My birth story: I gave birth in an Airbnb during a pandemic

I am so grateful that through perseverance, early planning and certainly some luck, I was able to manifest the birth that I wanted—even through a pandemic.

airbnb pandemic home birth
Rita Cotter

My husband and I are planners. We had scoped out midwives and birth centers before we even conceived, and we planned the due date around my husband's work vacations.

But we could have never planned for the Coronavirus pandemic that threatened to ruin all of our thorough birth plans.

I work as an advocate for sexual assault survivors; informed consent and bodily autonomy are hugely important to me. My first birth, for my 2-year-old son, was at a birth center. It was mostly wonderful, but I have vivid memories of cervical checks late in labor that have haunted me, and I knew I wanted an even more hands-off approach this time.


I also wanted someone knowledgeable to be with me in case things did not go as planned. We had the unfortunate experience of watching our first son delay his first breath for a whole 6 minutes after he was born (don't worry he is fine). But for our second birth, we knew we needed an attentive provider who could give us the personalized care we were searching for.

We live in the very rural Florida Keys where birth options are extremely limited. There are no home birth midwives that would come as far south as we live. As a result, we needed to get a little creative in manifesting the birth that I wanted—a water birth at home with a hands-off midwife who would respect my autonomy.

We found a wonderful midwife in south Miami who had been coming to the Keys to deliver babies at home for years. She was knowledgeable about water birth, very consent-minded, and had a hands-off framework for her practice—it immediately felt like a perfect fit. But she would not come as far south as we lived, which was over 2 hours from her office.

So we started researching short term rental houses closer to her office. We soon found a beautiful house in Key Largo, with a little beach right down the street. We reserved the house several months out from the birth to make sure we had everything squared away far ahead of go time.

The pandemic started

Then we started watching Coronavirus spread across the country.

Our jobs became exclusively remote, our toddler started staying home from daycare, and our county shut down the only road into our community to non-residents and banned all vacation rentals. We started seeing our neighbors calling in non-Florida license plates as possible violations of the non-resident ban.

I started to get nervous that we were not going to be able to rent the Key Largo house after all. Then when folks renting vacation houses started to get ticketed, I really started to panic.

Where would I give birth if we could not rent that house?

I kept hoping that the vacation rental ban would be over by the time my due date got closer, but it became very clear as May approached that the ban, and the roadblock keeping out nonresidents (such as my midwife), would still be in place.

I started calling the State Attorney's Office who was prosecuting cases related to vacation rentals. I was told that the ban was not meant to affect folks like myself, but that there were not any exemptions in the rule—not a response that invoked reassurance.

I then started calling everyone in county government that I could think of, from the County Commissioner to the Code Enforcement requesting an exception. I had to lay out my birth plan in plain language with a lot of government employees.

We got the green light

Finally, I received an email directly from the County Attorney assuring me that they would not prosecute me and that I could use that email as proof should law enforcement come to the door. It was such a relief! I was then able to submit a letter for my non-resident midwife to get through the roadblock—maybe this would work after all!

We arrived in Key Largo a week before my due date, and I nervously said hello to our new temporary neighbors, hoping they would not call us in for an illegal vacation rental—mainly just receiving wide eyes back at my massive belly. I walked with my toddler every day trying to convince my baby to come meet us sooner rather than later.

Finally, two days after my due date, contractions started as soon as I woke up. I was so excited! I called my midwife and gave her a heads up that I thought today would be the day.

My mom and husband were both still working from home and had morning meetings, so I timed my own contractions while watching the toddler for 3 hours in the morning. My toddler had been prepped with books about home birth, as well as home birth videos, and was not scared at all. He mainly watched his movies, and sometimes would come over and hug my belly while I bounced on my birth ball through contractions.

My midwife called every hour and by the fifth hour, I told her I was ready for her to come down—especially considering she had a 1-hour drive and police checkpoint to go through.

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As my contractions intensified, I asked my husband to start filling up the birth tub in our room, and my mom took over toddler duty. As the tub was filling up, I put on one of my favorite comedy specials hoping to laugh the baby down while sitting on the birth ball. I got in the tub and instantly felt so much more relaxed and confident. I was a little worried I was going to slow down my labor by staying in the tub for so long, so I got out and labored on the toilet to encourage the baby to keep moving down. I was ready to meet my baby.

My midwife and the assistant midwife arrived and set up their supplies quietly. They checked the baby's heartbeat and my blood pressure, gave the all-clear, and then generally left me alone, keeping a watchful eye to make sure we were safe.

After sitting on the birth ball a bit more, I let everyone know that I believed I was in transition since it was getting harder to relax into the contractions. I got into the tub and instantly felt a wave of relief followed by an urge to push.

My birth

I had mentally prepared to push less intensely than I had with my last birth so I would not tear as badly. I reclined against the birth tub and let my body do the work of pushing for about 15 minutes. And then I realized that my baby was really about to come—which I announced to the whole room. I got up on my knees facing the wall of the tub and my husband held one hand while I put my other hand down to feel the head of my baby coming out.

My midwife briefly put her hand down to feel where the baby was and then told me that I had it under control and that it was time for me to deliver my baby.

I pushed and then somehow managed to breathe through the ring of fire for a couple of breaths in order to give my body a chance to adjust to the baby's head—and then I pushed out the head, roaring while I did.

Once the head was out, I took a couple of breaths until their body turned and then, at 4:34 pm, my baby came out into the world. We made sure that breathing started right away and then looked to see the gender. We had another boy! I immediately called in my toddler to meet his brother and we all had a beautiful family meeting.

About 5 minutes after he was born, I delivered the placenta, which felt like such a relief in my body. Once we were ready, my husband cut the cord and the midwife helped me to bed where my husband and baby were waiting. We had good family snuggles getting to know the new member of our family while the midwives brought us some yummy leftovers to eat.

I am so grateful that through perseverance, early planning and certainly some luck, I was able to manifest the birth that I wanted—even through a pandemic.

Moms can do anything.

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