I Tested Positive for COVID-19 During Labor— Here's What Happened

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

Donna Magliato and her baby at home.
Donna Magliato and her baby at home. Photo: Courtesy of Donna Magliato

By Donna Magliato, as told to Holly Rizzuto Palker

It was June 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic was in full force, and my fiancé Joe and I had been home for four months—we hadn't even seen my family. We had all of our groceries delivered, and my baby shower was canceled. The only place I went was to my weekly midwifery 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 the 11th, 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 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
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.

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 and her baby in the hospital.
Donna Magliato and 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 later 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.

What Giving Birth During the Pandemic is Like Now

If you're due to have a baby soon, know that many things have changed since Donna's child was born. Hospitals are now well-versed in handling COVID-19 situations, and may be less likely to encourage women to have C-sections (not a common practice, but it happened) or offer inductions to speed up their time in the hospital. New restrictions instituted during the height of the pandemic have softened somewhat, though there's always an emphasis on protecting mother and baby in labor and delivery.

Many pregnant people are still concerned about what they'll face when they head to the hospital—and that's completely understandable. Unbelievably, some labor and delivery facilities closed as recently as January 2022 due to staffing shortages brought on by a surge in COVID-19 cases. That meant the people preparing to give birth had to find somewhere else to deliver their babies, on the fly. It was undoubtedly a rare case, but the point is: We're still in uncharted waters, and anything can happen.

When you get nervous, remember that most hospitals have their procedure down pat after dealing with the virus since 2020. They've adopted a host of COVID-19-related rules to keep patients safe, from stringent disinfecting techniques to mask mandates and required testing for everyone mom and baby will encounter. Hospital tours and childbirth and parenting classes may be virtual now, but in many cases, the services you are offered will not be that dissimilar from the pre-COVID days.

To keep COVID-19 at bay, anyone due to give birth may be asked to limit their interactions with other people in the days leading up to delivery. On entering the hospital, pregnant individuals will be asked about any symptoms of illness they are experiencing, or about their exposure to others who may be sick. Some places test moms for COVID-19 at 36 to 38 weeks or before they undergo a C-section, while others don't test at all or do it when a case of the virus is suspected. It can vary widely.

Pregnant people who show symptoms of the coronavirus may labor and deliver in a room separate from others who are pregnant. If they test positive,they may bebarred from having visitors, and they may or may not be separated from their newborn (every hospital differs). The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends keeping baby in-room, though some hospitals maintain a set distance between your bed and the infant's crib. In general, breastfeeding (often masked) is allowed; there's no proof of viable infection being transmitted this way.

The number of visitors you will be allowed to see depends on the hospital. Some will allow you to have just one person with you when you give birth, who will typically be screened and masked. In other cases, your visitors may need to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test taken within the past day. (Rules vary for doulas.) Other hospitals allow as many as four visitors, with some alternating daily. When visitors are limited, hospitals encourage patients to use FaceTime, Skype, and other forms of video messaging to contact family; some provide tablets in-room to make it easier.

Originally written by Donna Magliato
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