Sweat fell from her forehead and fear spilled from her eyes. Her gaze darted from me to her husband to the nurse. Her arms flailed like snakes on Medusa’s head. Her legs pushed me away, pushing her up in the bed, as if she could push away her pain…at least, that is what she hoped for.
Her husband was crying and pale and shouting, “There is so much blood! So much blood!” He fell into his wife’s shoulder, crumbling. He didn’t know this is how women labor, how babies are born; he just saw his wife suffering.
Our muffled voices behind mask after mask after mask, hushed reassurances barely penetrating through each layer. It’s okay, you’re okay, your baby is almost here. This is all normal.
But is this normal? Our new normal?
Her labor moved so fast. The searing pain ripped through her abdomen. And then the overwhelming pressure from the baby’s head pushing down into her birth canal, stretching her vagina so fast it began to bleed. Although we stood next to her, supporting her, comforting her, our layers upon layers upon layers of masks, gowns, caps, face shields, gloves, and booties to protect ourselves, made us miles away. All we had were our eyes and muted voices; they had to transmit everything we used to be able to communicate with our unhindered voices, our uncovered smile, our ungloved touch. You are doing great, your baby is coming soon, fast and furious but all is well.
She looked at all of us again, barely registering who was who in the mass of blue. Somehow, she heard our callings, the whispers floating to her in the air. She breathed in our strength and breathed out her fear. She breathed in fully and began to bear down.
Soon, wisps of baby’s hair peeked out when she pushed. A couple more pushes and the top of her baby’s head crowned. Her husband screamed at her side, “I see our baby, I see her!”
With one last deep breath, one last contraction, and our collective push behind her, her baby popped out into the world. I put her on her mother’s belly. Skin to skin, still attached by the pulsing umbilical cord, mother and baby held on to each other, the only two in the room who could touch without any barrier.
We all rejoiced with our new mother, our hero.
Behind our masks, we smiled. Behind our face shield, we had tears. Behind our gowns, our hearts swelled. She was so brave and courageous and strong. She had no choice. Babies wait for no one, not even a virus. And this mother rose to the challenge of birthing during a pandemic as all of us care givers, behind the many protective coverings, tried to make it an intimate moment for her.
Dr. Andrea Eisenberg is an obstetrician-gynecologist at Royal Oak William Beaumont Hospital. Her private practice is in Farmington Hills, MI.
Disclaimer: The thoughts and opinions in the Frontline Voices initiative reflect experiences of individual ACOG members and do not represent official organizational opinions of ACOG.