BIRTH STORIES

Delivering During a Pandemic | Written by Ashley Klein

The day had finally arrived! It was officially my last prenatal appointment before my induction the following week. For many reasons, this felt like such a milestone. A few days into my second trimester, I was diagnosed with something called Intrahepatic Cholestasis of Pregnancy (ICP).  In some situations, ICP can be a very scary diagnosis that can harm the baby, resulting in premature labor or stillbirth. Aside from being frightening, ICP also graced me with insanely high hormonal levels and intense itching all over my body, so I was a happy gal to be in the final countdown to baby!

Like any high-risk pregnancy, there are a ton of extra tests and appointments involved. Months ago, I remember filling in the endless appointments on my calendar. First monthly, then bi-weekly, then weekly. I felt like it would be a lifetime before these appointments were over and I could hold my baby girl safely in my arms.

When my last prenatal appointment finally arrived, you better believe that the day felt special. We were here, we were healthy, and we were having a baby next week! I had butterflies in my stomach that morning just thinking about how everything was starting to feel “real” now that we had come this far. I planned to leave that appointment and go straight to the McDonalds drive through for a celebratory strawberry milkshake.

So, when my appointment was over and all my tests looked great, why did I drive right past McDonalds, completely numb and unaware that I had even missed my turn? Because my doctor had said the words that I knew were true, but I was terrified to hear out loud. “If you test positive for Covid when you arrive for your induction, we will have to separate you from your baby immediately after birth.” There they were. The words that took my breath away. During my conversation with her, I smiled politely behind my mask and nodded in agreement. “I totally understand,” I said. And I did understand. I just could not process any of it yet. I knew we had been quarantining the best we could and there was almost no chance that I had the virus, but what if I did? How would I leave my baby for weeks? Would she be okay? Suddenly, I was crippled with fear.

I walked into the house in a complete daze. One week before my induction, I was abruptly realizing that I was about to deliver a baby during a worldwide pandemic. I was not okay. My husband was on a conference call in the kitchen when he saw me walk in the door. As I look back now, I feel terrible at the fact that he probably saw my blotchy, red streaked face and thought something was wrong with the baby. I walked upstairs like a zombie and he followed behind me, quickly ending his phone call. When he asked what was wrong, I remember answering with, “I’m just really scared,” followed by lots of sobbing in his arms.

Quite honestly, my husband did not know exactly what to say or how to help. He kept reassuring me that everything would be alright, but neither of us knew if that was true. You hear about women who have to deliver with no support person or mothers that have been separated from their babies for weeks after birth, and now there was a possibility that could happen to me. Everything feels scary and overwhelming, like we are all living in the quarantine scene from E.T. each time we go in public. It feels surreal to try and prepare for something as life changing as giving birth in a world that is filled with fear and uncertainty.

Some of you who are pregnant or about to deliver during quarantine are dealing with these layers of emotions at the moment. If you are like me, you might also be missing out on the “before baby” things that you were looking forward to. I delivered in early May, so there was no pedicure, no massage, no traveling, and not even so much as a night out. I spent the weeks before my induction in the house with my 3-year-old daughter and my husband. Talk about a romantic baby moon!

Joking aside, not having those normal releases is hard, especially when preparing for a tiny human who is about to take up all of your free time. I am someone who values her alone time more than most people, so not having a couple mornings to myself to sit in a coffee shop, take a solo walk, or read a book was very hard for me. I felt guilty for being annoyed that I would have no alone time before the baby was born. I also felt a little sad that I secretly wished I could be getting a manicure instead of playing baby dolls with my daughter for the 800th time that week. The only way I got through this time was by remembering that every day spent with my family at home was one step closer to keeping both of our daughters safe.

On the morning of my induction, I was eerily calm. I even remember thinking how it was weird that I felt so chill. I had made a personal decision that with all that was going on around me, the one thing I could control was my own mindset and I would try my best to stay calm for the sake of my baby’s health. We arrived at the hospital at 6am and were greeted at the entrance by the E.T. hazmat people again, per usual. They gave us masks, checked our temperatures, and sent us on our way.

Once we were checked into the hospital and started to get settled into our room, I realized something. There were only 2 major things that were freaking me out. First, I had to get a Covid test up my nose and it was not going to be fun. And second, my husband and I were being asked to wear a mask during our entire stay. Those things were making me feel scared. Other than that, I will be the first to tell you that everything felt very safe and very normal. Compared to my first delivery in 2017, I will selfishly say that having less people come in and out of the room was kind of amazing!

The Covid test was first. Looking back, I was more nervous for the results than the test. I had made the decision that even if I would have to be separated from my daughter, I would follow the guidelines needed to keep her safe. I would probably cry 24 hours a day until I was able to hold her, but I needed to remember that it was all for her to essentially remain healthy and come home with us.

The actual test was a lot of things: pesky, annoying, itching, unpleasant. But for me, it was not painful. We tend to think that a nurse sticking a Q-tip far up your nose means they are hitting your brain. I assure you they are not. Your nose holes go way farther up than you think. My advice is to put pressure on the opposite nostril when they are performing the test. That helps keep your head still and the pressure makes you focus on something else besides the stick in your nose. Aside from a lot of eye watering and nose blowing afterwards, it was nothing to write home about. My test came back negative and I breathed my first of many sighs of relief.

As I mentioned above, we were asked to wear masks during our stay. I will not lie to you. That made me anxious, annoyed, and frustrated even though I am a nurse myself and I understand the “why” behind it all. My emotions and pain were at an all-time high, so I know my feelings were based on that. However, the nurses quickly let us know that this was hospital policy, but no one was going to freak out if we had them off while alone in the privacy our room.

Since I had tested negative for Covid and I was delivering a baby, no one made me wear my mask during delivery which I am forever thankful for. My husband was a good sport and barely took his off. He reminded me that there could be workers coming in contact with us who may have little ones at home or might be immunocompromised themselves. Us wearing our masks would make them feel safer doing their job. I had not thought of that. They were helping keep us safe. We could do the same for them.

There were a few other things that made our hospital visit feel out of the ordinary as well. For starters, my husband was not allowed to leave the room. This might have been more difficult for him than my entire labor. He got to leave one time to go get the car seat and I think he might have skipped to the car. We were also under a strict “no visitors” policy. I do not think I would be the first mom to tell you that I was actually relieved by this rule. This gave us time to bond with the baby in ways we never got to with our first child. I would personally recommend this to any mommas having a baby, pandemic or not! These were some of the most precious days I have ever experienced.

The most important thing to remember about your delivery during this time is that it will be different and scary, but you and your baby will be safe and taken care of. You may even get a little surprised at how adaptable you are in the most bizarre situation you will probably ever experience in your lifetime! Breathe. Reflect. Watch Netflix. Take a picture in your mask 😊  You will look back when your child is older and tell them all about it. Hashtag covidbaby, right?!

Aside from the delivery portion, I could write an entire book on the new set of fears and frustrations that come along with having a newborn during a pandemic. How you will go back and forth from starting to feel safe about the world to being immersed with fear again the next day. How having a newborn with little interaction from friends and family might make you go a little nutty. But the most important thing to remember during this time is that your main job is to protect your child. That looks very different for everyone. Like normal motherhood, pandemic motherhood with a newborn is not a one-size fits all policy. Do what you are comfortable with and forget the rest!

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