Giving birth in the time of COVID-19

While everyone else was staying home, keeping as far away from others as possible, and staying away from hospitals to prevent the spread of COVID-19, my wife and I had to head into the hospital to bring our third son into the world in the middle of the pandemic. Donned in masks, we arrived at the hospital knowing we wouldn’t have any visitors and that we’d be in for an interesting experience over the next several days. It was incredibly different from our first time around.

I was immediately glad to see how seriously the hospital took the Corona Virus situation. Visitors and non-critical procedures were not allowed. The pharmacy and café inside had reduced hours and enforced distancing policies even going as far as removing all of the tables and adding marker to know how far to stand apart from others. Even the Starbucks shifted to text-only ordering which I took advantage of each morning.

In the delivery and maternity wards, it was even more comforting. Patients were screened upon admission and regularly throughout the time there for fevers and other symptoms, as were partners who were staying. I wasn’t allowed to leave at all during our stay to minimize the potential for spread. The maternity ward only allowed admission of patients who were screened, had a dedicated security desk, and was isolated on its own floor. We were probably safer there than we even were at home.

Still, it was far from a stress-free delivery thanks to the effect of the virus. As we waited in the pre-delivery room, we overheard nurses talking about a recent patient who tested positive for the virus and was refusing to be isolated. Thankfully they had an entirely separate delivery area and maternity rooms for COVID positive patients so we never came even close to being in contact with them. It reminded me of unbelievable stories my wife’s sister who works in a OB-GYN office as a tech told us of people coming in knowing they tested positive without telling anyone. That kind of selfishness is mind-boggling to me, but we saw it first hand. Not only is it potentially dangerous for other patients in the area, but it also puts the health of the healthcare workers there directly in jeopardy.

In our previous delivery with the twins, I had to wear scrubs, a hair net, and a mask during the delivery procedure, but this time the mask went on from the moment we left the car until we finally settled into the maternity room. We ended up making our own cloth masks from bandanas because we didn’t want to take away N95 or other masks from healthcare workers. We ended up getting lots of compliments on the stylish masks, though after a few hours the hair tie bands we used to hold them to our ears really started digging in. Once we got to our private room in the maternity ward, we were able to take them off when it was just us, but had to continuously remember to keep them nearby and put them on whenever a nurse, tech, or even cleaning person came by, which seemed to be just about every hour.

Wearing the masks was probably the most surreal part of the experience. At one point I was feeding our baby and didn’t think to carry my mask to the other side of the room with me. As a nurse came in, I didn’t have a hand or time to reach the mask, so I ended up throwing a swaddle blanket over my head instead. It was also very strange to have the majority of interactions with my newborn son without him seeing most of my face. I also had to throw it on every time I went to the pantry for water or coffee,  whenever I went down to the café or Starbucks, and even had to bring it with me if I went to the bathroom just in case I’d need it coming out.

Because of these precautions, I couldn’t do what I had enjoyed last time to get a short respite, take a walk around the hospital parking lot for fresh air and to stretch out. Thankfully with only one child, and one who slept longer, ate more, and didn’t need additional tests, and a larger room thanks to a recent renovation in the hospital, I didn’t feel like I needed the breaks, but it still would have been nice to be able to go outside a bit especially when the sun was out. Our room actually got a good amount of sun and had a fantastic view of the sunset, so it wasn’t as bad as being stuck inside the first time. I also had both a rocking chair, regular chair, and sofa to migrate between, so I wasn’t uncomfortable. Still, it was strange to be completely stuck inside. When I had to go get the car seat before we left, I wasn’t even sure they would let me back in.

Another noticeable difference at the hospital this time was how much quitter it was and how much less support staff was around. While we still seemed to have someone come to our room every hour or so between the nurses to check on my wife and our son, techs to take vitals, and food services to deliver and take away food, notably absent were the lactation consultants, new parent class instructors, photographer, and nursery staff. In fact other than one time to have the 36 hour blood work done, our baby stayed completely with us in our room from about an hour after delivery until we left. Since no official photographer came by, we had to make our own photo shoot!

Because of the virus, we also wanted to get home sooner than we would have otherwise. Granted, our first two children were twins and delivered early, but we ended up staying 4.5 days with them. With this one, we left after just over 48 hours. No one was directly rushing us, but we knew we wanted to get back home to our twins, even though the stay in the hospital actually gave us a chance to relax without two toddlers, get some reading and relaxing in, and even catch up on TV. As wonderful as the hospital staff was, and they were actually our favorite nurses overall and we applauded their dedication to the work in a trying time, we wanted to get out quickly and minimize our exposure risk.

With the exception of a mild scare at the beginning of our delivery when we weren’t sure what was going on with other patients, and some minor inconveniences of having to wear masks – the back of my ears are still chafed – it really wasn’t a terrible or all that frightening experience. We’re truly lucky to live in an area that took early and stark precautions, yet is removed enough from the epicenter in New York to mitigate risk during this time. Thankfully we didn’t end up delivering our child on a navy ship, or in a ward with untested patients. This experience made me truly appreciate the incredible and often thankless work that our healthcare professionals do day in and out and the sacrifices they make for us. I’m so happy that in the end, we ended up with a perfect little human in this otherwise dark and difficult time.

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