To the Mother Who Gave Birth during the Pandemic by Denise A. Castro

The first words to my daughter were – “you’re here. You’re finally here”. I sobbed uncontrollably in my mask. A thick layer of dry saliva caked all around my mouth slowly dissolving. I remember locking eyes with my daughter and thinking “is this how she will see me? Masked with only my eyes showing?” A memory I hope we’d never need to re-visit for the sake of Covid-19 still looming over us. We did skin to skin – she was warm and glowing, covered in vernix and blood.  I remember promising her to do my best in protecting her and feeling a worry in the pit of my stomach reminding me my womb was no longer the shield. I buried that worry deep. This was our time to bond and I prayed for that bond to be strong. As a Mother those first few days you play a game of joy and grief. The relief that your child’s heartbeat is strong, their vitals are great and they have a perfect set of finger and toes. You’re grieving the fact you longer host your baby in a safety vessel, your uterus feels an emptiness – urging the baby to come back. Come back to me baby– I will keep you safe.

I was being wheeled towards my room with my daughter in my arms when I saw the sign on the left section of the maternity ward. Do Not Enter. Quarantined room. Mothers and babies contracted with the disease. I swallowed hard and looked away – the thought pained me deeply. Babies being separated at birth with Mothers who contracted the virus. Babies in a certain area of the NICU isolated for testing and treatment. Having that immediate bond fall short after birth; feeling like a part of you has been severed from your body is what I pictured in my mind. I felt so blessed; so profusely lucky in that moment. A little prayer for them left my lips for them. I see you. I feel you. I am here. I placed my daughter in the bassinet next to my hospital bed and I took my time to walk to the bathroom. I sat down on the toilet and immediately regretted it; reaching for every single item provided in my post-delivery bag so that I could soothe the pain. As I finished attempting to patch myself up; I washed my hands and removed my mask and their I was covered in sweat, saliva, dry tears, blood shot eyes, cracked lips and knotted hair. This is who I am right now – and may I remember I just delivered a baby in the height of a pandemic.

At home I finally felt more at ease. Except my body was not healing the way it should. Even with a   “recovery time” of 6-8 weeks and having a normal vaginal delivery – it would not be sufficient for my body to fully recover.  I felt more tired than usual, I bled profusely thinking it was normal for my second child. If there is one thing I have learned this time around; is listen to your body; closely. I had abdominal pain which I interpreted as post-partum cramps. I figured it was my uterus contracting. But the pain amplified as the days went by. Some days I was unable to breastfeed since it aggravated the pain after doing so. I would cry and wince from pain but I refused to go to the hospital. After 6 days my pain was testing my endurance. I cannot abandon my newborn daughter I would say to myself. I run the risk of contracting Covid and I will not bring it home. I buried my pain, numbing it with pain killers and pushed through. On the morning of day 7, my body collapsed and said no more. I can go no further. Everything was a blur after that. My husband rushed me to the ER, dropping me off at the entrance once again. I was carried onto a wheelchair unable to walk from the burning pain. I remember looking back and hearing my daughter whaling in her car seat, my husband’s eyes wide with fear and a stabbing pain in my heart like an anchor piercing the side of a sinking ship – as distance grew between my newborn daughter and I.

I woke up naked – blood, urine and breastmilk pouring from my body. I had a light being flashed into my eyes and I gasped for air with the pain burning inside me. All I could hear was a doctor and nurse trying to get me to respond. Can you hear me? It was hard to hear – I was so submerged in my pain it hurt to talk. I hear the word kidney stones, Cat-Scan, morphine drip and my name being called. My temples pulsated and my eyeballs burned. I reached for my forehead where a small bandage lay. I tried to retrace my steps. I was attempting to pee in a cup and then everything went black. I fainted in the ER bathroom while doing so and woke up to this. As the morphine kicked in, I started to become numb to the pain. The nurse told me I was no longer vomiting so now I understood the burning in my throat. With a burning hoarseness I panicked and asked “where is my baby!!!? I was in total dismay – there was no bassinet beside my bed. And then it all came back to me – I was at the hospital again and my daughter was already born. I looked at the clock on the wall trying to remember what day it was. The nurse grabbed my hand adjusting my IV and fixed my mask looking at me with sympathetic eyes. I felt a pain in my chest– the realization that I was not in a maternity ward. I was not near my newborn and the breastmilk dripping down my chest would not be feeding her.

I awoke from the morphine daze to the nurse bringing me a bag of my things – in it was my phone. I quickly rummaged through it and saw the message from my husband. I facetimed him immediately. When I saw his face as he held my daughter I immediately broke down. It was the first time I saw myself. I had a huge bump on my forehead and mild concussion. Who am I? A shell of the person I was once was. I sobbed uncontrollably. My daughter was only 8 days old and I was away from her. My breasts pulsated in pain almost in response to my daughters cry for my milk. I propped the phone on the side table and continued to look though the bag and found my breast pumps. I would have to pump and then dump –I wouldn’t be going home. I needed to allow the medication to kick in to treat the mass infection in my kidneys – allowing for the stones to pass at the hospital since I was only one week postpartum. That night I lay in that uncomfortable hospital bed and just stared at the clock on the wall. I would have given anything to have a time machine and be tele transported to a better future. I thought about my children and how confused my three year old might be since I had just been home. It hurt me to think of him seeing me collapse on the floor – unable to hug him re-entering this nightmare again.

I awoke to breakfast – mushy hospital food. My pain was a solid 6 on a scale from 1-10. I looked at the plastic bidet I needed to pee in to search for microscopic pebbles. I saw none. My doctor came knocking at my door with an inquisitive look. She had just delivered my daughter a week ago and asked me what was more painful. Labor or kidney stones? Without hesitation – kidney stones. Who would’ve known something so small could break you down so unmercifully. I continued to pace in my room – 300 square feet to be exact. Back and forth like a hamster stuck in a very small wheel. I could not leave my room due to Covid regulations.  The desperation I felt to get home grew as the hours went by. I pumped and I cried. Allowing myself only 15 minutes of hopelessness with all my hormonal swings. I poured the bags of milk down the sink trying to find a silver lining. I thought of every Mother separated from their baby at birth due to covid. It shook my very core. In that moment I knew what it feels to lose piece of yourself, your heart beating outside my body and my mind in shambles. As I progress to heal my vessel; I’m re-learning how to listen to it when it’s wounded and treat it with the love and care it deserves. May I remember that taking care of myself is taking care of my children. To every mother who knows that being a Mother is selfless; I see you. To every Mother who knows that bearing and birthing your children is a beautiful sacrifice; I hear you. This pandemic has amplified our fears but it also has redefined our strength and endurance. We are shields; fierce protectors and our bodies vessels of asylum. We are warriors fighting the good fight; we are Mothers.

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