Expecting new mom Nattalie Mitchell shares her fears about giving birth during the COVID-19 crisis. Reno Gazette Journal
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Nattalie Mitchell wakes up in the morning and starts each day the same, by greeting her unborn son.
“I talk with him while he kicks me,” Mitchell said. “I always start with, ‘Good morning, little guy.’”
Mitchell and her husband knew for years that they wanted to have children. She had the usual qualms about childbirth, like whether she’d have to be induced. Now she has concerns that mothers-to-be would not have to think about just months ago.
“My biggest fear is possibly not having my husband (during the birth), or possibly not being able to have that skin-to-skin contact with my baby if I contract the virus,” said Mitchell, who is due on May 2.
Nearly 4 million babies are born in the U.S. each year, and while pregnancy can be anxiety-inducing at any time, expectant mothers now are facing childbirth and bringing home newborns as the world faces a pandemic.
Hospitals nationwide are handling childbirth largely depending on the degree of risk in their region. In New York City, at least two hospitals have decided to separate mothers from partners, birth coaches and family during labor. In Israel, a mother was separated from her child immediately following the birth after she tested positive for COVID-19.
In Reno, both Renown and St. Mary’s Regional Medical Centers are limiting mothers to one birth partner during labor.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued little information on how COVID-19 might affect pregnant women and infants. The CDC is uncertain if a woman can pass the virus to her baby during pregnancy or delivery.
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So far, no infants born to mothers with COVID-19 have tested positive for the virus, according to the CDC, and the virus was not found in samples of amniotic fluid or breastmilk.
“There have been a small number of reported problems with pregnancy or delivery (e.g. preterm birth) in babies born to mothers who tested positive for COVID-19 during their pregnancy. However, it is not clear that these outcomes were related to maternal infection,” the CDC reports on its website.
What little information there is hasn’t eased Mitchell’s fears.
“For me, I’ve been feeling this anxiety. If I were to contract this virus, there isn’t enough data to make me feel better about it,” she said.
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No job, no baby shower, no rocking chair
For Mitchell, the pandemic has already changed her plans drastically. She’s fearful to enter a hospital for fear of exposure to COVID-19, and she’s getting her regular checkups remotely now. She and her husband are social distancing as much as possible to avoid contracting the virus.
While she initially feared a doula, or birthing guide, wouldn’t be allowed during delivery because of visitor restrictions, now she can no longer afford one anyway. Mitchell was laid off from her job as a server at a Reno restaurant, Whispering Vine, last week after restaurants closed beyond curbside services.
Thankfully, her husband’s job as a land surveyor provides the couple health insurance, but they will certainly have to pinch pennies, she said.
“I’ve had a lot of friends give me hand-me-downs. It makes me so glad, but it is making me a little nervous,” said Mitchell. “When we get new packages, we are wiping them down and then bringing them inside.”
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Mitchell lost her own mother to cancer six years ago. The efforts then to prevent infection for an immune-compromised person are a lesson now.
“From a soon-to-be-mom who lost her mom, I know how seriously you have to take this,” said Mitchell. “This was her routine, she had to be aware of who she let in her house, of what she came into contact with, this was a daily routine.”
She recently canceled a planned April baby shower to avoid contracting the virus.
She also realized that a lot of her friends and family will be financially affected by the closures of businesses and layoffs statewide, and wanted to relieve some of the pressure to purchase gifts.
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That leaves Mitchell and her family, however, to fend for themselves, which is more difficult with businesses indefinitely closed. She and her husband had planned a road trip to shop for rockers in Sacramento, since Reno lacks many options for baby furniture, but that is on hold.
Adding to the worry is grocery stores running short on diapers, wipes and formula. Delays in shipping mean baby items ordered online might not arrive until just before the baby’s due in a little over a month.
Because of slows in shipping due to high demand, Mitchell said a lot of orders for her child’s items, such as the crib sheets, won’t arrive until just before the baby is due in just over a month to be born. Further disconcerting is the fact that shelves of grocery stores have intermittent shortages of formula, diapers and baby wipes, all things that she’ll need in just over a month.
“We’re trying the best we can,” she said.
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It doesn’t end at birth
The concerns are not limited to expectant parents, but those with newborns as well.
“This baby just went outside for her first time ever,” Julie El Serafi, of Las Vegas, said on Wednesday. “That’s the milestone today – we actually went outside. When we go to the doctor’s office, we wait til the last minute, we cover in a blanket, we go, we leave, it’s like a mission.”
Already the mother of a 2-year-old girl, Raven, El Serafi said the experience for her second-born, Arya, has been entirely different.
“Everything that we had planned had to be canceled, and we’re not talking about vacations. We’re talking about the grandparents, any visitors,” said El Serafi, who only briefly allowed her mother to spend time with the baby immediately after the birth. “My dad was feeling depressed, he really wants to see the baby. He asked, ‘What if I just get tested?’ I said, ‘Dad, no one’s going to give you a test.’”
El Serafi said at first she felt guilty for not letting people visit her newborn, but she’s getting used to being more cautious than those around her. As a new mother, you have to be, she said.
El Serafi was cautious early on. In January, when her friends were dismissing the headlines out of China and having “coronavirus parties,” she was hunkering down. She brought her own pens from home to her job at a human resources firm and wiped down the tables.
“I felt paranoid, but you’re not going to catch me having a baby with this deadly virus.”
When she went to the hospital for a C-section on March 13, people were starting to take the virus seriously. But even in surgery, she felt like she was on a different page than those around her.
She still recalls the doctors lamenting the NCAA tournament cancellation while pulling her daughter out of her.
“I remember one man saying, ‘I’ll watch underwater basket weaving if I have to to get my sports,” she said. “I figured if the smartest people in the room aren’t freaking out, I shouldn’t be.”
Then she heard from the nurses that the hospital had two confirmed cases of coronavirus. The nurse offered El Serafi and her husband some hand sanitizer to make them feel more at ease.
“She came back and said someone stole all the hand sanitizer. That’s when I knew things were getting really serious,” she said.
After the birth, it was a relief when the hospital started limiting visitors, though even the hospital’s policy seemed too lax. Only one person was allowed in at a time, but you could see as many people in a day as you wanted, according to El Serafi.
“Where I was staying was really close to the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit). I would feel terrible if any of the babies got sick in the NICU because of someone who visited me,” she said.
Kacey Queen, co founder of Northern Nevada Moms, an online resource group, said moms have been finding creative solutions to help new mothers with groceries, bills or just finding formula, diapers and baby wipes when it’s out of stock.
“Times like this, that’s when people shine because people show up. It’s super crazy, but it’s super inspiring and it brings out the best in people,” said Queen. “They have no idea who these people are leaving groceries and other things on their porch.”
Queen’s advice for new moms who might be feeling anxious?
“Celebrate the birth of your child, but make sure to squeeze in time for yourself. You have to be able to recharge a little more creatively. Take a bath, have some cocoa, put on a face mask,” said Queen. “Even 20 minutes can make a world of a difference.”
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Since coming home, El Serafi hasn’t left the home save for doctor checkups. Her husband is making his first trip to the grocery store this week, though he’ll be wearing gloves and going during the morning hours open to seniors and parents of newborns.
Serafi said that she journals for up to an hour each day, which helps her put everything into perspective and also will help later when all of this is a blur.
“You forget all this stuff. At first, we thought coronavirus robbed us one of the most beautiful weekends of our life, it wasn’t about the baby and it was all about toilet paper,” El Serafi said. “But if the baby had been born a week earlier, we would not have taken the precautions that we did. If she had been born a week later, I might not have had my husband with me.”
El Serafi said there is one benefit to all this if she finds herself feeling stressed or lonely.
“Luckily, everyone is at home doing nothing so they can listen to you,” she said.
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Jenny Kane covers arts and culture in Northern Nevada, as well as the dynamic relationship between the state and the growing Burning Man community. She also covers the state’s burgeoning cannabis industry (Check out her podcast, the Potcast, on iTunes.) Support her work in Reno by subscribing to RGJ.com right here.
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