Author’s note: This is not MY personal story, per se, (despite the “my pandemic pregnancy” name), but a story told by our readers, week by week. Today’s is shared by Melissa Vick.
You might have heard that being pregnant or delivering right about now is strange, in this age of coronavirus. But how? In what ways? We’re going to show you -- with a different feature each week. To contribute your own experience, scroll all the way down to the bottom of this article and tap the link.
When Melissa Vick gave birth to her first child, a son, in May 2017, she and her husband Greg felt like they were able to share him with their friends and family, almost immediately.
They had visitors every day in the hospital.
The couple, from Royal Oak, Michigan, felt an incredible amount of love and support.
On June 1, 2020, the Vicks welcomed their second child, this time a baby girl. Alexandra Vick was born just past the 39-week mark. It was a Monday. She weighed 8 pounds, 1 ounce and measured in at 21 ½ inches. Labor and delivery went well, Melissa said. It was love at first sight.
But circumstances were incredibly different when you compare Alexandra’s birth to the birth of her older brother Colin -- not to mention, the weeks leading up to delivery and the weeks that followed.
The two Vick children actually had the exact same due date, three years apart, but the story that you’re about to read illustrates just how much the coronavirus pandemic has changed situations and protocols at hospitals.
Alexandra was born at Royal Oak Beaumont, but a lot of the things Melissa described seem to be happening at medical facilities all over the country: restrictions placed on visitors, for example, or a limited number of people allowed in Neonatal Intensive Care, or the NICU.
At first, precautions related to COVID-19 just made things a little more inconvenient, to put it mildly.
Before baby Alexandra was born, Melissa’s doctors needed her to start going in for a weekly nonstress test, which is a common prenatal exam used to check on a baby’s health as the due date inches closer. Medical providers might ask a mother to take regular NSTs for a myriad of reasons, including maternal age, possible hypertension, low amniotic fluid or a history of complications. It’s often different for every mom. Melissa went to those NST appointments alone, which wasn’t ideal, but the problem was finding someone to watch the couple’s son, Colin. Melissa usually counted on her parents or Greg’s parents for help with childcare in situations such as these, but all of the grandparents are in the high-risk category for COVID-19, so they were minimizing outside contact.
Greg worked long hours as a firefighter, but the couple made it work because they had to. They were able to juggle care for Colin despite Melissa’s weekly tests.
Still, it was a busy time. Professionally, Melissa was starting a new job, learning a new team and routine -- and handling life pregnant, with a toddler by her side.
Then her doctors set a date to induce labor.
An ‘odd’ experience
When it was time to welcome their baby girl into the world, only Melissa and Greg could be in the delivery room. No one else would be able to come up.
“It was just an odd experience,” Melissa said. “Everyone had a mask on and you don’t really know who’s caring for you. (It’s like), ‘Can I take my mask off? Is this OK?’”
She said it felt isolating, in a way.
“It was quiet,” Melissa said. “It was lonely. You were just alone.”
The couple used FaceTime to call their parents and make virtual introductions once baby Alexandra arrived.
Of course, they had support through phone calls and text messages, but Melissa was taken aback by how much could change in three years. It was the pandemic, of course; she knew the realities of that, especially considering she works for the hospital system where she delivered -- but that didn’t stop her situation from seeming surreal.
Greg’s parents didn’t get to hold Alexandra until the baby was 6 weeks old. Melissa’s parents finally got to do the same at 8 weeks.
“And even then, she had a face shield (and) my parents had face shields,” Melissa said. “My mom was very, very nervous, because she was afraid she’d get her sick.
“I basically had to force her to hold her, (saying something to the effect of), ‘She’ll be fine. Just take her!’” Melissa recalled with a laugh.
Both sets of grandparents are really involved, so it was hard not to have them around for the first month or two, Melissa added.
“They’re missing out and she’s missing out,” said Melissa, adding that of course Alexandra is just a baby. “So maybe she doesn’t really know (what she’s missing), but you don’t have those memories. Or now they’re through FaceTime, and that’s about it. You can’t share her with anyone. You can send pictures, but that’s about it.”
Many mothers likely envision that moment when the older sibling comes to the hospital to meet the new baby, and perhaps there’s even a family cuddle on the bed or a new-family introduction.
Colin didn’t get to meet his baby sister until she was 16 days old.
That’s because the Vicks went through a pretty traumatic event -- and although it ended with what doctors have called “the best possible outcome,” this was yet another experience that felt heavy, magnified and different, considering COVID-19 policies in the background.
Once Alexandra was born, Melissa said they were given the option to stay a bit longer at the hospital, so she opted to do exactly that.
At one point, Alexandra spit up, much like infants are known to do, but it looked “off” enough for Melissa to show it to two nurses during a shift change, who advised calling the pediatrician because it was green, and looked like bile.
Sure enough, the pediatrician advised an upper GI, which is an X-ray examination of the esophagus, stomach and first part of the small intestine.
Alexandra had malrotation with volvulus: which meant her intestines were twisted and blocked.
“Even with (the NSTs beforehand), we didn’t know,” Melissa said. “We were sitting there with a happy, healthy newborn, and then suddenly, it switched, like, ‘Your daughter has to have this emergency surgery.’ And now it’s the middle of the night and you’re alone, sitting in a waiting room and having to absorb all of this.”
And that’s another reason why the siblings didn’t get to meet right away: Most hospitals do have stricter-than-usual visitor policies in place, but on top of that, Alexandra had to spend about two weeks in the NICU following emergency surgery.
Melissa and Greg were forced to visit their daughter separately. They couldn’t be at the NICU at the same time based on current rules.
They weren’t even able to get Alexandra out of the hospital together, when she was finally cleared to go home.
“So, we didn’t get to experience that ‘going home’ moment,” Melissa said.
How it happened
To rewind a bit, it was a nurse who went down with Alexandra for the Upper GI, as Melissa and Greg weren’t permitted.
Melissa couldn’t put her finger on exactly what it was, but when the nurse came back, she got the sense that something was wrong. She said she could tell by the nurse’s demeanor. Melissa started crying, and the next thing she knew, a nurse practitioner from the NICU said, “We have to go now” -- referring to a trip to the NICU.
“She thought we already knew, because I was crying,” Melissa said.
Walking over to the NICU, Melissa said she and Greg realized how critical this truly was: medical staff was calling in a team for immediate surgery and they needed to get Alexandra prepped and ready.
“If we hadn’t caught (the bile), she could have died,” Melissa said.
What came next was a bit of a blur, Melissa said, but she does remember talking to a doctor, saying, “Do whatever you need to do. Make sure she’s OK.”
“I don’t think I fully grasped what they were doing,” Melissa recalls.
The surgery lasted about an hour and a half to two hours, as Melissa remembers it. Everything went according to plan. The Vicks were so relieved.
Alexandra was on a ventilator for the next two days, and the doctors needed her to do things like have a bowel movement before she could go home. But the infant recovered as best as could be expected.
“It was just tough because my husband and I couldn’t be there at the same time,” Melissa said. “We’re taking breaks, we have one of us with our 3-year-old, one (up at the hospital), and then we switch. We were trying to keep things as normal as possible for Colin.”
Fast forward to today and Alexandra is thriving as a happy, healthy baby. Greg was able to take some extra vacation time, and he was home for all of June.
Fun fact: Greg’s colleagues on his unit at the Royal Oak Fire Department came over after their shift one day while Alexandra was still in the NICU, and set up the play structure the family had bought for Colin. They mowed the lawn, too. In times of crisis, people can be so incredibly good.
Alexandra is the most beautiful addition to the family.
“She’s honestly the best baby I’ve ever seen in my whole entire life,” Melissa said with a laugh, noting that Alexandra has been sleeping through the night since she was 5 weeks.
“At (Alexandra’s) one-month appointment, my pediatrician told me it was truly a miracle to have the outcome we did and it was a true medical emergency,” Melissa said. “Thank goodness we didn’t go home when we wanted, because we probably would have had a completely different outcome.”
Melissa is beyond grateful to everyone at Beaumont, and said she felt like family.
From the pregnancy to the medical emergency that followed, her daughter’s birth came with an unusual set of circumstances. Doing it all in the midst of a global pandemic wasn’t easy. But Melissa and Greg are just grateful that most of this chapter is now behind them.
The family now gets to move forward with their lovely baby girl.
“It was scary, frightening and lonely,” Melissa said. “You had the support, but no one there (physically) to rely on. You couldn’t even hug anyone. You don’t realize all that till it’s gone.”
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