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Published in: JOURNAL, pregnancy

What I Learned While Hospitalized During the Height of Covid

When Journalist Rachel Wells was hospitalized in March 2020, during the height of the Covid19 pandemic, her birthing plan went out the window. She shares some takeaways from that experience that have been helpful for her as a new mom, and that could provide reassurance to any pregnant person.

Hi there, I’m Rachel Wells, a Nashville-based writer/journalist who writes for the Nyssa team. Last March when I was hospitalized ahead of my son’s premature birth, I had no time to think about what to bring.
The pregnancy was high-risk and things moved quickly, so my “packing” was more like “grabbing whatever was in sight.”
It turned out the dismissal of our birth plan and our inability to plan ahead created quite a few unexpected lessons that were helpful as a pregnant person and especially now as a new mom.

Selfie of the author in hospital room during the pandemic, observing pregnant belly in the mirror.

Pre-birth education courses are nice, but not necessary

My husband and I had the intention of taking a baby course, but our plans went haywire and we never got around to it.

By the time I was hospitalized, I completely forgot everything I had been stressed about wanting to know before the baby arrived: how to pump, how to change a diaper, how to organize the nursery, or perform CPR. Everything I thought I needed before birthing this baby went out the window. It turned out all I needed to birth the baby was me.

Once our son arrived, I learned about breastfeeding and pumping in minutes from a labor and delivery nurse. And you know what? It was fine. I learned and I moved on. I couldn’t believe it. There I was thriving without the plan I’d desperately clung to.

There was still so much I wasn’t prepared for, but what I didn’t know, I asked. I asked questions with reckless abandon. In fact, I asked the same questions over and over with reckless abandon. But I figured if I was hospitalized and scared, the least I deserved was information about whatever whenever from whoever.

If you’re not comfortable, about anything, speak up

Generally speaking, if my lunch order is wrong I say something. Somehow when it comes to my body, that rational boldness disappears.

If I’d tried to keep track of how many times I’ve had a question for my OB that I never asked because I was embarrassed, I’d have lost track. Looking back it hurts my heart to see how often I was braver about a sandwich than my body. They say with time comes wisdom and it did.

By the time I was hospitalized at 28 weeks, I’d already undergone quite a traumatic pregnancy including grieving and planning for our son's guaranteed at-the-time demise. I felt very distrusting of the medical team who said our baby would die.

From that point on, if I didn’t like the way a nurse spoke to me, I asked the charge nurse to remove her from my rotation. If a specialist’s paperwork was unclear, I asked for it to be reiterated. I was unflinching in ensuring I felt comfortable; I’d waited long enough to get brave enough.

Indulge in every tiny luxury you can find

Little luxuries are everything: robes, slippers, warm socks, eye masks, blankets from home. Hospital beds are not comfortable and if you have to stay in one pretty much all day and night for an undetermined amount of time, you’re going to want to be as cozy as possible.

Sure, the nurse prodded me when they saw my plastic bin of products, but if feeling like myself meant I had to withstand a playful jab, so be it. Ordinarily, items like exfoliant and serum seem superfluous in a hospital setting, but let me tell you when you’re strapped to a bed all day waiting to hear if your baby’s heart is beating, a luxurious bedtime routine isn’t the worst distraction.

So I say pack it up -- whatever it is that makes you feel just a smidge better.

It may be a foaming facial cleanser rather than wipes. It may be lugging in your Waterpik to get that super clean mouth feeling.

It might be remembering your tweezer in case of that annoying surprise chin hair. If this sounds superficial to you, go ahead and ignore it. But if it rings true, and those tiny little luxuries make your heart go pitter-patter, don’t judge yourself. Just bring your happy things.

Image of the author's hotel room during the pandemic

Do not trust or rely on hospital food

If someone says the food is bad, it’s bad. If someone says the food is good, it’s bad. One of the most valuable lessons I learned while admitted was that the kitchen staff doesn’t care about your hunger.

They’ll take your order and sound friendly on the phone (sometimes), but they can't, despite all your valiant efforts, get the food to your room any faster. If you can, skip the hospital menu and opt for take-out or leftovers.

Find the nurse you’re closest to and ask if they can find a mini-fridge for your room. I heard they can sometimes be hiding in empty rooms and closets. If there’s no extra mini-fridge, ask the staff where the floor fridge is and then bring on the fruits, leftover soups, and sandwiches.

On that note, try to sneak a small coffee maker into your room. When I felt the absolute worst, I dedicated myself to making sure the pot had fresh water and was ready to be turned the next day. Hitting that brew button in the morning after a poor night’s sleep was truly the only thing that got me out of bed.

If you feel out of control, try a routine

And finally, having a routine was a goddess. Because I was hospitalized in March during the height of Covid, I wasn’t allowed to leave the floor. Mostly horrified by the thought of pregnant Covid patients in the wing, I stayed in my room.

It consisted of a bed, a monitor, a small bathroom with a shower that flooded after every use. Each day was monotonous, but I found a system that worked. And I promise you that system kept me sane.

At night, I prepped the coffee, ate dinner in bed, watched Netflix, put my slippers on, peed one last time, turned off the lights, and went to bed. In the morning, I woke up, put my slippers on, turned on the coffee, made my bed, peed, brushed my teeth, washed my face, made a cup of coffee, sat in bed, and watched the morning sunrise through my dirty window.

Every night and day I did the exact same thing. In retrospect, was it rigid? Yes. Did it keep me sane? Absolutely, yes. I felt like I had a handle on something because, in reality, I had a handle on nothing.

When your pregnancy is not going well (or even when it is) I found it helped to control what I could while acknowledging all I couldn't.

lead image: glitch lab app (@glitchlab) on unsplash

internal images courtesy of rachel wells

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