Next week our youngest baby girl will turn one. It will also mark the one year anniversary of my COVID diagnosis. Yes, one of the best days of my life was clouded by the virus that has plagued our lives for nearly two years now.
I was admitted to the hospital for 24-hour preeclampsia observation at 34 weeks pregnant on November 4, 2020. That night I tested positive for COVID-19. The following morning it was determined that my pre-eclampsia was severe, and our last baby would be delivered that afternoon. My wonderful OB had to break the news to me about her imminent delivery, and also informed me that my husband could not be present for her birth. I then learned that I wouldn’t see my baby until two weeks after my positive test. To say I was devastated would be an understatement. This was our fourth and final little girl, and I was already feeling all the emotions about going through her birth and first weeks for the last time.
Our beautiful daughter Everlie was born that evening. I saw her briefly, before she went to her own isolation. Everlie would require two negative COVID tests before she could join the NICU, and I would recover on the mom and baby floor alone. The days that followed were the absolute worst days of my life. I had spent the entire day wondering how I would survive her c-section on my own. I never thought about how I would feel after she was here and we were not together. My recovery room was surrounded by rooms with parents and their newborns. I could hear their cries loudest at night, as I sobbed for my own baby, longing for the moment I would see her again. My husband, Stefan, and older girls tested negative for COVID throughout this entire situation. Stefan visited Everlie as much as he could, while juggling our older girls and his virtual teaching. We would video chat often, but I was in an endless cycle of pumping, cleaning pump supplies, watching the NICU webcam, checking on my older girls, while occasionally attempting to eat or sleep. I felt so many emotions, and yet I also felt so numb. I could not believe this was happening.
On her second day of life, I was able to spend about 20 minutes holding my sweet baby girl. I donned a full set of PPE and anxiously waited for her arrival. Her little incubator took my breath away. She was perfect in every way and I cherished every second I was able to hold her. Everlie had her second negative COVID test that night and went to the NICU. My COVID symptoms were worse the next couple days, and I met with several doctors during this time. It was determined that I had COVID without realizing it, as my preeclampsia symptoms masked any COVID symptoms I was feeling. Once I was no longer contagious, I went home to finish recovering, leaving a huge piece of my heart in the NICU.
Shortly after that, my husband was visiting Everlie in the NICU when a nurse asked him why her breast milk was in biohazard bags. He told her our story and explained that I was now cleared from quarantine by our local public health department, but I had not yet been given clearance to visit the NICU. This amazing nurse took my public health clearance letter and got clearance for me to visit my baby in the NICU — I was thrilled! That night I got to hold my tiny girl and hug the nurse who helped me get there. I can never thank her enough. Everlie was strong enough to come home two days later and her sisters could not wait to meet her. While we found new routines as a family of six, I did my best to recover from COVID and the trauma of Everlie’s birth experience. I had lost my sense of taste and smell, and both took months to fully return. Even now, I still have times where my favorite foods are no longer the same. The smell I missed most was that of my newborn baby. That is my favorite smell, and it hurt me to not know every little detail about her. The emotional recovery has been far more difficult for me. I wish we could go back and have the birth and postpartum experience that I had been planning for. I am thankful for an excellent counselor who has helped me process the emotions and feelings surrounding this experience.
Our family has spent the last year doing everything we can to protect our preemie princess from all germs, but especially from COVID-19. Both my husband and I got vaccinated as soon as we were able, and we can’t wait for our oldest daughter to receive her vaccine soon. It feels very personal when people choose to ignore mask mandates, or refuse the vaccine. If you know how much COVID wrecked my life and the beginning of our baby’s story, why would you not do everything to make sure no one else goes through that? It doesn’t make sense to me, and I hope that by sharing Everlie’s story, more people will be willing to protect our most vulnerable — including pregnant people and premature babies.