Pregnancy in the Time of COVID: An L&D Nurse’s Experience

Shannon Stevenson

Trigger Warning

When you spend your entire career caring for pregnant patients and newborns, there is this expectation, both of yourself and from others, that the transition to motherhood will be easy. I knew what to expect, from a medical perspective, from pregnancy through delivery. I had cared for hundreds of families for almost a decade before I saw those two pink lines on my own pregnancy test. The intrusive thoughts began soon after. I had never been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, but the overwhelming waves of “What if something goes wrong? What if I cause something to go wrong?” crashed down on me hard those first few weeks. I hid it from everyone but my husband, who had to talk me down from irrational fears regarding everything from touching dishwasher detergent (the chemicals!) to breathing in fumes from a burnt brownie I overheated in the microwave. I know he worried about me, and I kept a lot of my innermost fears even from him. He’s not a therapist or a mental health professional; he’s in accounting. 

When we got a perfectly healthy report from my 20-week anatomy scan, I began to relax a little bit. Physically, our baby was doing just fine. I was close to the 24-week viability line and finally felt like things would be okay. I could do this! That was mid-February 2020. I don’t have to tell you what dominated the news just a few weeks later. I had always imagined what my birth would be like. Our parents would be there in the waiting room, my L&D co-workers would pop in to visit, and we’d welcome visitors and pass our sweet girl around the room. None of that happened. No baby shower where I opened little onesies and blankets. No family there to help as we learned how to care for this little human. I never knew how much I needed my own mom until I became one myself. It was soul-crushingly lonely. I began to feel that darkness and anxiety creep up again as we spent more and more time alone. I vividly remember taking our daughter to her first pediatrician appointment alone. My husband wasn’t allowed in with us. I waddled through the building, baby and I both in diapers and tried to listen to what the pediatrician was telling me about my jaundiced baby. I had to meet with lactation consultants over FaceTime, trying to balance my phone and a nursing newborn at the same time. I just wanted to scream most days: “This isn’t how it was supposed to be!” I loved my little girl, but I felt so empty for such a long time.

Slowly, our daughter got older, and we were able to mitigate our COVID risks as best as we could to find a new normal. We finally got to introduce her to our families. We drove 16 hours from Houston to Atlanta for my family to meet our girl. We left Texas to move back to Georgia to be closer to my family. Our daughter is now almost 4 years old and is the most vivacious wild child who never meets a stranger. I work as a nursing professor, where I teach students about caring for families during pregnancy and the transition to parenthood. I serve on the Board of Directors for Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition of Georgia, where I can pour my passion for improving maternal care into meaningful action that benefits families throughout the state. In that role, I have been lucky to partner with PSI on a statewide task force to address perinatal mental health needs in Georgia. 

 I’ll be honest, though; it still is painful for me to reflect on my pregnancy, birth, and first year of my daughter’s life. What should have been joyous was instead full of anxiety, fear, and loneliness. It’s hard for me to go to baby showers with family and friends or see pictures of families meeting newborns. I mourn what I dreamed of for so long. The intrusive thoughts persisted until I started working with a therapist who taught me about mindfulness and introduced me to cognitive behavioral therapy. Perinatal mental healthcare should be as routine as getting care for high blood pressure or gestational diabetes. I know there are so many families whose experiences look like mine, birthing in those early days of the pandemic. Did they have help? Did they have access to professionals who can assess, diagnose, and treat mental health conditions? Did they suffer in silence, letting those waves of depression or anxiety crash down, unrelenting? I knew what I was experiencing wasn’t normal, but I fought it for so long because, as a maternal healthcare provider, shouldn’t I have been able to handle it? I compare my experience with motherhood to swimming: with my background, everyone expected me to be an Olympian when in reality, I felt like I was just treading water. Moms deserve more than that. Healthy mothers lead to healthy babies, which leads to healthy communities. It’s time that we, as a society, offer life jackets to all those treading water as they transition to parenthood, no matter their educational training or professional experience.

About the Author

Shannon Morris Stevenson,

Shannon Morris Stevenson,

Shannon Stevenson is an assistant professor of nursing, a former labor and delivery/mother-baby nurse, and a mom to a 3.5-year-old daughter. While anxiety had been something she struggled with silently for most of her adult life, it was during pregnancy that it really manifested and turned what should have been a happy time into one of stress and fear. The end of her pregnancy coincided with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, further adding to her anxiety and isolation. Shannon serves on the board of directors for Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition of Georgia as the advocacy board chair and serves on the Georgia Perinatal Mental Health Taskforce, using her own journey as motivation to help others find help.

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