Just one week before the coronavirus pandemic shut down the world, Hallie Jackson gave birth to her first child. In the year since, the NBC News senior Washington correspondent and host of MSNBC Live with Hallie Jackson learned how to be a new parent to her daughter Monroe while also navigating a worldwide pandemic.
Hallie's reporting on pandemic moms is a part of NBC News' Covid One Year Later: Life After Lockdown airing all this week and next on NBC News and MSNBC.
Jackson's reporting includes her personal experiences, as well as interviews with Senators Elizabeth Warren and Patty Murray, who are working on legislation to include pregnant women in more clinical trials. She's also reviewing what the experts say about the tough decisions pregnant and nursing women face when it comes to getting the vaccine.
The pandemic has changed just about every aspect of our lives. We know the statistics: the pandemic has hit women hard and mothers harder; it's hit women and families of color hardest of all. Now more than ever, we need to shine a light on the tough realities we all face as mothers raising our children amid a global pandemic.
Here's more from Jackson on what life has been like as a new mom during this trying time and what she hopes viewers will take away from her reporting:
Motherly: Your daughter was born three-plus weeks early, right before lockdown. What was that like?
Hallie: My daughter was born March 9. While I was in the hospital, I was allowed visitors—my mom and dad got to be there—and the hospital wasn't requiring masks. I always say that my partner Frank and I walked into the hospital living one life and walked out into a different world.
Motherly: As a new mom, how did you handle working at the White House when it was such a hot spot?
Hallie: I was very concerned about getting COVID-19 and every day it was full mask and I was very vigilant with my hand washing and social distancing. I would come home to our 'decontamination station' and strip down and put my clothes in the washer before I saw my daughter, especially when every day we were reporting on someone else getting COVID-19 as part of the White House staff or someone who was involved in the President's orbit.
Motherly: Unfortunately, you were exposed to COVID-19 in December. Can you tell us what happened?
Hallie: It was a bizarre couple of weeks. At the time, I was the chief White House correspondent for NBC so I was going to the White House every day. That's where I came into contact with someone who later tested positive for COVID-19. That person was asymptomatic which was a good thing but I was worried. We ended up calling a summit, including every smart person we know, to find out what this meant for my nine-month-old child. On the advice of our pediatrician, we did a semi-quarantine which meant we wore masks in the home. I nursed with my mask on and Monroe would be with Frank in a separate location at all other times. At first, Monroe thought my mask was a game. She kept trying to pull it off but then she started to get upset so I became an amateur epidemiologist, deep-diving into CDC research, footnotes and peer-reviewed papers to figure out what to do next. I ended up wearing the mask and nursing her this way for eight days before quarantining in the house for two weeks. I was incredibly fortunate that I was tested regularly and I never got COVID-19. I consider myself one of the lucky ones. So many families have had it so much harder.
Motherly: Despite the challenges this year, what's been the most positive part of pandemic life?
Hallie: I do my MSBNC show every day from my basement, so the silver lining is that I only have to walk down six steps to get to work. That's a plus because I get to nurse Monroe in the morning and, after the show, I can walk upstairs to nurse her. We'll try to sneak in a quick couple of books and that time is very special for us. Like any new mom, when I'm not nursing I'm pumping—when I'm on calls I'll turn off the video to pump. Luckily the new NBC studio in D.C. has a lactation room so when I'm there I'm happy to use it. That's been a huge upgrade.
Motherly: Have the grandparents met Monroe?
Hallie: They've only seen her once in person when she was born and one other time outside on our deck—eight feet away. This has been devastating for my parents, for my mom especially, who was so excited to be a grandmother to her first grandchild. I can't believe Monroe is almost walking now and my mom has missed her entire first year, but we try to Zoom every day and everyone is staying healthy. That's the important thing.
Motherly: What are you hoping viewers take away from the pandemic series?
Hallie: We're hoping to shine the light on the experience that pregnant and new moms have had in this country in the last year. We talked to top experts in the field about what we don't know and what we've learned as it relates to pregnant and nursing women and COVID-19. It's been an incredibly fulfilling reporting journey as I've gotten to speak to moms across the country as well as front-line healthcare workers, including a doctor who is nine months pregnant now who shared her story of making the decision to get the vaccine.
Motherly: There's so much confusion about the vaccine, especially for pregnant women and new moms who are nursing.
Hallie: In the series, we spoke with one of the doctors who helped craft the guidelines for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). She says this is one of the biggest questions her patients are asking. ACOG guidance is that vaccines should be offered to pregnant women who are eligible to take them, but that it's up to each pregnant woman to make a risk/benefit calculation. It's so personal. There's no one-size-fits-all answer here, but there is hope. Pfizer is starting to enroll pregnant women in their clinical trials and Dr. Fauci has said that of the pregnant women who have gotten the vaccine, whether they are healthcare workers or enrolled in early trials and then got pregnant, there have been no red flags. The takeaway is that there's reason to be hopeful.
Motherly: What else are you excited to share with viewers?
Hallie: We're doing a live 'ask the expert' segment over the next few weeks to make sure viewer questions are answered and I sat down with Sen. Warren and Sen. Murray virtually and in-person to talk about what they are working on in terms of advocating for the inclusion of pregnant women, new moms and lactating moms in clinical trials. My hope is that they're not forgotten or slip through the cracks.