of time was lost.
I was present in my body but also somewhere far away. I heard a stirring and voices, which brought me back. Josef, our toddler, had woken up from my roars. He came into the room, wondering what was happening. Mark held onto him and I had enough adrenaline to say hello, stroke his back, and tell him the baby was coming and I was ok. Then I couldn’t hold it together anymore. I pushed Mark back with the next wave and roared.
At some point Josef’s babysitter came and helped him back to his room.
I remember the tightenings getting stronger and not stopping. I yelled ‘I’m not getting a break, where’s the break!’. ‘The baby is coming’ someone said. I remember thinking ‘I know that!!! But when, how long? Now or hours from now? How much longer? Why am I not in the pool?…My thoughts were getting away with me but were interrupted by the most intense wave of all…I half heartedly yelled ‘I’m going to die!’… my internal voice again, providing an inner dialogue ‘ I know I’m not going to die but I don’t have the words to describe how I am feeling and that is the worst thing I can think of to say’.
I reached my hand back to feel a head, anything to tell me it was over soon. I felt my waters burst. Then a little head start to emerge. Then it all stopped. ‘What happened?’ I asked ‘why have they stopped?!’. Robina reminded me, ‘trust it, another one will come’. And it did. I felt the burning as her head emerged. One last contraction as my uterus pushed my baby’s body out. It was 3:03am.
I collapsed in Mark’s lap. I was done. Depleted. I heard a voice calling me back from somewhere ‘lean back and meet her when you’re ready’. It took all my strength to push up on my arms and crawl back. There she was. Just laying on the floor. Was that my baby? She is here…it took me a minute to take her presence in. Almost unsure if I could reach down and touch her…
Did we let Covid into our home?
Even though I was not in a hospital, birthing in the midst of a pandemic at the epicentre of it all, came with another layer of anxiety and unknowns. After self isolating for nearly 5 weeks from the outside world, opening your house to people feels heavy and dangerous. Am I endangering my son, my family by staying home. Even though home seems safer than a hospital…nowhere actually felt 100% covid safe.
On day 5 postpartum, I got out of bed to stretch and immediately broke into intense chills. I had to put 4 layers on and get under the covers, as my body moved uncontrollably. My temperature started to rise. I broke down emotionally. I was terrified. I didn’t know if I should touch my baby, my toddler, or my husband. I started blaming myself for things that weren’t in my control. My anxiety rising thinking of the possibilities. Tanya, our other midwife, talked me through my fears, she stayed calm and told me the chances of Covid were low and all we could do now was monitor the symptoms. She took me through all the possibilities, prescribed some antibiotics to have at the ready in case it was mastitis – which is an odd thing to hope it is, but at this point I would have taken anything, and we waited.
The chills lasted 3 days, luckily my temperature didn’t rise. Slowly the symptoms started to slow and I returned to health. I was thankful but still on edge. It took another 14 days from then for me to relax into the idea that we were all ‘safe’.
It’s an odd pull of emotions to want to savor the newborn days but also want the 14 day time limit to pass so you can safely say your family is clear of Covid symptoms. To want to make sure your newborn is healthy but not want to take them to the pediatrician. To feel lonely but not want anyone to step foot into your house.
Birth in the time of Coronavirus is definitely not what anyone anticipated. Being in NYC at the peak of the pandemic, the rules around birth were coming down heavy. There was a panic in most of my mom’s groups which pierced my own experience. Will I have to give birth alone? Are hospitals safe? Are there enough paramedics on hand if something goes wrong? Will I be separated from my baby? Should we flee the city?
We had planned a home birth before the virus made an appearance in the US and we are ever grateful that the birth went well and we got to stay home; even still, the fear of Covid still made its way into our birth space.
When we had decided on a home birth it held the intention of ease and comfort, away from the strict rules and sterile environment of a hospital. Building relationships with our midwives in longer in-person visits. As Covid started to make an impact on the birth world, home births were not free from those changes.
The idea of people coming into your home after weeks of isolation held fear, even knowing those people were taking all the precautions they possibly could. The joy of preparation morphed into a military-like procedure – empty Josef’s bathroom of all his things, ensure there is a safe space for people to place their items and clothes upon entering, sterilize everything.
Even in the midst of my contractions my subconscious was layering another story…did everyone wash their hands? were all outside items clean? where were they putting them? And making a checklist of what needed to be cleaned after they left.
I didn’t want to be touched by anyone but Mark, that could have just been a natural reaction or was it because I had an overlaying fear of this virus?
My husband’s mind was doing the same. Holding me through my waves but wondering if Josef was safe. The babysitter had to take her mask off so Josef would recognise her, was this putting him in danger?
I’m sure the birth team also had their own sub-narrative. Their procedures had changed. They had to learn to communicate through masks, sterilize things they’d never even thought to clean before, they had their own safety to look after, and they too were re-uniting with people they had not physically seen in a long time.
This pull of Covid, didn’t allow for the full ease and comfort we had hoped from a home birth. My subconscious being on high alert pulled me out of the present moment and tuned me into things I otherwise may not have noticed. I distinctly remember Mark and I snapping to attention when the birth assistant was changing the temperature in the room ‘what are you doing?!’, something that would most likely have passed us by if we were totally focused and relaxed.
For this it felt like this birth had two stories. The timeline, the events, the emotions of the birth itself but also the additional layer of the Covid storyline, which pulled me out of where I wanted to be.
In my most connected moments I was alone, in tune with my body and my baby. But I also experienced a huge disconnect in the moments of her actual emerging into the world. I feel like I somehow missed it. My body was there doing the work but my mind was somewhere else. Opening into this hyper awareness for Covid also invited my inner critic in. I began to judge myself, my sounds, my abilities. I was worried that I was being judged by the people around me. Was I doing well enough? Something I had not experienced at all with Josef’s birth and not anticipated at all with this birth. I was pulled in more directions than I was prepared for and it has left an impact on my story, that I am still working through.
Will we get to stay home?
Taking her up in my arms, I remember melting into the wall behind me. She was safe, she was here.
I was asked by our photographer what that moment feels like and this was the best I could find:
I don’t have the word, or maybe it doesn’t exist and there should be one that encompasses everything you feel when you meet your baby for the first time. The being that has been inside you and part of you for so long, now here on this earth. Relief and Disbelief, Joy and Love, and a kind of breaking. For me at least. Flooded with a rainbow of bright lights that penetrate you to the core. It’s an indescribable feeling of falling apart and coming together. Life. Maybe it feels like life. And Love.
We moved to the bed and she latched for the first time. We patiently awaited the placenta.
This was a big moment for me. Last time my placenta didn’t detach and I ended up in the OR. Baby was out safe but this was hanging over us. Would I need to transfer now?
My waves kept coming, they were incredibly strong and accompanied by an intense burning. I wasn’t ready to breathe through these sensations and they took me by surprise. But this was a good sign. Last time they had just stopped. Robina sat with me patiently, I could feel her supportive energy, knowing that this was a big moment for me. Maggie, the birth assistant, gave me some herbs, Robina asked me to push…more herbs appeared, push again. I was holding my baby girl praying my placenta would detach. And finally, they could see it emerge. One last push and it was out. I was flooded with relief. We were staying home.
The euphoria that followed this moment was like nothing I’d ever experienced. We were safe, she was here, I was home and we didn’t have to go anywhere.
I can truly say it felt amazing. To be in my own bed with my baby girl beside me. To rest feeling ‘safe at home’ with my husband and son. The relaxation set over me and I was on a high of love and gratefulness.
My immediate recovery was unbelievable. The energy and strength in my body and mind were unexpected. To be able to heal in my own time, in my own space was incredibly sacred and full and I am forever grateful for our decision to birth at home.
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