Considering the current climate around birth in this country, I wanted to write about something that may be deeply painful but needs to be addressed. A lot of birthing people are being asked to give birth alone, without their support system, or with their support system on a video chat or phone call. It is an absolutely heart-wrenching way to give birth, and I know this from experience.
When I had my daughter 2 years ago, my husband was waiting in the Middle East for a plane to fly home to us. He had left when I was 14 weeks pregnant, barely showing and only just getting over the nausea. He finally did arrive back home one week after my daughter was born. I do not write this for pity’s sake, but hopefully to encourage those people getting ready to give birth that do not know if their partner will be allowed to be with them. So I’m going to write about a few things that I went through in my pregnancy and birth experience that those people might be going through, and how I got through it all alone.
A lot of birthing people are being asked to give birth alone, without their support system, or with their support system on a video chat or phone call."
Like I said, my husband was gone by the time I was 14 weeks pregnant. Our situation was obviously different, but the lack of a partner is the lack of a partner. He was across the world, in a dangerous place, and I didn’t know if he would come home at all, let alone in time for me to give birth. I’ve heard from families that they’re facing the same kinds of issues during the pandemic. “The doctor’s office won’t let my husband into the room for ultrasounds.” “I don’t know if they’ll let him be at the birth.” My husband was not at any of my ultrasounds, of which there were many, except for the first “dating” ultrasound at 11 weeks. It is hard sitting in a room with people you don’t know, excited and giddy at the sight of your baby’s toes and nose and belly and having no one to share it with. The technicians were always willing to print extra photos, however, since they knew I was alone. So ask the technicians if they’ll print you some extra keepsake ultrasounds.
During your pregnancy, it is absolutely paramount that you educate yourself. You have to be the person in the room willing to ask questions of your doctors and midwives, because there is no one else there to advocate for you. Find your voice, educate yourself, and do not be afraid to ask the questions you need answered. I was much more assertive with my doctors and midwives during my third pregnancy than my second, because I had to be. If we’ve learned nothing else during these last few months, we’ve learned that we can do hard things. Take a childbirth education class, research every aspect of birth, hire a doula experienced with virtual work just in case, and be ready and open to talking with your providers.
Now, to the hardest part. Giving birth alone. It is not guaranteed at this moment that you will have to give birth alone without support. Most hospitals will allow you to have at least one support person there. But I encourage you to pre-mourn the experience you wanted. Acknowledge that times are different now, and while you can still have an absolutely beautiful empowered birth, there are things that may not be possible. Educating yourself helps here too. Know the questions to ask your providers if they come in and recommend things to ‘speed things along’. Research the policies of your birthing place to see what changes they’ve made during the pandemic. And recognize that you are doing an incredibly brave thing. Acknowledge the greatness and the beauty and the wonder in yourself that you are capable of giving birth alone if you must. And take a million photos. Video call your partner during labor if they can’t be with you. Enlist the help of your nurses and doctors and midwives. They feel the weight of this burden and want to help you lift it. When I gave birth to my daughter, the anesthesiologist held my phone with my husband on a video call throughout the entire surgery. He did not have to do that. The OB who delivered my daughter sat with me and patiently answered my questions about the surgery I was about to have, making sure I was an active part of the decision. The OR nurse found the perfect song to play on her personal phone so my daughter could be born to the sound of David Bowie. And they did this because I asked.
The same goes for after your wonderful baby is born. Take a million pictures, and enlist the help of your nurses. I gave birth at a baby friendly hospital with no nursery, and the nurses took turns holding my darling girl so I could sleep for a few hours in between nursing. I will be forever grateful for that.
It is not guaranteed at this moment that you will have to give birth alone without support."
I also want to touch on a topic that is not fully mine, but needs to be addressed. The guilt of the partner that misses it. It doesn’t have to be a partner that misses either. It could be a mother, a best friend, a sister. My husband has struggled with the guilt of missing his daughter’s birth for the last two years. It’s a hard thing to grapple with. So it’s important that we address the guilt and the grief a partner may be going through in this situation and remind them that it is not their fault in any way. There is nothing they could do or have done to make it this way. And maybe help them find a way to be there in other ways for the new baby, and for you. Help them brainstorm these ways now, so they do not feel they are left out. Something quite sweet that a friend of mine did for his wife was decorate the house when she brought their son home for the first time. He bought a special garland, put a sign in the yard, had fresh flowers waiting for her. Find a way to make that moment when they meet their child for the first time special. I had a onesie printed for my daughter to wear at the airport that said, “I’ve Waited My Whole Life To Meet You, Daddy,” and it made my husband cry (quite a big feat). Find these little special things to do, and make it better for them in the ways that you can.
Giving birth alone is one of the hardest things I’ve ever been through. And while it was lonely, I worked hard to make sure that I had a good experience, and I feel like I did. I also recognize that it pales in comparison to the situation at hand. Giving birth alone during the pandemic is a different beast, and I applaud anyone going into that situation. And my God, what a story you’ll have to tell your child.