‘I muttered ‘I’m sorry’ to my newborn over Zoom from a different hospital. I didn’t know I’d delivered a baby, or what month it was.’: First-time mom recounts giving birth during post-Covid pneumonia battle

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“’I’m sorry.’ Those were the first words I tried to mutter to my son over a zoom call. In a completely different hospital than my firstborn was. With no family around me. ‘I’m so sorry.’ I tried to touch the screen, but my arms were too weak. I couldn’t get the words out because I had just been extubated, but they were there. There the iPad sat, on a pillow in my lap, the nurse cleaning up the counter in my room, my husband and mom updating me through the zoom call, looking at the most beautiful baby in the world, and all I wanted to say to Tate was ‘I’m sorry.’ I’m sorry I got sick and this is how you had to enter the world. I’m sorry I didn’t see you take your first breath. I’m sorry I’m not there.

The decision to share this was hard for me, but I want this all written out while it’s fresh in mind.

So, early November I went to work with a sore throat. Now I take COVID seriously and I never wanted to put anyone in jeopardy. I thought of calling in, but I unfortunately had missed ‘too many days’ and if I missed another I was on suspension (which by the way, we’re in a pandemic but healthcare workers get no slack). Anyway, I thought, ‘Okay, just strep.’ Well, that evening it turned to fever and chills. Just mild. I thought, ‘Okay, flu?’ I ended up going to get swabbed for COVID and it came back positive.

I was in shock and scared. I was out for a week. It felt like a bad flu. Sh–ty, but manageable. After about a week I felt 100% better. I went on about my business. So, I go back to work the week after the fiasco and Monday I just feel a bit off. I push through. Tuesday was different, though. I was exhausted. And I knew fatigue was a long lasting effect of COVID, so again, I brushed it off. But then I couldn’t even stand, or walk back and forth from preop to OR without getting winded. I couldn’t keep up with Joyce (a colleague) as we rolled patient’s back. I was getting lightheaded. And my chest, boy my chest hurt. I had Joyce hook me up to a 5-lead and found I was tachycardic.

I called my OB and they advised me to be seen. My boss came in to relieve me and could tell I was sick. I drove myself across the street to the ER. I felt stupid, like maybe it’s just heartburn since I’m pregnant? Well, come to find out I had post-COVID pneumonia. The ER gave me fluids and a Z-pak and sent me on my way. The Z-pak was a 5-day course. About day 3, I wasn’t any better and in so much pain. I had sweats that soaked my clothes. Chills that only the hottest shower for HOURS could fix. A stiff neck. Trouble breathing.

I went to our local ER and got some pain medicine and was told it’s just post-COVID complications. The pain medicine helped for approximately 5 hours. Now on day 5 of the Z-pak, Scott’s at work so my mom swings by with a protein smoothie since I couldn’t really eat much. She immediately told me I was going to the ER whether I wanted to or not. I put my pulse oximeter on, oxygen:86% HR:163. I agreed, but I was hesitant. I was tired. I didn’t want to go back to the ER for the third time this week. But I did.

At the ER they checked on Tate. He was fine. But they knew I was not. It was decided to ship me to University via ambulance. I remember getting loaded up in the bus and watching my mom stand there. I cry when I think about it. She saved my life. It was the last time she saw me until I came out of this on the other side. She was not allowed at WCH (Women’s and Children’s hospital) or at the U.

The ambulance ride was PAINFUL. All of a sudden I heard the lights and sirens go on. I heard ’45 over palp,’ and as a nurse, I knew this meant my blood pressure was bottoming out. I was put on a non-rebreather and the EMT was squeezing fluids into me. Next thing I know, I’m at WCH in a tiny triage room with what felt like one million people coming at me AND it was shift change. A nurse monitoring Tate. A nurse charting. A nurse getting IV/labs. A doctor watching/advising. A resident putting an ART line in. A nurse putting a foley in.

Pregnant woman battling post-covid pneumonia shares picture from her hospital journey
Courtesy of Lexie Berhorst

Thank God for all those people. I couldn’t thank them in the moment, but I wish I could. My hand was held and I was reassured. I remember that. I always will. Luckily they also let Scott in. He stood there in the corner, holding my bag of belongings, and took my wedding rings. I was too sick to even talk to him. But he was there for me and I was so thankful I could just look at his face. After being stabilized, the decision was they could keep Tate in a little longer but I needed the medical ICU so I was loaded up in an ambulance and taken to MU ICU. Scott couldn’t come. We said our ‘I love yous’ and off I went.

Now, when I got into the ICU I was loopy, but what I do remember was starting off on a nasal cannula. Then it progressed to biPAP. And I kept asking the nurse to take the biPAP off and see if I could breathe with just a cannula. I didn’t want to be dependent on oxygen. I knew if I had to be vented, there was a possibility I may never come off. I couldn’t do it without the biPAP. I felt defeated. I was so tired of breathing. So tired of working so hard just to breathe. I remember being hunched over the bed and Maggie (one of my nurses) rubbed my back for me. And those who know me know I HAD to be sick for that to happen.

Lumbar puncture had to be done and I couldn’t even lay on my side because it was so excruciatingly painful, almost worse than the lumbar puncture itself. By the end of one of those nights I asked my nurse, Reese, if I could speak with the doctor. He sat down across from me and I begged him to intubate me. Right then and there. I couldn’t do this anymore. Scott texted me and was asking what I wanted done for Tate and myself if anything happened. To which I responded, ‘Yes to everything for Tate, and just don’t leave me brain dead on a vent.’ I look back at those texts and just… lose it. In that moment I couldn’t think straight.

Pregnant woman suffering from post-covid pneumonia shares emotional text she sent to her husband while in the hospital
Courtesy of Lexie Berhorst

So, next thing I know I’m looking at myself from the ceiling. I’m lying on an OR table. There’s 8 of me. The room just keeps spinning. There’s a different team working on each copy of me. They’re trying to put me to sleep and I won’t. They keep telling me to relax. And I’m screaming, ‘Just f–king do it. Just put me to sleep’ to which they responded, ‘We’re trying!’ Now this of course was a hallucination/dream. Or was it? I won’t ever know. I had so many hallucinations during my sleep. Which is a whole different post in itself. A majority of them being Halloween themed. Huh. Weird?

I was intubated and paralyzed December 7, 2020 in hopes I could rest my body and lungs on the vent. To no avail, December 8, 2020 at 4:18 p.m. an emergency C-section was performed and our first son, Tate Emmett Thoreson, was born at 32 weeks gestation. 4lbs 1oz, 16 in long. I wasn’t there. I wasn’t awake. Scott wasn’t there. He wasn’t allowed in. They did let Scott come see me for one hour though after all this. Whoever took care of my son that day, thank you. Transport came in. Steven – respiratory therapy. Nicole – transport nurse. And John – EMT. They took my baby over to WCH NICU. Thank you all for your care.

Pregnant woman with post-covid pneumonia gets intubated and paralyzed for an emergency C-section
Courtesy of Lexie Berhorst
First time mom takes photo of her newborn son attached to a bunch of wires after an emergency C-section
Courtesy of Lexie Berhorst

Unfortunately, I was swollen and developed a seroma so they couldn’t close my incision. So a wound vac was put in place. 9 long days go by for my family not knowing if I was going to make it. I was on the vent. I developed an infection and they couldn’t figure out what it was. Where it was. Or why it was happening. I was not waking up. They were performing tests and running antibiotics and doing everything they could.

But December 15th or 16th, I did wake up. I was still intubated, though. I woke up alone, in a hospital room, with a tube down my throat, a feeding tube in my nose to my stomach, a central line in my neck, an IV in my arm, a foley in, a wound vac going, and my wrist tied to the bed. When I used to work in ER and people would try to bust out of restraints, I’d think to myself, ‘They crazy!’ Well, that was me. It was the worst feeling. And not being able to ask questions or get across what I needed/wanted.

At this point I thought I was at Capital Region hospital. I thought it was May 2021 (because of balloons) And I didn’t know I had been pregnant or delivered a baby. Once I was awake, the nurse reoriented me. That day or two of me being vented but awake were AWFUL. They needed to see if I could breathe over the vent, on my own. When they finally let me try, I remember the tube coming out of my throat. I remember the amount of green/yellow sputum at the end of the tube. I remember feeling like I wasn’t gonna catch my breath. I did it, though. They untied my hands. I was so excited, only to find out I couldn’t lift them anyway. I could not lift my arms.

Sol I’m sitting in my ICU bed and a nurse comes to pump for me. This was honestly traumatic for me. But I am SO happy with the support I received. My former NICU colleagues who also have their lactation consultant licenses coordinated my breastfeeding routine/breastfeeding care for me. Linda and Allison. They both came over to the University just for me. They taught the ICU nurses how to pump and what to do with my breastmilk. The nurses pumped for me those 9 days I was intubated. A lot of my milk could not be used due to the medication I was on.

When I was awake but couldn’t lift my arms, it was hard for me to let people do this for me. Nurses were coming in every 3 hours. Putting lanolin on my nipples. Hooking up the phalanges for me. Over and over. I hated it. I cried multiple times and asked if I could quit. I had no control. Then when I was discharged to floor status, I still couldn’t lift my arms or walk and was expected to pump every 3 hours. And as badly as I wanted to breastfeed, it was in my best interest to use formula and focus on my health physically and mentally. Breastfeeding/pumping is hard. Shout out to all you mamas. I felt compelled to share this part of my story because the guilt was/is REAL, and I had a hard time coming to terms with that. But thank you Linda and Allison for all you did for me. You guys are the best.

Once extubated, I remember sitting in my ICU bed not really understanding the severity of what happened or the sequence of events. I remember getting ICU delirium and talking to someone in the corner of my room. Who really wasn’t anyone. The nurses pumping for me every 3 hours. Having to poop in a bed pan or if I couldn’t reach my call light, having to literally s–t the bed. I remember failing my swallow study and choking/aspirating on ice chips and water, therefore not being allowed any of that. I remember trying to desperately pick up my phone but had no strength or dexterity to text.

Staring at a picture of Tate my mom had printed for me and sent over. Staring at the balloons in the corner. I remember having to get a bed bath. I remember being taken down for an MRI and I couldn’t even hold my breath long enough for them to get good readings. I remember all the different doctors coming in and out to assess me. I remember being so uncomfortable. Then, as I started to get better, I remember the good things too. Getting my nasal cannula taken off. My foley taken out. My central line pulled. And then getting the news I’d be transferred to floor status. No more ICU. I was so excited. The thoughts that went through my head were, ‘Oh, sweet. I can get up and move around. Use my legs. Shower myself.’

Mom shares photo of newborn baby swaddled in a white blankets with tubes in his nose
Courtesy of Lexie Berhorst

Well, I got to my new room and asked if I could get up. They said let’s wait for OT/PT to get here. They came. I got sat up on the edge of the bed. They put a gait belt on me and a walker in front of me. In my head I was like, ‘Damn, really?? I’m not some old lady.’ But my O.T. counted to three for me to stand up and… nothing on my body moved. I couldn’t stand. I was frustrated and confused. And then I was told for each day I was bedridden I could expect one WEEK for recovery. I was pissed. I felt so out of control. I think I tried 6-7 times over and over just trying to stand. I finally got up and toppled over into her arms. They sat me back down and said, ‘We’ll work on it.’

Then transport came to get me and take me down to have a swallow study done. I was cleared for food but had to have honey thickened liquids. God, gross. I remember my first meal was whatever they were serving that day. Allison, the nurse/lactation consultant, was there with me, helping me with breastfeeding because at this point I was still trying. Thank goodness she was. She helped me cut up my food since I physically couldn’t. I took a bite and it was SO DRY it got stuck on my feeding tube and started pulling the tube down with it! It was a HORRIBLE feeling.

Allison helped call so I could get it taken out. Whew. Also, have you ever had honey thickened McDonald’s sprite? It’s great. But it fizzes fast. LOL. Scott brought me one to the front desk since I was craving it and the nurse thickened it for me and left the room. It started spewing over. I tried to lift it, but my arms were weak. I spilled the whole thing in my bed. It was a vicious cycle. I was brought drinks and ice chips but couldn’t get it to my mouth. I can’t tell you how many times I spilled a whole cup of ice in my bed but was too embarrassed to ask for help. I just let it melt around me.

So anyway, I spent that one night/morning on 5east medical floor. (Which was awful. The rooms were tiny and I was left in a bed with LITERAL s–t on it because I couldn’t wipe my own ass and I was not cleaned up properly.) I was able to use my phone better. I got to call Scott and talk to him. They told me they’d move me to WCH the next day so I could FINALLY meet Tate and be with Scott. I used this time to catch up on texts and snaps and messages and see the incredible outpouring of pure love I was receiving from everyone. I saw the GoFundMe name and heart-cried. It did suck still not having control and not being able to walk, but I was just so happy to be alive.

First time father takes photo while holding his newborn son's foot
Courtesy of Lexie Berhorst

Next day rolls around and the transport team comes to get me and take me to WCH postpartum floor. I walked with the walker to the stretcher! Major accomplishment! I get to WCH and I felt pure relief. I was comfortable. They allowed my mom and Scott in. My mom met me there while Scott was working. I wanted to shower before meeting Tate and seeing Scott. But I didn’t know how I was going to in my condition. I was still hooked up to my wound vac and IV and couldn’t stand on my own. Y’all know how awesome my mom is, right? She rolled up her sleeves, took her shoes and socks off, got the soap and shampoo and showered me. Her 27-year-old daughter. And not once did she complain.

Woman recovering from post-covid pneumonia and a traumatic birth takes a photo walking in the hospital with a walker
Courtesy of Lexie Berhorst

She spent an hour detangling my hair for me while I sat there. Washing my face and body. I’ve never had a shower feel so good. And I’ll never forget the scent of the soap. I was so grateful for her. I AM so grateful for her. She brushed my hair and helped me get dressed and left me so Scott and I could have a moment being reunited for the first time in a month. I know I love Scott, but you never know how much you truly love someone until you go through the worst. It was like meeting all over again. We had our moment and then Scott wheeled me down to the NICU to meet Tate for the first time. I was tired. I was weak. I was in pain. But when I saw his face… nothing mattered. I didn’t cry. It was a strange feeling, but I knew it was love. Finally. All three of us together.

New mom meets her newborn son for the first time after traumatic birth experience
Courtesy of Lexie Berhorst

So those 3 days I was on the postpartum floor, I worked extremely hard on my strength with the help of PT/OT. I was walking without the walker. Wobbly, but walking. I was learning everyday how to successfully brush my teeth again, put my contacts in, wipe my ass, feed myself, brush my hair. It was tough, but never once did I throw a pity party. My son was here and I needed to be my best for him.

Also while on the postpartum floor, I started having my wound vac dressing changes while I was conscious. It was the worst pain I’ve ever been in. I was on Tylenol, Oxy, Ibuprofen. All of it was allowed and it was so painful. Come to find out, the dressing was being changed incorrectly, so the sponge that was stuck to my RAW insides was just being ripped away without being wet. No fault to anyone, wound vacs aren’t common on OB patients. But, me not knowing much about wound vacs, I I just dealt with it. It was not until after discharge when my AMAZING home health nurses Rebecca and Cassie changed my dressing that I knew it had been done wrong. It was almost pain free. They were amazing. My incision is finally closed just this week!

On December 23rd, I was set free. I was coming home. Bittersweet because I was leaving my baby behind. But I knew I could heal better from home. I’ll never forget stepping outside and feeling the cold air hit my face. Or forget how weird it felt riding in a car! I was dizzy, the sun was blinding, I was EXTREMELY anxious. Felt like the first time ever riding in a car. We stopped at QT to get a drink and I remember saying to Scott, ‘Can you believe people are just… here… living?’ It was a strange feeling knowing the world kept turning even though mine stopped. Besides me having to work on my strength with outpatient physical therapy and home health come change my dressing 3x a week and giving myself blood thinner injections, I was good. I was on the up and up. So we started focusing on our Tater tot.

Courtesy of Lexie Berhorst
Mom takes newborn photos of firstborn son swaddled in a brown blanket with potatoes surrounding him in a basket
Courtesy of Lexie Berhorst

Being a former NICU nurse, I thought I was prepared. I absolutely was not. After about 2-3 days after I met Tate and him being there, I broke down. How do people do this? How could I have EVER told a former NICU parent, ‘It’s fine, we’ll take good care of him/her, he’s doing great, everything’s going to be okay.’ Okayyyyy?!?! Okay?!?! This is the most unnatural thing to be separated from your child, trusting total strangers for their care (lucky for me, there were no strangers), and watching your child go through this and there’s literally nothing you can do but sit there and watch them. Hold them in short intervals. Change their diaper? Help with a bath? That’s it. I felt helpless and once again out of control. But let me tell you, I’m so, so, SO blessed to have previously worked in the NICU. I knew my boy was SAFE and LOVED and taken care of. We even got lucky and got 3 dayshift primary nurses and 1 nightshift nurse who we love and adore. Ashley, Linda, Tara, and Sarah. If you see this, thank you. More than thank you. And to every other nurse, RT, OT/PT, speech, and doctor who took care of him, thank you.

Mom takes photo of NICU baby wearing a one that says "Peace out NICU I'm moving in with my parents"
Courtesy of Lexie Berhorst

Now this is only a small portion of my story and I’ll forever be piecing it together, but this is what I got. Our journey has been a hard one. For Tate, one step forward, two back. Each day feeling like years. But this was nothing compared to others I’ve seen. For that, I am thankful and pray everyday for those NICU parents/babies. 52 days in the NICU. But he’s a fighter, I’m a fighter, Scott’s a fighter. And we made it. If I could let you with one thing, it’s this: hug your loved ones, let go of the small things, and enjoy life.”

First time parents take photo with their newborn baby as they take him home after being in the NICU
Courtesy of Lexie Berhorst

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Lexie Berhorst. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube  for our best videos.

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