Brody was born 3 weeks early at exactly 37 weeks. On his 3rd day of life, we brought Brody to his first doctor’s appointment. Within a few minutes, the doctor looked at us and said, “How does he look to you?” I instantly said, “Well, I didn’t say anything before, but I think he’s a bit yellow.”
Our pediatrician agreed and set up a bloodwork appointment for us at a local hospital. This sounds like no big deal except our son was born as the number of Covid-19 cases peaked in our state.
The bloodwork showed he was in fact jaundice and needed to go to the children’s hospital for bilirubin lights. His temperature was low and they were nervous. I remember them rushing around to get him on bilirubin lights and a warmer.
A few minutes passed and the PA came in with a clipboard and piece of paper. She said that since he had a low temperature, they wanted to do a series of tests on him. The consent forms would allow them to get a urine sample, more bloodwork and a spinal tap. Yes, our 3 day old baby had a spinal tap. My husband and I were completely overwhelmed and signed the papers.
The PA told us we could either stay in the room or wait in the waiting room. I couldn’t bear to see my perfect baby in any more distress and decided to go to the waiting room and asked my husband to stay with the baby. I stayed curled up in a ball sobbing for an hour and a half. I was in physical pain as my own meds had started to wear off that I was to be taking to help postpartum.
I thought of the perfect baby I had fought for over the past 9 months–the one I was never supposed to have due to infertility from my cancer treatments. I pictured his meticulously prepared nursery, and all of the things I would break and get rid of if I didn’t get to take my baby home from this hospital.
Two hours passed and I hadn’t had any contact with my husband, child, or his clinical team. The nurse came in to find me and told me what had happened. They successfully did all of the tests that needed to be done, however during the spinal tap procedure, Brody stopped breathing. I let out the worst noise I have ever heard. She then told me he was breathing again. She said this most likely happened because he was scared and in pain from the spinal tap and he was also curled up into a teeny tiny ball while they were doing it.
She said it was actually normal for newborns to do this in reaction to stress. She said that since this was happening during COVID-19, that his temporary irregular breathing patterns had triggered the COVID protocol and now we would need to go into lockdown. She said to go to the bathroom because she didn’t know when I’d be able to go again.
I finished in the restroom and found the nurse closing off the waiting room and taping up the door so no one could go in until it was disinfected–these people really thought we had COVID-19. Nine hours passed and we were still in the room. We had goldfish and water for dinner (not at all ideal when you are trying to lactate, by the way).
The team told us that Brody would have to be admitted for at least 48 hours until all the blood work, cultures and COVID-19 tests came back. What made it worse was that due to the pandemic, the visitor policy only allowed one visitor per day per child. I didn’t think I was a good enough mother to be with Brody by myself for days at a time. Knowing that I was the one who would be providing him food, we made the impossible choice that I would stay.
I sat in a wheelchair holding Brody with a mask over his face and mine. They draped a blanket over me and the nurses pushing us were fully dressed in PPE. We got dropped off in our room–a converted office with a pull out chair. I was only allowed to take Brody out of his bassinet with the bilirubin lights for a maximum of 2 hours every 12 hours.
Attempting to breastfeed was now out of the question as I didn’t have the precious time to take with him to learn. I was instructed to feed him every two hours and I needed to pump every three. Every time he pooped or peed I had to weigh the diaper to see how much he put out. I had to record his total intake after every feed on a chart. There was no sleeping. I knew it was up to me to keep him fed, changed and strong enough to prove he was healthy.
Every time a doctor or nurse came in, I instantly shot up and my adrenaline started pumping. Besides being sleep deprived, I was pissed. No one was giving me answers. He was maintaining his vitals, eating, going to the bathroom and sleeping just fine. Why couldn’t these people let us go home and await results. 36 hours passed and a resident came in. I told him they told me that we could leave after 48 hours and I didn’t want to stay a minute more so to please have the lead physician come in as soon as possible.
A few more hours passed and a woman who I had never met before walked in. She was middle-aged and had a wonderful disposition—she was the lead doctor. She said everything, even the COVID test, came back negative. She said, “The hostage situation is over. You have a perfect baby boy. Go home and enjoy him. I would hug you if I could. I am so sorry this happened to you.”
I couldn’t process what had happened. This experience set the stage for the rest of my “Fourth trimester” and entire maternity leave. Every time my baby cried, I cried. The sound alone sent waves of anxiety up and down my body and I would often wake up from the little sleep I did get in a full on panic attack.
If I was given the chance to take a nap, I would have to listen to the “White Noise” Pandora station on full blast with my fingers in my ears to block out any baby noises from down the hall. I stared at Brody constantly to check if he was breathing. I took his temperature at least 10 times a day to make sure he was good. I monitored each and every ounce of pumped breastmilk he consumed on a chart that lived on the kitchen counter.
I couldn’t get out of survival mode. As I am able to heal mentally, I am finally able to share and not be ashamed of any potential stigma placed on me for saying these things. Postpartum is hard. Postpartum depression is real. Postpartum anxiety is real. This was NOT what I was expecting.