Navigating COVID with a Newborn: Courtney’s Story

My water broke minutes before the Super Bowl Sunday football game had started. I was 39 weeks pregnant and I had begun my official maternity leave from work 48 hours prior. I had hoped for a week off, but my baby had other plans. Throughout my pregnancy I was terrified of going into labour and I assumed that when the time came, I would be a total disaster. To my surprise, I went to the hospital feeling incredibly calm and excited. I felt unusually at ease throughout the labor process, even when they informed me that my baby’s heart rate had dropped twice, and I required an urgent C-section. I wanted to get this baby out in the safest and healthiest way possible; I was not combative and told them to do whatever was necessary. I only recall feeling nervous when they wheeled me into the OR and I was lying flat on my back, with bright lights over my head and I was incredibly numb from the chest down. Fortunately, it was a smooth surgery and within minutes I got to meet my baby girl, Andie. Her sex was a surprise and I can still recall the senior resident cheeringly calling out, “it’s a girl!”. After the shock of having a baby sliced out of me (literally!) settled in, I was in awe and I was so in love. She appeared to be healthy and that is all I could have hoped for.

My birth story and time in the hospital after delivery was entirely different from my experience with pregnancy. At 5.5 weeks pregnant I began to feel intense nausea from morning until night, vomited daily, and could not eat anything besides white carbs and dairy. It was a challenging 3 months, but I did get through it with the help of anti -nausea medication. Right as I started to get over the nausea, I bought a house and the paralyzing anxiety began. My head started to spin, and I began to feel panic every single morning. My sleep worsened; I was waking up roughly 5 times in the night and I was always awake before my alarm. I would wake up feeling intense worry. How will I pay for my mortgage and all of the new expenses that a child required? I started to stress over things that I never used to in the past. The thought of packing up my apartment became extremely daunting and every single day I convinced myself that I would not be able to do it.

My anxiety began to spiral at this point, and I became overwhelmed with my thoughts that motherhood would be too challenging for me. How would I function without sleep? How would I have the energy to feed, change diapers, and play on repeat?

As if buying a house, being pregnant and nauseous, and needing to pack and move was not enough life change, my sister gave birth to twins. Her twins were the first babies born into my family and my entire lifestyle changed. I began to help her out after work for roughly 3 months until I quite literally became too pregnant to lift them. My sister is my best friend and regardless of what was going on in my life, it was very important to me that I helped support her. If you have seen baby twins, then you can understand why. Bearing witness to the lifestyle of two little babies was a total culture shock for me. Despite all of her support, and she had a lot of it (!), it was hard work. My anxiety began to spiral at this point, and I became overwhelmed with my thoughts that motherhood would be too challenging for me. How would I function without sleep? How would I have the energy to feed, change diapers, and play on repeat? At this point I would say that I was unable to think rationally. Ironically, I am a clinical social worker who helps people cope with chronic illness and end stage disease. I knew I needed help and after about 6 weeks of suffering I reached out to my family doctor, OB, and a private practice social worker. Between all three of these remarkable women, I was able to get the help that I needed, and I felt better within 4 weeks. I acknowledge how privileged I am when it comes to accessing mental health support. I am incredibly lucky to have access to so many professionals and I have private coverage through my employer.

I am hyper aware of where I am socially situated, acknowledge my own privilege, and knew my low risk profile. As a new mom, I did the best that I could during a global pandemic. Could I have done better? Probably. Do I really care what other people think? Not really.

Let’s fast forward to postpartum life. Fortunately, the anxiety has never resurfaced. I feel very grateful to have received the right support and the postpartum anxiety and depression that I was heavily anticipating never occurred. I am one of the lucky ones; I have amazing support, a healthy baby, and I have been able to cope well. 4.5 weeks after little Andie came into my life, Covid 19 took over and our city shut down. We were all encouraged to stay at home, isolate, and not go into other people’s houses. At first, I did not process the severity of this illness. I allowed my mother into my house despite public health warnings. After the intensity of Covid sunk in, I did my best to truly stay at home besides one walk outside a day and some trips for essential goods. I had the good fortune of seeing some of my friends outside, from a distance, and was able to receive social support in a safe way. Long before bubbling became officially allowed, I essentially bubbled with my immediate family. Given my prepartum anxiety I was nervous it would resurface, and I felt I could no longer tolerate staying at home alone with a newborn while my husband was working. I have an enormous amount of respect for both public health guidelines and science, but knowing my risk profile, I felt comfortable seeing other people. For whatever reason, I did not have the mental energy to stress about getting Covid and I did not live in fear of contracting it. Perhaps my head was too full and consumed with trying to keep my newborn alive. I am sure some people thought I was nuts for going into my sister’s house, but I was prepared to take on the risk. Sadly, this pandemic has been more devastating for marginalized groups and those who live in congregate living settings. It has disproportionality affected women and racialized groups. I am hyper aware of where I am socially situated, acknowledge my own privilege, and knew my low risk profile. As a new mom, I did the best that I could during a global pandemic. Could I have done better? Probably. Do I really care what other people think? Not really.

My main message to my fellow new moms is to make choices that you feel comfortable with. We need to do our best to ignore judgement and acknowledge that everyone is struggling with something that we cannot see. Covid has been a major stressor for millions of people around the world and has highlighted some of our biggest fears, vulnerabilities and worst qualities. I encourage everyone to be kind, be strong, and ignore the hate. Let’s assume that we are all doing the best that we can.

Written by: Courtney Sas

Photo by: Danielle Horvath

XOXO Renee Reina

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Breastfeeding Simultaneously Almost Killed Me And Saved My Life: Marlisa’s Story
Navigating COVID with a Newborn: Courtney’s Story