When doctors told me I tested positive for COVID-19 at the hospital, I was shocked. My entire birth plan had to be altered and welcoming my first child was nothing like I imagined.

By Donna Magliato, as told to Holly Rizzuto Palker
July 17, 2020
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Donna Magliato and her baby at home.
Courtesy of Donna Magliato

My fiancé Joe and I had been home since February—we hadn't even seen my family. We had all our groceries delivered, and my baby shower was canceled. The only place I went was to my weekly midwife appointment. As a mother-to-be giving birth in New Jersey's viral epicenter, I had to be careful because of the coronavirus. I never had a sniffle the whole time, except for a yearly pollen-related sinus issue late in the pregnancy.

My water broke on June 11, and when contractions started, I threw up. As my virtual doula coached me over the phone, she said, "That's labor." I was hot all over, and it was terrible. I labored at home all night so that I'd go to the hospital during active labor. But I couldn't keep even a little water down, so in the morning my doula had me go.

When I got to the hospital, I was weak and dehydrated. After a lot of pricks, they finally hooked me up to the IV and I felt better. Hydrated, they put me on antibiotics. I was happy my labor was progressing well. That's when they did the COVID-19 nasal swab. Someone reached over and—one, two, three—I was tested right in the middle of a contraction.

I Was Told I Had COVID-19

The contractions were building, so my midwife directed me to the tub. I was lucky the hospital had just reopened the birth pools. The warm water made my body feel lighter. I leaned over the side for about five minutes when a midwife came into the room and said, "You have COVID. You have to get out of the tub." I didn't believe her because everything had gone well with the pregnancy so far.

"Please," I said, "I want another test. I think it's a false positive." I was told that a false positive coronavirus rate is about 2 percent and they wouldn't retest me.

The administrator called, insisting COVID-19 was a highly infectious disease and said they'd need to take the baby after birth for his protection. Joe would be the primary caregiver, and I could pump my breast milk for him to bottle feed the baby.

"Do I have a choice?" I asked. They insisted I go along with protocol, but finally conceded these were just recommendations, and I had a brochure from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) saying I could breastfeed. They gave me a mask and I made the best of it, although I couldn't catch my breath.

I wanted to move around, walk, and squat, but it was back in the bed to get hooked up to fetal monitors and start Pitocin to get the baby out quicker because of COVID-19.

A Turning Point in My Labor

It was surreal with everyone in a lot of personal protective equipment; I certainly wasn't having the mind-body experience I craved. I agreed to have an epidural 20 hours into the labor although it was the last thing I wanted. I wanted a non-medicated experience. I trusted I'd get through it, but my cervix swelled from the pushing, so once they gave me the pain relief, I finally rested. But, I thought, here's yet another intervention. Things felt out of my control.

"It's time to push; we're going to push this baby out," the midwife said four hours later. I was numb at that point and so disconnected. With every push, I felt like I was doing nothing, and I felt I couldn't take deep oxygenated breaths because of the mask. They tried pulling my cervix around my baby's head, lowering the epidural's strength, and they played with Pitocin levels, which caused his heart to react. So, every time I pushed, they turned me on my side for his heart to normalize. Nothing worked, and then his heart rate went away for two minutes. I got on all fours until his heart rate came back. After that, Joe wanted me to have a C-section, but I wanted to push a couple more times. The baby wouldn't budge—they even tried the vacuum extractor—so they took me in for a C-section.

"I'm a biohazard," I said as they wheeled me into the operating room, my face and body underneath a white sheet because they were scared that I was going to spread COVID-19 by breathing. The C-section was quick and then I had relief.

"Happy birthday," the doctor said, pulling the little guy out. They suctioned his mucous, and when we heard his crying, we knew our prayers were answered. They held him up, and then he was taken for newborn checks. I was heartbroken that I couldn't cuddle my newborn, but they said they'd bring him back in a half-hour.

Donna Magliato in the hospital after being told she has COVID-19.
Courtesy of Donna Magliato

What My Experience Was Like Post-Birth

It took at least two hours for the anesthesia to wear off and get into a room in the COVID wing. I was under the sheet again, and Joe looked ridiculous in full protective gear, dragging our stuff down the hallway in a red "hazardous material" bag.

"This is how we'll communicate," the nurse said, giving me her cell number. When it was breakfast time, she'd bring anything else I needed. (Shieva Ghofrany, M.D., a partner at Coastal Obstetrics and Gynecology in Stamford, Connecticut, who wasn't part of Donna's care team, ensures, "the level of care doesn't decrease, but nurses might enter COVID patients' rooms less frequently for many reasons, one being lengthy protective gear donning and doffing—putting on and taking off—procedures designed to prevent infection.")

The nurses were amazing, empathetic, and took good care of me despite the situation. But, if I had a question, I needed to text them. I kept texting about the baby who they told me was being taken care of separately from other babies: He's asleep. He's doing so well. He's happy. They reassured me each time but never brought him. I cried, sobbed, and dozed while Joe slept. I felt so alone because I just wanted to hold my baby.

About four hours later, they finally brought baby Joey to us in an incubator. He was just perfect. We wore masks when we held him, which was torture because every time he saw us, our faces were covered. I just wanted to get that mask off, especially when I nursed. They tested him 24 hours later, and thankfully, he was negative.

Donna Magliato finally gets to hold her baby in the hospital.
Courtesy of Donna Magliato

I stayed in the hospital for 48 hours after my C-section before going home where I continued to take precautions. I've since tested negative for both COVID-19 and the antibodies. In the end, I'm thankful that baby Joey is healthy despite what ended up being a problematic birth.

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