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Giving birth during a pandemic | COMMENTARY

The coronavirus has changed the childbirth experience for families who face restrictions at hospitals to help prevent the spread of the disease.
The coronavirus has changed the childbirth experience for families who face restrictions at hospitals to help prevent the spread of the disease. (Dreamstime / TNS)

My maternity leave began just as the coronavirus restrictions began. On my last day at work, my co-workers and I watched Gov. Larry Hogan announce the closure of schools, senior centers and large events due to this global pandemic.

There was talk of telework and safety measures. I joked that I was the only one allowed to be at home, and that everyone else should report to the office. Every day we were learning more about this disease with a strange name. While it seemed serious, I never imagined it could impact me or my family. Little did I know it would affect everyone.

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I enjoyed a healthy pregnancy and received excellent care at Mercy Medical Center. I even had enough energy to walk between my appointments at the hospital and my job at the State Highway Administration. My husband and I opted not to learn the baby’s sex in advance. So our friends and relatives split into “team boy” and “team girl” camps and made their predictions based on my cravings or how low or high I carried the baby weight.

This would be our first child, so we took all the parenting classes we could find. In a matter of months, we were well versed on childbirth, breastfeeding, infant care and even baby CPR. We tried our best to prepare for all of the unknowns. We just didn’t know how big of an unknown we would soon be faced with.

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Soon, my visits to the hospital changed. Suddenly, there were signs telling all visitors to wear masks if they had symptoms that included a fever and a cough. I was scheduled to be induced, and I asked what this would mean for my visitors. I was told the rules could change day by day, based on the spread of the coronavirus. And they did change.

A few days after I asked that question, hospital employees were stationed around the building checking the temperatures and identification of anyone who entered. I was not surprised the rules had tightened the day of my planned delivery. The changes made me feel anxious and I hoped I would deliver before the rules even stricter. I thought that at the most, they would only let immediate family members visit — boy was I wrong!

I wanted my husband and mother to be in the delivery room. However, the new policy allowed only one visitor throughout my hospital stay. This upset me because they were my support system and I couldn’t imagine going through such an ordeal without either one of them. In the end, my mom offered to stay behind and rely on text updates from my husband. She planned to see her first grandchild once we were released.

In the middle of the night on St. Patrick’s Day, I gave birth to our daughter, Camille Soraya Felix. She was delivered via an unplanned cesarean section, so we had to stay at the hospital for a week, which was longer than anticipated. Between tending to the baby and my recovery, we watched around the clock coverage about the spread of the coronavirus. This only deepened my worries about what awaited us at home and how we could protect our newborn. I was in a fragile emotional state, so we turned off the news. Thankfully, Lifetime was airing a marathon of “The King of Queens.” It felt good to laugh for once.

Now we are at home adjusting to a new reality. Gone are my earlier visions of Camille’s homecoming, one where family and friends would drop by and guess who she looks like most. The only place Camille has visited is the doctor’s office. Our pediatrician advised us to keep most people away from her, and we take that seriously. My mother is the only family member who has physically met my daughter. Others — aunts, uncles, cousins, godparents, future babysitters — have seen her through the screen door at our home or through FaceTime and Instagram video chat.

My husband is teleworking and we take turns leaving the house. I wash my hands constantly and spray Lysol on any items that come from outside. We have masks, and I recently started wearing one in public, before Gov. Hogan’s order to wear them in stores and on public transportation. I felt silly, but safe.

I hope a cure is found before I have to start fitting baby-sized masks on Camille. Yet the way things have been going, I can’t imagine not having to doing that sometime soon.

Shanteé Felix (shantee.writes@gmail.com) is a former reporter who now works for the State Highway Administration.

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