When COVID-19 hit, Katie Herold didn’t think her job as a nurse practitioner in the neonatal ICU at Inova Fairfax Hospital in VA would be all that different. After all, she cares for newborn babies in the NICU, who would be very unlikely to be COVID patients.
But when pregnant moms without symptoms started testing positive for COVID, things got real for Herold and her hospital team.
- “In the beginning, there was so much stress. There were moms who were asymptomatic and testing positive, and other moms started developing COVID symptoms three days after giving birth” said Herold, who was a nurse for 18 years before becoming a nurse practitioner three years ago.
Then anxiety would kick in, as Herold retraced her steps in her mind, wondering whether she had her PPE on properly during the delivery, who she had touched, and whether she had been exposed or would expose someone else.
- “I’d be looking back thinking things like, ‘Oh no, I only had a surgical mask on during that delivery,’” said the 42-year-old.
An even bigger challenge, she said, has been figuring out how to comfort the mothers during this time.
- “These moms have all these questions. ‘Is my baby affected?’ ‘Is my baby going to test positive?’ There are a lot of unknowns, and especially in the beginning, we didn’t have enough information or data to give these people. It has been really hard,” she said.
In many cases, giving birth in the last three months has meant not having a support system around during labor and after giving birth.
- “There have been times where the dad has been immuno-compromised so when he found out his partner was positive, he hasn’t even come into the delivery room. And hospitals aren’t allowing visitors, so family members can’t come to visit either,” she said.
And if the baby needs to be placed in the NICU and the mother tested positive for COVID, the mother isn’t allowed to visit her baby, Herold explained.
- “We set up an iPad so they can watch their baby via Zoom in the NICU, but they’re not allowed to go in,” she said.
In other cases, when the mother is positive, the baby has been placed in an isolette incubator in the mother’s room.
- “In the beginning, we wouldn’t even let the baby be in the same room. Now the baby can be in her room in the incubator and come out to breastfed or bottle-fed. The mom has to wear a mask when she feeds the baby and we encourage the dad or support person to do as much of the baby’s care as possible,” Herold said.
- “To add to the stress, some of these mothers are still testing positive a month later, even though they’re not sick,” she added.
Herold is extremely thankful for her gym, CrossFit Mill Street, in Vienna, VA for providing her not just gym equipment and Zoom class workouts, but also a sense of normalcy during this totally abnormal time.
- “I never would have had the motivation to work out with all that was going on, so it was hugely beneficial to see the normal coaches and do the normal warm-ups and workouts and see my buddies. It gave me this sense of normalcy and kept me sane,” she said.
CrossFit Mill Street has since reopened and COVID cases have declined at her hospital, so Herold is starting to feel more and more normal. Normal, and thankful for the other nurses she works with.
- “I work with all these tough girls in the NICU, who are all very dedicated and very tough. It has been really amazing to see everyone going through this crisis at work and at home — a lot of them have little kids at home and were worried about bringing the virus home to their families — but they really came together to take really good care of these babies,” she said.
Herold is also thankful for the fact that, even amidst the pandemic, she has still witnessed more joy than heartbreak.
- “Even in the crisis, the joy of delivery is pretty similar. The disease doesn’t take away the joy of having a baby,” she said.
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