There were nights Julie would just cry from the fear that her baby would get Covid-19. Her kids could bring it home. She could get it at the hospital and then transmit it to her newborn. Covid-19 was such a new virus, and nobody could tell her how it affected babies or pregnant mothers. It brought her so much anxiety that she could barely sleep more than two or three hours at night. She was going to be giving birth in the middle of the pandemic.
This wasn’t going to be her first baby. She has three other kids but everything was so different, from the doctor’s appointments to the hospitals.
It used to be that the doctor’s office was crowded with people waiting. But these days, when she went to see the doctor, her family had to stay at home, and she would be alone in the waiting room, sitting on one of only three chairs, without anybody by her to give her moral support. Even just talking to the receptionist made the experience of giving birth feel distant and hands-offish. Instead of opening a sliding window, she had to talk through the glass.
When she could go in to see them, the doctors would be wearing three masks and rubber gloves and would be sitting at a distance, which was not a confidence booster. How was the doctor going to help her have the baby if the doctor was so afraid to be by her?
She remembered how ultrasounds used to be a family experience. Everyone got excited when they saw the little life on the screen. Now, she was alone, and she couldn’t share it.
The pandemic experience was creating so much stress and thinking about the impending hospital visit was freaking her out. Fortunately, her primary doctor, who she had known for a long time, showed a little more compassion. She lowered her mask for Julie and gave her some comfort. Everything was under control, her doctor said, and everything was set up in labor and delivery. It was a locked-down area with no one allowed in or out.
On the day of her daughter’s birth, Julie’s water broke around 4 a.m.. She packed her bags before waking her husband up. The whole family got in the car and drove the hour to the hospital. Her mother, who lived down the road, came to the hospital parking lot and picked up the kids. It had all been pre-planned.
In front of the barricaded doors to the hospital, Julie and her husband were greeted by hospital staff and directed to put on masks. The staff brought over a wheelchair and told her they’d be going straight up to the labor and delivery room. Her husband was to be allowed in, which was a great relief, but he wouldn’t be allowed to leave, so he ran back to the car and got his bags.
In the past, mothers would normally be taken to a delivery room and then brought to a recovery room. This time would be different. Julie was buzzed into the delivery room where she was going to be locked into this sealed room for the remainder of the time.
There were lots of rules. Only two main nurses had access to the room, though others were available if necessary. Masks were required for the whole entire time, even when sleeping. And the hospital would try to have her leave within 24 hours. Having already had three kids, it wasn’t a huge deal for Julie, but she could imagine how stressful it would be for a new mom, who was still recovering and not knowing what she was doing, to be kicked out of the hospital within 24 hours.
When it was time to be giving birth, the fully geared doctors and nurses came in. Everyone had smocks, N95 masks with paper masks over them, face shields, and double gloves. It was shocking to see them treat her as if she had Covid-19 and it made her worry about her own health since she only had a paper mask.
Fortunately, her daughter was born super healthy. Normally her baby would have been moved to another room, but the hospital staff did all of their measuring and other examinations inside the same room.
The experience following her daughter’s birth continued to be very different.
With her earlier children, Julie had been given celebration meals. She would have her choice of food from the cafeteria. Sometimes they even let her exit the building or her floor, and the nurses would come in, want to play with the baby, and take the baby to the nursery so she could sleep. But with the pandemic, there was very limited interaction, and Julie, her husband, and her baby were all stuck in the room with food delivered.
Having a mask on at all times was also very weird. Julie woke up in the middle of the night feeling like she was suffocating. It took a moment to remember that she had a mask on. The mask also made it difficult to snuggle with the baby. It was sad to think that the first glimpse her baby had of her was with the mask on. Just so her baby could see her face, Julie would sneak her mask off every so often to snuggle and kiss her baby with her lips rather than through the mask.
It was also upsetting that her other kids and her parents weren’t permitted to see the baby at the hospital. The “it’s a boy or it’s a girl” announcement usually was very exciting. However, sending the text message was kind of defeating. Julie had to roll with it, though. She was, after all, having a baby in the pandemic.
Returning home meant being extra cautious. She still hasn’t found any good studies about how Covid-19 affects infants or babies. She’s not comfortable taking any risks.
Since her daughter came home, Julie hasn’t really gone anywhere. Her kids don’t go out and play with other kids. She chooses to socialize only with a set of friends who she knows are taking Covid seriously. She hasn’t traveled or gone camping like she normally did and she hasn’t gone to see her family who live in northern Michigan. She just doesn’t know where they’ve been or who they’ve been around.
There has been a lot less social interaction.
The whole experience has made her thankful that this wasn’t the first time giving birth for her. For first-time mothers, Julie would expect the experience to be very scary. She hopes that new mothers don’t consider the experience of having a baby in the pandemic to be normal. She hopes new mothers are not deterred by the craziness from having another baby. The experience is just a product of our times.