Giving Birth During the Pandemic

Before I went into the hospital to give birth I had greatly underestimated the impact that this pandemic would have on my birth experience. In hindsight, I wish I had placed more thought into it all before hand, or tried to prepare myself for my experience.

In our weeks leading up to our induction I had some anxiety, if my husband got sick he would not be allowed into the hospital with me. The pandemic was in full mode by the end of March, leaving me in the third trimester of my pregnancy and home alone trying to work, manage graduate courses and take care of my children. I had very few midwife appointments, most being a quick phone call check in, which was nice. But again in hindsight, it was a pretty lonely isolated few months. Normally in the spring is when we begin camping and traveling and all of that did not happen this year. So really, living in cold snowy New England, coming out of March is usually this fun time getting outdoors, seeing others more and getting out, none of which happened. Again, in hindsight I should have connected all of these things together but I did not.

Heading into the hospital with our masks on

We went into the hospital June 8 to have our daughter, and due to COVID we were not allowed any visitors. We were screened at the hospital entrance with a temperature check and everyone wearing masks. I was tested for COVID before being induced and thankfully I was negative (not that I suspected much different I had been very cautiously avoiding others).

My daughter is my sixth child. I had given birth at this hospital three times before her and the experience was always very good. I went into this process with very little anxiety, I thought I knew what to expect and was planning on a short stay and getting home to the rest of my children within 48 hours like I usually do. The older children were sad that they would not be able to come visit the new baby but again, I assured them we would be home fast.

Our daughter was born around 6PM that evening and she was perfect. I had some complications with my epidural, but other than that the birth experience was pleasant. It was strange with everyone in full masks and felt a bit more impersonal but I was just thankful to have a healthy baby in my arms. She was delivered onto my chest and began nursing within a half hour of birth! I was so excited to have such a positive outcome.

What happened in those next few hours would begin to unravel everything about that great birth experience and bring me to the depths of my breaking point over the course of the whole week.

The baby was taken to do vital signs and stats and a nurse remarked that she was a bit shaky, well of course she was she was taken off my chest and brand new. However a blood sugar test was done on her heel and she came out at 39, one point from 40, alerting a hospital protocol. The nurse wanted to give the baby some sugar gel and I immediately objected wondering why we would do that instead of just placing her back to me to continue nursing. This was about 90 minutes post delivery and I was tired but also keenly aware that the nurses were not happy with me.

The baby nursed and was tested again and she passed, then tested again and failed. After this time they insisted on the sugar gel and I relented because I was trying to get through this test and hoping to move beyond it all. By now it was about 2am and we were exhausted. More tests, and she failed slightly again by one point. This began more protocols. By Tuesday morning they had our daughter hooked up to an IV dripping sugar water in to keep her blood sugar stable. We thought it would just be in for a few hours and then we could be home by Wednesday.

Wednesday arrived and the doctor explained that the iv would not be coming out and that we could not even begin the weaning process until later that evening and it would take at least 24 hours. We felt very defeated. By now I was discharged from the hospital officially, and they let us stay in the room with the baby but it was becoming confining. We had been in the hospital for 3 days, everyone was wearing masks so we could not see faces, and the emotions of this all were feeling overwhelming. I wanted to go home, I missed my other children, my oldest started crying on facetime. It was all so difficult.

The hardest part was trying to pass the tests, breastfeeding, and pumping extra milk to supplement with a syringe just so we would leave the hospital was exhausting. I have a son who had a similar blood sugar issue at birth, he still gets low if he does not eat enough throughout the day, but his pediatrician has tested him, and we have concluded he just gets borderline at times. As a mom, I knew this baby was the same, I knew she was ok and that she just would be borderline and that I had to make sure she was eating every 2 hours. I was pumping so much extra milk and she was peeing and pooping fine, I knew this was just a stigma against breast feeding. It is unrealistic to have a breastfed baby fast for 2 hours for a test at that small age, breast milk burns faster and this is why babies cluster feed. Unfortunately the pediatrician at the hospital did not agree and he was relentlessly insisting we continue to follow this ridiculous protocol.

My little baby’s feet kept being pricked for blood sugar checks, it was so sad. By the time we left the hospital she had been tested over 25 times. I had not slept in two days, we were up around the clock Wednesday evening until our release Friday morning at 5am just trying to pass each test as she was tested every 3 hours.

You can see some of the tiny bruises and scabs from all those pokes.

Thursday night we hit a really low point around 6pm when she failed a test by one point because a nurse came late to check and we were told we would have to back track and retest more. I broke down. I wept in that hospital room and cried hard for the first time that week. I begged my sister to come and bring me some formula. I was done. I figured we would give the formula and just do whatever we had to at that point to go home. My son’s 6th birthday was that Friday and I knew I had to be there for him. Going into the birth, I had never imagined we would even be at the hospital still on Friday. As soon as I gave the formula the pediatrician never saw us again, it was like he won, and at that point I did not care I just wanted to leave. They made me sign off on the formula it was ridiculous, a nurse even watched me feed it to her to make sure she got it. I never felt so judged having a baby as I did that week.

We made it home that Friday, after being in the hospital all week. It was the hardest week of my life. Isolated in a tiny hospital room, not sleeping, not seeing anyone besides my husband and nurses and doctors in masks all the time was hard. Struggling to get the hospital to release us, and worried we would not make it out took a big toll on our mental health. Physically I was exhausted and worn out, my legs had swollen so badly I could barely walk.

The hardest part was leaving that hospital. It was not the fun exciting adventure having a new baby usually is. There were no visitors, there were no balloons and celebrations there. If friends and family could have come to visit I wonder if we would have handled things better. If my other kids could have come to visit it would have lightened the burden of missing them all so much. We left the hospital with a somber feeling, we knew we would never be able to have another baby there after our terrible experience. It was sad. I remembered having our other children there and the happiness that the entire experience was and it hurt that we did not have that this time.

I went into the delivery process so sure it would be easy and simple like the rest of the times. It ended up being the hardest week of my life and it was compounded by isolation and the pandemic. Not being able to see a person’s face does not seem like a big deal at first but after that week I realized the impact it had on me. The struggle of a ridiculous protocol with no checks and balances because one doctor is in charge all week long was awful.

I am thankful that our daughter is healthy and thriving. The day we got released we saw our family pediatrician that same afternoon and he checked her over and reviewed the chart. He agreed with my instincts and reassured us that she was fine.

I was not prepared for the after affects of the trauma of her birth and our time at the hospital… More to come in my next post on this!

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