Thanks to COVID-19 and canceled birthing classes, all my childbirth prep was DIY.
I found out I was pregnant just 2 weeks after my husband and I moved from California to New York City. I was thrilled — and also terrified.
How could I prepare for a newborn when I hadn’t even finished unpacking my suitcase, or figured out how to reload my MetroCard, or decided which bagel place was the “good bagel place” in my neighborhood?
To make things even worse, my husband and I had no experience with babies. Neither of us had younger siblings, nor did we make a teenage-living babysitting the neighborhood kids. A handful of our friends and relatives started having kids a few years back, but other than learning that diaper blowouts are “a thing” from a cousin’s Instagram story, I was clueless.
I knew I had to catch up fast, so I signed up for all the best and highest Yelp-rated classes New York had to offer: a five-star “Baby 101” class here, a hospital-run baby CPR tutorial there, a little Lamaze lesson sprinkled on top, and even some new-age no-drug birthing seminar that — let’s be honest— I knew I was probably going to forget about once I was offered an epidural.
Still, I wanted to learn everything I could, and for good reason. According to a 2020 study of 318 women, participating in childbirth classes was associated with almost three times higher likelihood of a successful vaginal delivery.
I pictured myself waddling into the hospital at 40 weeks, rattling off some “Grey’s Anatomy”-like doctor jargon about how the baby was positioned and how many CCs of something I needed before pushing that watermelon out of my hoo-ha like a champ.
But it wasn’t just that I wanted to be a baby expert. I knew that admission to these classes would come with a complimentary handful of fellow new parents trying to figure out how to have a baby in the city.
I thought I would take this opportunity to find my cool New York mom group: my team of women to swap diaper brand recommendations and talk about strollers. We’d be like the ladies from “Sex and the City,” only we’d talk about our nipples slightly more.
Then, at the beginning of my second trimester, just weeks before the first of my deli menu-sized list of classes were about to start, COVID-19 hit New York. My husband and I started working from home, I canceled our babymoon, and I got the calls, one after another, that all my upcoming courses were canceled.
Sure, I could call my mom for advice, but her one and only birth story was fuzzy after 29 long years. I called my few friends back home who had kids, but I mostly just heard, “You’re so lucky you didn’t have the baby before lockdown,” before they ran back to their COVID-19-induced homeschooling.
With no other options, I turned to YouTube.
I never thought I’d be one of those YouTube DIYers, but apparently, when it comes to having a baby, I was no better than those people who try to build their own porches. Still, I ingested those videos like a toddler with Cheerios.
Maybe all the mommy vloggers and the cool parents of YouTube aren’t licensed experts. But I quickly got hooked on Jessica Hover’s channel which was packed with newborn tips. I learned a lot from RnB Fam’s “Postpartum Care: Things No One Told You! My TMI Experience.” I even found some real (pre-coronavirus) in-person birthing classes that someone must have filmed on their phone.
Every morning, before work, I’d sit down with a fruit drink I learned to make on “5 Healthy Pregnancy Smoothies” and get lost in YouTube. I’d start with something basic like “10 Tips For Pregnant Women” then find myself clicking into a video like “HOW TO AVOID CELLULITE & STRETCH MARKS WHILE PREGNANT.”
Eventually, I’d simply let the videos roll into whatever was “up next,” letting the baby knowledge wash over me like all the showers I was told (by various YouTube moms) I wouldn’t have time to take once the baby came.
Eventually, I started to feel like these YouTube parents were my friends: I laughed at their jokes and referred to them by name.
“Aspyn Ovard says we need to get a baby camera,” I said to my husband one night as we shopped online for baby gear.
He looked up from the screen. “Who?”
Sure, I may have preferred a mom group of other gals I met in birthing classes — real friends who could actually hear me gasp when they talked about their episiotomy. I would have loved to connect with physical people I could invite out for some post-birth celebratory drinks.
But at least my good friend YouTube was always there, ready with a short commercial and then an answer to my question — whether it be how many maternity bras to get or to which belly lotion to order.
Eventually, I started skipping some of the “up next” videos because I’d already learned whatever “Most Important Things You Need To Know About Pregnancy” that particular YouTuber was listing off. Or because I’d already decided I’d be using some other brand of diaper than the one this vlogger was recommending.
I even skipped one video because I didn’t like the swaddle technique one dad was swearing by. I didn’t have a baby yet, but I already had a favorite way to swaddle.
As the weeks went by and I skipped more and more videos, trying to find “Important Things They Don’t Tell You About Newborns” that I, in fact, hadn’t already been told, I realized I was learning more than I thought I would.
Maybe I didn’t get the tight-knit mom group I thought I’d have to support me in New York, but at least YouTube was giving me the knowledge I needed.
These days, I’m deep in my third trimester. I’m tired, large, but feeling about as ready as anyone can feel before having their first child.
I’m busy packing a hospital bag the way I was told to in “WHAT I ACTUALLY USED FROM MY HOSPITAL BAG 2020” and I’m decorating my nursery with a pink area rug like the one I saw in “BABY GIRL NURSERY ROOM TOUR!!”
Maybe a childbirth course made up of YouTube videos isn’t the most official education, but so far, it’s worked.
Months from now, when we don’t have to be so careful about physical distancing, when I can take my baby to the park, mommy-and-me yoga, or to the bagel shop I’ve finally decided is the “good” one in my neighborhood, maybe I’ll talk to the other parents there.
I like to think that maybe those parents will have watched the same YouTube videos I did. Maybe we’ll bond over our unconventional parenting classes. And maybe, I’ll finally get the community I wanted.
Jillian Pretzel covers parenting, relationships, and health. She lives in New York City, where she writes, eats too much pizza, and tries her hand at motherhood. Follow her on Twitter.