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Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Earthside -Whitney Part V

 Earthside/Day 1

We took a few photos with the baby and the doctors worked to stitch me back together. I was surprised to see just how long the “putting back together” process took. I was eager to get back to my room, to place my son on my chest and feed him for the first time. After reading so much about the importance of skin to skin and delayed cord clamping and blah blah blah, I felt helpless as I laid there with a room full of strangers caring for my son and putting my body back together again. After what felt like forever, the surgery was completed without complications and I was moved to a different bed and wheeled to a recovery room. 

Back in the room, there were a few other things to do before I could hold my son, Whitney Adam Grossmann. Because he was born from a COVID+ mother, they gave him a quick bath in case he had been exposed to the virus on his way out of the womb in surgery. Finally, he was placed on my chest and I looked into the eyes of this perfect chunky little creature that was mine. It was all a blur at this point, I can't remember if he fed right away (I think he did). I was torn between trying to enjoy the moment of actually meeting him for the first time and the absence of his father. I was overwhelmed by the chain of events of the day which started with me walking into the hospital to see if my water had broken a mere 12 hours earlier. I soon realized that was just that day, that the emotional trauma of Adam’s diagnosis was just the night before where I was up most of the night alone in our bedroom, isolated from my husband while I took in the reality that I could be delivering alone. I had barely slept on Monday night with the grim news of his test and tonight, I hadn’t slept a wink as I went from labor to surgery to holding a newborn around 3am. 

The rest of the morning and into that first day, Whitney slept 90% of the time. I had to wake him up for feedings and was thankful for the help of the nurses when they came into the room. The nurses seemed to operate on a 2-3 hour schedule, stopping in on these intervals for vital checks or to administer medications. While it may seem frequent, alone post surgery and overwhelmed it felt like I had been abandoned on my own with a newborn and a 6-inch long incision across my stomach. Thanks to Covid, I was in a special part of the hospital which meant strict protocol had to be followed. Someone couldn't just stop in my room to check on me, they had to be fully donned in PPE (goggles, face shield, two masks, hair covering, scrubs) and then an extra paper gown that was put on before entering my room and left in the garbage can by the door. 

Going through this alone, I envisioned having a more permanent person in the room with me to help me out of bed, to hand me the baby, or to help with day-to-day needs as I recovered. It wasn’t until they kept asking me questions about bowel movements and pain levels, stating that I had just undergone major surgery, that I realized how major it was. Whitney was placed in a bassinet by my bed but no matter how I altered the bed, I could not reach him without sitting up and getting out of bed. The nurses tried to give me a few tips and tricks but the reality was I needed two extra hands. I had to be sitting up at the edge of the bed to grab him out of his bassinet which felt impossible alone after stomach surgery. I then had to arrange pillows in a certain way to support my back which was on absolute fire from the pregnancy and now holding him. It also helped to have another pillow under him to take some of that weight off my back and support this tiny little creature as he fed. I can so clearly remember the mental discussion in my head that went down every time I prepared myself to crunch up out of bed. I swore it was a 20-minute process at times, mentally preparing myself for the pain that would follow as I tried to get out of bed to reach my crying son. I eventually ended up tying an extra sheet to the end of the bed which I could use as an anchor to help pull myself up out of bed. Every time I did this, I couldn't help but think that this is why Adam needed to be there, that asking a first-time mom to recover from a c section and care for her newborn son at the same time was just too much at times.

I was thankful for that quiet first day which made the transition into motherhood a little easier as my body tried to heal. The nurse kept telling me that this wouldn’t last, that the next day would be entirely different as my sleepy little newborn recovered from his birth and would enter his second day of life, lungs and vocals blaring. She was absolutely right and Day 2 of Whitney was a lot different than Day 1. 

Day 2

Day 2 started with a nurse that was authoritative and observant in every way I didn't know I needed. She walked in and noticed my IV was still in, my bandage hadn't been removed, the garbage was overflowing, and so much more. I didn't realize what an afterthought I had been until she whirled around the room taking charge. She removed the IV which previously made breastfeeding difficult as I kept nailing him in the head with the plastic ports. She took off my bandage which allowed the wound to breathe a bit. She called down to the front desk and had someone sent over immediately to empty the garbage in my room and bathroom. She came with my breakfast that I had ordered 2 hours before (although the wait should have only been 45 minutes). She was sympathetic and caring, feeling awful that all of these tasks had not been completed, and to top it off, I was being delivered a breakfast that was ice cold. After she finished her tasks and headed out the door, I called Adam to tell him about the nurse on duty and how he could be at ease a bit as this nurse took charge. 

The day went on and I got used to this tiny little baby that was sleeping or eating. I felt like a guinea pig most of the day as my blood pressure was checked, O2 levels monitored, lungs x rayed, urine sampled, and blood was constantly being drawn. I know some of it is just basic post pardom monitoring, but I knew a lot of it was related to my COVID diagnosis and I couldn’t help but feel like biohazardous waste as everyone whirled around me in full PPE performing this test and that. One of the nurses caught herself describing something about “COVID moms” and she immediately apologized for using that term and acknowledged how much she hated it.

It wasn't her fault really, it was the way the system was set up. This virus had been plaguing the world for a year at this point and there was still so much we didn’t know never mind how overworked and burned out the hospital staff was. Most of my questions were answered with a timid “I don’t know” and so many precautions were put in place to help buffer some of these unknowns.

The rest of Day 2 went by in a blur as I facetimed Adam, fed the baby and recovered from surgery. Night 2 was when I really faced the reality of being in the hospital alone and how hard a newborn could be. I had noticed that shift change is when the nurses visits became rather sparse as one nurse left to fill out paperwork and finish her rounds, leaving a longer stretch of alone time before the next nurse on shift stopped in for meds or vitals. The evening nurse removed my catheter and handed me a crying Whitney before she left for the evening. She told me that it was a shift change and the new nurse would be in soon to help me up and out of bed first time without the catheter. A large chunk of time went by and I was still holding Whitney and was feeling the urge to use the bathroom and I was dozing off. After a long wait, I paged the nurses station to let them know I needed some help. I was also beyond exhausted, approaching night 3 with about 1 hour of sleep behind me. Adam was beyond frustrated at just how helpless we had become. He wasn’t there to help me and all he could do was sit on the sidelines and watch me struggle. When 45 minutes went by since I had paged the nurse and no one had come in he just about lost his mind. After arguing, he convinced me to hit the button again and for a second time I asked for some help as I was falling asleep holding my newborn in bed, trying not to pee myself and in pain. I had also been trapped in this room with two masks and the loudest air filter system and I was losing my mind quickly with this isolation. Adam really lost it and hung up the phone with me and called the hospital.

What he did next just provide how much I need this man in my life and just how much he gets me. He told the nurse that I had been sitting there holding his son for far too long and he was worried about me dropping the baby in my sleep. He firmly told the nurse that I had been sitting there needing to use the bathroom for over 45 minutes and that the girl lying in that bed was never going to ask for help. He asked her to check on me a little more often and to offer extra help to the woman who was too afraid to ask. 

When he called to tell me all of this, I was angry and ashamed before being so thankful for his take charge attitude. I was drowning in sleep deprivation and post surgery recovery and his assertiveness over my care took one thing off my plate. The night nurse came in shortly after, profusely apologizing for her absence as the messages were not being relayed to her. I mentioned the call from my husband and she was the gentle, caring and understanding nurse I needed at night before the take charge nurse took over in the morning. 

Night 2 proved to be the hardest night of my life so far. I started to develop some minor symptoms and a fever spiked, my nose started to run behind my double masks, and a cough and scratch in my throat took over. I couldn’t cough with the fresh incision and these minor symptoms were magnified with my recovery and constant mask wearing. I could not get out of bed to wash my hands and relied on hand sanitizer every time I needed to touch Whitney. My hands were soon raw and burning with a rash developing from so much sanitizer. My entire body was on fire and itching, a common aftermath of an epidural and hormones. I was sweating in this sealed up room and no overwhelmed. Without the catheter and with all the IV fluids stil coursing through my body, I was forced to get out of bed to use the bathroom constantly. On top of that, Whitney was not having any of it. I could not get him down and we spent the entire night awake. Every time I placed him in his bassinet, he screamed and screamed. The only place he was quiet was in my arms being held or while nursing. I was so sore from nursing this newborn all day and anytime I tried to hold him in my arms for more than a few minutes, I could feel myself falling asleep. I would doze off for a few minutes and awake with a jolt terrified I was about to drop the baby or that I already had. At about 3am after this back and forth fight between him and I, I facetimed Adam in the middle of a complete breakdown. Whitney was only happy in my arms but I couldn't be trusted to hold him and stay awake. Adam tried to keep me awake and sat at home alone terrified something was going to happen. He begged me to get the nurses back in and to ask for help. I hit the button and she helped me with a diaper change and morale.

Before this point, I was planning on staying in the hospital as long as I could, knowing that Adam was so sick at home and Whitney was probably safer in the hospital than home with two COVID + parents. The doctor on call, the doctor I had been seeing since the beginning of my pregnancy told me that Friday afternoon would be the earliest I could go home but it was likely Saturday and I accepted this. This acceptance changed fast as without a nursery to take the baby for a little bit and without a person in the room with me, there was nothing much anyone could do. Nurses couldn't sit in the room with me all night for obvious Covid and workload reasons and I was drowning. I finally asked the nurse for a pacifier to see if that would help and while it gave me a few minutes here and there, he was still a crying baby who hadn’t slept a wink. We were both overtired and I spent most of the night in tears, defeated by the situation and picturing how much easier everything would have been with Adam there. By the time the morning nurse walked in, she could see the defeat on my face and I explained to her that we had been up all night and I was struggling. I told her I was hoping to go home as soon as possible, that Friday needed to be the option because i couldn't do it alone anymore, I just needed help. 

Day 3 - Going Home

The nurses agreed that going home was the best option at this point and thankfully Whitney and I were healthy enough where this was an option. They had swabbed him in the middle of the night and we finally confirmed he was COVID negative. The pediatrician checked him over and told me that Whitney was the healthiest baby they had seen from a COVID+ mom. This news ended up becoming my mantra as I struggled through the rest of the day by myself. As hard as this was (and boy this was hard) I kept reminding myself that any parent with a sick child would take all this hardship and this virus if it meant they walked out with a healthy kid at the end of the day. I was struggling, I was sick and tired and emotionally and physically spent but I was going to go home with a healthy kid. 

Everything was working out for a Friday afternoon discharge and Adam and I spent the day trying to arrange the logistics. My car was in Madison, Adam was in Old Saybrook, and he would need my car dropped off or a ride to his car inorder to pick us up. We immediately felt the heaviness of our diagnosis as we struggled to find anyone willing to drive my car (which had been properly disinfected) or give Adam a lift to mine. At the same time, friends were sending food to the hospital for me (aamIng after the crap cold hospital food) and it was getting lost in translation. I ended up making four phone calls to track down food which was never delivered and frustrated nurses expressed how difficult it was for them to spend time away from their patients to track down food. I was in tears as something as simple as eating was made so impossible alone in a room and in light of covid. My in room phone was also ringing constantly as the staff at Yale tried to go over information and Whitney’s birth certificate via phone as I wasn’t allowed to sign or touch any paperwork that would be handled by the staff. I was so overwhelmed by how hard everything had become, simple paperwork, a meal delivery, a pickup from the hospital. 

We finally found the food, finished the paperwork over the phone and found someone willing to drop my car off to Adam. I counted down the hours until 4 o'clock as a fussy baby and sleep deprivation brought me to tears. The minutes felt like hours and I could feel any sane version of myself slipping away. I was getting to a point where I felt like I was going to become a danger to him or myself. I was in so much pain, so sleep deprived and we were both in tears. A nurse walked in around 3:00pm to me in a complete mental breakdown sobbing in tears. She patted my shoulder and offered her encouraging words, reassuring me that things would be easier.

After she left I attempted to pack up the room as best as I could with the crying baby and fresh incisipn. I piled my things on the bed and waited for Adam to pull up in front of the hospital. It was insanely emotional as Adam told me he was 5 minutes away and I envisioned the peace that would follow once I saw Adam again, once he saw our son, and once we were home together. It had been a week from hell and it was all coming to some kind of end at 4 pm.

Finally it was discharge time and a nurse I had never met showed up with a pissy attitude that still makes me cringe. She saw my belongings on the bed and with the snotty attitude asked how we were going to get everything down to the lobby. I explained to her that my husband would have happily helped me bring my bags downstairs but he wasn't allowed in. She eventually asked another nurse for help and grabbed a cart to wheel my things down to the lobby. I sat in the wheelchair and they handed me my son and I left my room for the first time (trip to the OR excluded). I was sobbing tears of relief as I saw other people in the halls, as we made our way to the lobby where Adam was waiting outside. I can't put into words how emotional that 5-minute journey through the hospital was but I was so overwhelmed with so many emotions.

I remember the moment the exterior doors opened and I saw Adam in the parking lot looking at me holding our son. We both fumbled and cried, looking to the nurses for help loading our son into the car seat. Adam had never even seen our tiny newborn before and was so nervous and overwhelmed by the whole process. I was in pain, sitting in my wheelchair and the nurses deemed reluctant to help us (again we felt like Covid turned us into toxic hazardous waste). Finally the nurse stepped in to load him into our car seat and took off inside before I had even made my way to the back seat. I sobbed in pain as I tried to lift my legs high enough to get inside the back seat of the car. I needed an extra set of hands or maybe a stool and had a hard time getting in the car as we felt abandoned in front of Yale New Haven hospital. I finally got in the car and Adam pulled out of the parking lot as I screamed in pain over every pothole and crack in the city streets that aggravated my swollen broken body.


It was a painful ridw until we got on the highway and made our way home. Finally at home, we had to navigate how to get me in the baby inside without the dogs jumping all over either of us without any help. In a non Covid positive world we could have simply asked family to hold back the dogs. Instead Adam had to run in and let the dogs out while I stayed in my car seat trying to keep the dogs down. We somehow managed to get us all inside in one piece and Marshall especially was afraid of me as I hobbled inside still wearing my double masks which I would have to wear until our 10-day quarantine was up.

Inside the house, I couldn't even make it to the toilet in time and poor Adam found himself taking care of a newborn he had just met and his very broken wife. As the rest of the day unfolded, we sat there in weary bliss to finally be together again and holding our healthy son. We had to wear double masks for the next few days but it was a small price to pay after all we had been through. C-section recovery is not easy and is especially hard in the hospital by yourself, sometimes it felt impossible with a newborn. The silver lining is that the transition home was easier than expected as suddenly there was an extra set of hands to help me and the baby.

Going home a day early was exactly what we needed and the next few days went by without fanfare. There were your normal newborn struggles but after the week we had been through, it all felt manageable. Things have been easy and hard and as I finish typing up this story a 5-week-old baby Whitney is asleep on my chest. His birth story is one I could never have imagined and it was one of my nightmares come true. What kept me sane was knowing I was on track to leave with a healthy newborn at the end of it and for that, I'm forever thankful. This virus took a lot from so many. So far we've made it out mostly healthy but we certainly felt the heaviness centered around going through some of our biggest milestones in a pandemic.

In a way, it all makes me feel a little closer to our son. All of our appointments, his labor and delivery, it was just him and I trying to get through. We're on the other side of it now and I have to admit, it took a good few weeks to tell the story without bursting into tears. I felt traumatized and I'll be the first to admit that talking to a therapist would be insanely helpful and I plan to reach out to one next week to help process all we've been through.

Whitney, the world threw me for a loop when he brought you into it. Our story is a crazy one and I can't wait to read you these sad and sweet words one day.

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