New mom Rochelle Howard is lucky to be alive. She not only missed out on the labor experience she had planned, she also missed the first two weeks of her baby boy’s life due to COVID-19. She shares her experience in an effort to encourage other moms to consider vaccination to protect themselves and their babies.
On Aug. 13, 2021, I tested positive for COVID. Being 38 weeks pregnant at the time, I was already experiencing exhaustion and loss of appetite, so I do believe some of my symptoms in the beginning I chalked up to pregnancy instead of COVID.
At the time, I thought my COVID symptoms were mild, being just a sore throat, slight fever and a little bit of a cough. Nine days later, on Aug. 22, I told my husband that I hadn't felt the baby moving as often as he normally does, and I was having difficulty breathing and thought it was time to go to the hospital.
When we arrived at Mercy Hospital Washington, my husband had to get a wheelchair to take me inside because I was too weak to walk myself. Once we were inside and checked in, my husband had to leave per hospital ER rules. He waited in the parking lot while they ran tests and did a chest x-ray and a non-stress test on the baby. It seemed like hours went by, but the decision was finally made to induce me because the baby wasn’t responding on the non-stress test like they wanted. At this point, they moved me to the labor and delivery floor.
Meanwhile, my husband was still waiting in the parking lot unable to come inside. We were both fearful he wouldn't be able to be there for our first child's birth. After six hours of waiting in the parking lot, my husband was finally able to come inside. Though, since I had COVID, neither of us would be able to leave the hospital room for the duration of our stay. Sunday, Aug. 22, they started the induction process. This continued into Monday morning when my doctor decided to go ahead with a C-section because some labs came back with some complications. Our son was born Mon., Aug. 23 at 1:19 p.m. I was able to hold him that day, but not very long as I was still weak and at that point kind of "out of it.” Sadly, I don't remember a lot of his birth, and the days prior, due to what I would assume would be what people call "COVID brain" or "brain fog."
The next few days my husband, son, and I remained in the hospital while I continued to decline. We had respiratory therapists coming in with breathing treatments, a pulmonologist, as well as a few other doctors who were working to figure out how to help me get better instead of getting worse, which is what I was doing rather quickly. I had progressed from having an oxygen mask by my bed when I felt out of breath, to wearing a nose cannula with constant oxygen, to then being on an Airvo machine, which is a high flow oxygen. At this point my condition was still worsening.
One of the doctors suggested I be transferred to the Mercy Hospital in St. Louis. He also mentioned they had a medication that is sometimes used to treat COVID called Actemra and they had one dose left. We went ahead and I was taken by ambulance to Mercy in St. Louis where I did receive the dose of Actemra. My husband and I said our goodbyes before I was transferred, as I would not be able to have any visitors per hospital policy being a COVID patient. This was one of the hardest moments knowing my husband and newborn would be going home without me, knowing I would be alone in the hospital and yet not knowing what my outcome would be. I was heartbroken and scared.
I was transferred and arrived at the hospital in St. Louis on Thur., Aug. 26. I was placed in ICU where I continued the high flow oxygen until Friday, when they tried a BiPAP machine. I do not remember this, but I was told I did not handle the BiPAP well and wouldn't keep the mask on. After trying anxiety medication and light sedation, they decided the next day (Sat., Aug. 28) to intubate and place me on a ventilator. After intubation, I have no memories because I was sedated and nobody knew how long I would be on the ventilator.
The doctor would call my husband with an update each day until four days later when I had improved enough to come off the ventilator. Improving so quickly and only having to be on the ventilator four days is nothing short of a miracle. I still had a long road ahead though. I came off the ventilator on Tues., Aug. 31, and was put back on oxygen through a nasal cannula. The following day, Wednesday, I was moved to a transitional unit room. On Thursday, I was moved to a regular “COVID room." Then, on Friday, I was moved to a regular non-COVID room because enough days had passed since my positive test and I was finally able to have visitors! My husband and mom were both able to visit me on Friday.
I was determined to go home. I wanted to be there for my baby and it killed me I had already missed his first week and a half home. Going home to him was my motivation the whole time. I am sure the nurses got tired of hearing about how I "just want to go home and see my baby." I remember that Friday telling my mom and husband "I am going home tomorrow." Both of them kind of brushed off the statement and said there is a chance I will be there a few more days. I think I asked every nurse and doctor that day if they thought I would go home the next day. One of the nurses even said I would probably be there a few more days.
While it was difficult for me to walk, I would get up and move around the room to build up my strength because I knew they would require a walking test before I could be released. The next day came (Sat., Sept. 4), and my mom was there with me. To our surprise, the nurse came in and told me I could take my cannula off because I didn't need the oxygen anymore and the doctor had ordered the walking test. The therapist came to do the walking test and I passed! I didn't even need to be sent home with oxygen. I was finally released to go home that afternoon, the 14th day of being in the hospital.
I still have recovery to do at home, but I am so happy to be alive and home with my son and my husband. COVID took so much from me - it took the labor experience I wanted, it took being there for my son's first week and a half at home. My grandmother also passed while I was hospitalized. COVID took my opportunity to tell her goodbye and attend her funeral. However, COVID never took my determination in knowing I was going to eventually go home to be with my baby boy.