Aside from some spotting early on, Lauren’s* first pregnancy was relatively easy until a few weeks ago, when she started to worry about what it would be like to give birth in New York City amid the coronavirus pandemic. Her due date was April 3, but she went into labor about two weeks before that, on March 23 — the first day that some New York City–area hospitals banned support partners from labor and delivery rooms. The ban has since been lifted: Following an outcry from expectant parents, medical professionals, and doulas, Governor Cuomo signed an executive order on March 28 requiring all New York hospitals to allow one person to accompany someone who is pregnant through labor and delivery. But for nearly a week, some women, including Lauren, gave birth without a partner present. Lauren, who is in her early 30s, told us what it was like.
My husband and I will have been married five years in November. We’ve always wanted to have kids; we just weren’t ready yet. We started trying last year, and we got pregnant pretty much right away. I had a really easy pregnancy. I never really got sick or felt bad. I had a little spotting in the beginning, which was nerve-wracking, but that resolved itself. My due date was April 3.
I heard people start to talk more about coronavirus at the beginning of March. I asked my doctor, “Should I be worried about this?” They were like, “Well, you know, we’re encouraging good hand-washing.” It seemed like no one really knew this was going to happen. The last day I went into the office was March 11, but even then I didn’t realize how bad it was going to get.
On Thursday, March 19, I went in for a scheduled doctor’s appointment. By that point, it was kind of creepy. Going to the OB had always been fun because they do ultrasounds and you get to see and you’re really excited. But this time was like a ghost town with nobody in the waiting room. I had heard that some hospitals in San Francisco might ban support partners for women in labor, and I asked my doctor about it at the appointment. She said she really didn’t think they’d do that.
Late Saturday night, the 21st, I was looking at Facebook and saw that someone had posted something about the ban on support partners … and I noticed that the hospital where I planned to deliver was included. At first I thought it probably wasn’t true. I had asked a bunch of people — my mother-in-law, who’s a nurse, a friend’s sister who is an OB — and they had all told me that a ban on support partners would probably never happen. I called the hospital, and a nurse told me, “Yeah, we’re not allowing anyone in.” It was really shocking, because we had been checking the website daily, and it still said that you could have one partner with you.
I didn’t really sleep that night because I was so nervous and upset. On Sunday, the 22nd, we called my doctor. She said this was unprecedented and unbelievable and they were having virtual meetings all day to figure out what to do. My husband and I spent the whole day Sunday looking for alternative places to give birth. I was low risk, and I wanted to have an unmedicated birth anyway, so I started looking at birthing centers. I found one nearby, and they said I seemed like a good candidate. I was going to have my doctor send over my records on Monday.
I went to bed, and I woke up in the middle of the night, and my water had broken. It was about 2:30 a.m. I called my doctor, hysterical, saying that I couldn’t go to the hospital because they weren’t going to let my husband in. I was like, “Is there any other place we can go?” My practice also delivers at a hospital in another borough, so I called them, but they said they also had the ban in place. I was really at the point where I was like, “I’m not going to the hospital.” But my doctor told me I had to go. She said she thought the ban wasn’t supposed to go into effect until 7 a.m., so we were going to try to get there before then.
I started having pretty strong contractions soon after that. We got to the hospital at about 6:30 a.m., but they wouldn’t let my husband in. He had the Department of Health guidelines pulled up on his phone, which said that women in labor could have one support person in the room, but they weren’t listening to him. They said, “We’re going to have an iPad for her, you can be on FaceTime, she’s not going to be alone.” Another woman and her husband arrived to have a scheduled C-section, and it was the same thing. She was heartbroken, and they were pretty unsympathetic. Ultimately, there was no choice. My contractions were getting more and more frequent, so it was like, I have to go in, or I’m having a baby in the lobby.
I rode the elevator up with the woman having the C-section, and we were both hysterical. I could barely walk. We had preregistered with the hospital, but for some reason I had to go to the registration office, and this woman was asking me for all this information. At this point, I was on all fours, and the woman was asking me for my husband’s Social Security number and my insurance card. And then she was like, “Why don’t you have anyone with you? You’re allowed to have one support person.” And I said, “Can you please call my husband, then?” But then the nurses from triage came in, and they were like, “No, no, the policy changed.” You tell me I can have my husband, and now you tell me I can’t? It was horrible.
They brought me into the triage room and hooked me up to the machine that measures contractions. And then I was alone. I don’t want to knock the triage nurse. She was nice. She would come in every couple of minutes, but I was alone. There was no iPad. I called my husband, and I said, “We need to get out of here.” I was like, “Is there any other hospital that we can go to?” In the meantime, a doctor came in and said that I was six centimeters dilated, so I was actually pretty far along.
Someone came in to test me for the coronavirus. I was in the middle of a contraction, and this guy was shoving this thing up my nose. I was like, Why are you wasting a test on me? They weren’t going to have the results for 48 hours, and they were saying they were going to discharge me in 24 hours.
Meanwhile, my husband was on the phone with another hospital, saying, “If we come, will you take us?” The challenge was going to be that we would be going in as emergency patients, and you don’t necessarily want to be in an emergency room right now. But I was desperate enough that I told the doctor I was going to leave, and I signed a form to leave against medical advice. But then the midwife from my practice came in, and she examined me. She told me, “This situation is horrible, but if you leave now, you’re going to have a baby in a cab.”
She said she was going to stay with me the whole time, and she really was wonderful. My labor was progressing rapidly, so they moved me to the labor and delivery room. There weren’t many other patients there, so the midwives from another practice came in, and they were all helping me. They were all saying that they didn’t agree with the ban, that they thought it was horrible, and that it makes their job harder not to have support people there. My midwife kept calling the administration of the hospital saying, “Where’s the iPad?” The iPad never came. The midwives took my cell phone and taped it to the bed, and they were recording on their cell phones and taking pictures.
The labor and delivery floor was the best part of the experience, because I was supported by those women. I was wearing a mask — everyone was wearing a mask — and at one point I pulled it down because I couldn’t breathe. I was pushing for about an hour, and then the baby was born, and thankfully the baby was healthy. Maybe an hour and a half after that, I went up to the postpartum floor, and that was when I really felt alone. Part of me would argue that you need someone even more right after giving birth. Because that’s when things got kind of scary. I had lost a lot of blood, I was a hemorrhage risk, and I was really dizzy. Getting up to go to the bathroom, I was worried I was going to pass out.
At that point, I was alone with the baby, and I didn’t know what I was doing. Before that, I’d held like five babies in my life. The nurses were helpful, but they were obviously stretched thin. I couldn’t really breastfeed. The nurses would come in and try to show me, but I wasn’t retaining what they were telling me, because I was so tired and upset. I was a nervous wreck. At one point, the baby was spitting up. It turned out that he had amniotic fluid in his mouth, but I didn’t know that and I didn’t know what to do.
That was the hardest part of being alone, just realizing how little I knew. If something happened to the baby, I wouldn’t know what to do. The nurses offered to take the baby to the nursery if I wanted to rest, but I felt like I couldn’t send the baby to the nursery in the midst of a pandemic, because what if there’s a baby in the nursery that has it?
They told me I would be discharged 24 hours after I gave birth, but it wound up being probably 36 hours later because of some paperwork. When it was time, they had a health aide go down to get the baby’s car seat from my husband. Then we went downstairs, and my husband was standing in the same place in the lobby where they had forced us apart the morning before, and there were all these people in security uniforms. I was in a wheelchair, and the health aide just kind of held the car seat out for him. At that point, we had accepted that my husband was going to have to meet the baby in not-ideal circumstances, but I still would have liked for it not to be our baby being shoved in his face with all these security guards around.
I wanted my husband to be there. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I didn’t want him to miss this, and I didn’t want to do it without him. It’s our baby. We’ve been doing this together.
Right now, we have a healthy baby, and there’s not much else we could have done. But it’s been hard for me to come to terms with the fact that the ban really only was in place for a number of days. I had a lot of guilt initially. Was it my fault that I went into labor early? Was it all the stress from worrying about the coronavirus that caused me to go into labor? I talked to my doctor, and she said it probably wasn’t. But it did cross my mind.
Now, watching the news and seeing how things are, I’m glad the baby came early and we got out of there. It was extremely scary to be in a hospital then, so I can’t imagine what it looks like today. I heard a lot of nurses talking about their fears and how they’re not able to go home to their families because they have elderly family members or people with compromised immune systems. It’s just a terrible situation. My biggest fear is that we got the virus at the hospital. Now, if I cough or sneeze, it’s like a full-blown panic attack. I’m just anxiously waiting to pass the 10-to-14-day mark.
I know that the ban was inappropriate. I think everyone knows that now. Now Cuomo keeps saying, “No woman will ever have to give birth alone. Not now, not ever.” But it did happen. It happened to a lot of people, and we’re never going to get that back.
*Name changed for privacy.
This has been edited and condensed for clarity.
No Expectations is a series about the pandemic’s impact on family planning and parenthood. Have a story to share? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us a little about your situation.