Even though Kelsey Varallo was a first-time mom-to-be and planning to give birth unmedicated, she approached her due date fearlessly. That is until the Coronavirus crisis shook the world.
“I had no fears going into it until COVID-19,” Kelsey says.
She had already hired a doula to help her through natural childbirth and had planned to have her husband, mother, mother-in-law, and sister-in-law by her side.
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But the COVID-19 pandemic forced hospitals across the country and around the world to enforce tight restrictions on hospital guests. A week before giving birth Kelsey learned she could only have one support person with her in the delivery room. This meant she’d have to choose between her doula and her husband, Collin.
Fortunately, the team at Ascension St. Vincent’s, the Birmingham-area hospital where Kelsey would give birth, had a backup plan. One of the nurses at Ascension who was working toward her doula certification volunteered to serve as Kelsey’s doula during her delivery as part of the hospital’s new RN Birth Companions program.
“They offered me to have her as my doula free of charge because my doula couldn’t be there,” Kelsey says. “They looked over my birth wishes and they cared enough to offer that to me because everything had changed so quickly.”
Kelsey could now have the extra support she needed to get through a natural delivery and have her husband there, too. “I knew that unmedicated there was no way I could do that without my husband,” Kelsey says. “My husband is very much my partner and he completes me and I wanted him to be there to experience the birth of our baby.”
“It actually worked out”
Kelsey and Collin met in 2013 when they were both on the CMT reality TV show Sweet Home Alabama. “It actually worked out,” Kelsey says with a laugh. The couple dated for three years and then married in September of 2016.
And on March 24, 2020, they welcomed their daughter Rio Ryann to the world.
“We’ll get to show Rio us meeting and our first kiss and our first date,” Kelsey says.
Because Kelsey thought she’d have to give birth to Rio without the help of a doula, Collin quickly learned what he could do to help her through delivery.
“He applied pressure to my hip for every contraction that I had,” Kelsey explains. “It was so special for us. I had no idea how wonderful it would be to have him actually help me deliver the baby.”
“I can truly work through anything”
Kelsey’s pregnancy was rough. She was diagnosed with hyperemesis but as a busy hairstylist couldn’t take time off.
“I learned that I can truly work through anything. I would go put hair color on, go throw up and lie in the concrete floor in the back, then go shampoo hair,” Kelsey says. “Pregnancy was not my favorite thing; however, I’m certainly not complaining about being pregnant because I know that there are some women who would kill to be in my shoes even as sick as I was.”
To get through the bad days and to prepare for an unmedicated birth Kelsey says she watched a lot of positive natural birth stories on YouTube. She also read the book Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way by Susan McCutcheon.
“You don’t run a marathon without preparing for it,” Kelsey says.
She also used an app by What to Expect to keep track of her baby’s development. “When I would watch a video on what my baby was doing that week – developing her heart or brain or learning to blink her eyes – it made me connect with my baby even before I was showing and even before I felt her kick,” Kelsey says. “That app would tell me what she was doing in there and it made it really worth it.”
Despite all the preparation, when the time came for Kelsey to bring Rio Ryann in the world she wasn’t thinking much about how to breathe, push, or position her body.
“How your body goes into autopilot,” Kelsey says. “You can prepare yourself as much as you can to have a natural delivery but ultimately your body just takes over and does its thing and it’s amazing.”
So were her first 24 hours with Rio Ryann.
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Kelsey says she and Collin were so enamored with their new baby girl they didn’t even bother turning on the television in her hospital room.
“We had a great little time in the hospital,” Kelsey says. “We made the best of it. We were just learning how to be a mom and dad.” Though Kelsey’s mom couldn’t be there she was still able to pitch in.
“My mom was able to pack me a lot of food to take to the hospital,” Kelsey explains. And that food came in handy. “When you’re nursing and you just had a baby with no medication you’re starving,” she says. “I remember at 3 am I’d get up and eat turkey and cheese.”
“Don’t forget about yourself.”
When Kelsey and Collin went home with Rio Ryann Kelsey’s mother was there to lend a helping hand. “You’re sent home with this new baby and you’re like, ‘What do I do with this thing?’” Kelsey says with a laugh. “But my mom was wonderful. My mom was so confident because she’d done it before.”
Kelsey’s first piece of advice to new moms is to ask for help. “It takes a village. You cannot do it on your own,” she says. It’s okay to ask someone to do the dishes while you lie down on the sofa. Kelsey would sometimes call her mom to take care of Rio Ryann just so she could take a long bath.
Surround yourself with people who love you, especially when you’re having the baby blues period, she adds. “Don’t forget about yourself,” Kelsey says.
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She also enjoys going for daily outdoor walks with her new daughter. And these days when Kelsey is caring for Rio, she has the same confidence she once saw in her mom.
“Now I can soothe her instantly,” Kelsey says, “It’s really cool to experience the change to where you’re like, ‘Hey, I’ve got this. I can do this. I’m her mama.’” Kelsey believes all parents have natural instincts.
“The Lord gave you mom instincts,” Kelsey says. “Rely on what you feel. Those feelings are there for a reason.”
“I wish I could have a do-over.”
By May 2020 Kelsey was back at work but thanks to COVID-19 the world still wasn’t quite back to normal.
“My baby has only met my immediate family. I haven’t been able to introduce my baby to my friends and family. I haven’t been able to go stroll around Target with my baby,” Kelsey says. “I wish I could have a do-over, but you just don’t get that with the birth of a baby. It’s taken a lot away from us that we had planned but we’re lucky that she’s healthy and happy.”
And as Kelsey looks back at her pregnancy and the birth of Rio Ryann she says she’s learned a lot about herself, too.
“Every time I look at my baby I cannot believe my body grew a human, birthed a human and is feeding a human,” Kelsey says. “I learned that I can do whatever I set my mind to.”