Had Jade Calderon not been 34-weeks pregnant, she probably wouldn’t have gone to the emergency room on April 4 for her symptoms: a cough and mild fever that had started four days earlier. She noticed that above her protruding belly, her lungs had begun to struggle.
“I finally caved and called my (OB) doctors, asking them what they recommended,” Jade said.
Her partner, Mikey Chavez, drove her to the emergency room at UCHealth Medical Center of the Rockies, where she’d already planned to deliver their baby — a month or more later.
Because of her symptoms, Jade was given a rapid COVID-19 test. It was positive. Making matters worse, her urine had higher-than-normal levels of protein, suggesting she also had preeclampsia, a high-risk pregnancy complication.
“That’s when they decided we were going to have this baby,” Jade said, realizing she would give birth while COVID-positive. “We weren’t prepared for anything — we didn’t take anything with us. We were thinking we’d come back home.”
For any family, delivering preterm may make for a hard road ahead. But the pandemic placed even more hurdles in front of the family. Eventually, they would overcome them together.
“It was nerve-wracking. I cried,” Jade explained. “It was emotional because of all that was going on. I was hoping I wasn’t going to have my son during this (pandemic) time. I was hoping to hold out until May, but it was time. … I got myself together, and we did it.”
We are having a baby
At the emergency room following a fender bender last fall, Jade and Mikey first learned that Jade was pregnant. Although surprised, the couple was overjoyed to be on the journey together.
For early prenatal care, Jade teamed up with the midwives at UCHealth in northern Colorado, but at 20 weeks, she was diagnosed with gestational hypertension (high blood pressure during pregnancy) and began seeing the team’s obstetricians.
Gestational hypertension — which occurs in about 6% of pregnancies — places a mother into the high-risk pregnancy category because it can lead to preeclampsia, which in its severe form, can result in seizures for the mom.
Then the novel coronavirus pandemic arrived. Jade’s orthodontist employer was forced to close March 13, so Jade stayed home and away from public places as much as possible, which is highly recommended for pregnant woman.
Jade did virtual visits with her doctors. However, she still had to get her blood pressure checked at the clinic every other week.
“We took all the precautions, so I was OK with that,” Jade said. “I felt comfortable with it.”
During that same time, Mikey decided to take a leave of absence from his job to make sure he wouldn’t bring anything home that could get Jade sick. But despite their efforts, Jade was still exposed to the coronavirus.
“We are confused as to how I got it, but someplace, somehow, I got it,” Jade said.
Experiencing a birth while COVID-positive
When Jade moved into her isolated birthing suite at Medical Center of the Rockies so she could be induced, she met with UCHealth OB-GYN Dr. Natalie Rochester.
“Jade asked me what this was going to look like, and we had a frank conversation,” Rochester said. “I told her my goal was to keep her and the baby healthy, and that if we needed to change the plan for delivery, we’d only do that based on her health and the baby’s health.”
Mothers delivering during the stricter COVID hospital restrictions are still allowed to have a support person by their side, as well as all the other options that have always been available to them during delivery except that the staff is dressed a bit differently.
“We explain that the provider and nurses will be dressed up — covered from head to toe with personal protective equipment — to minimize the germs passed between the medical staff and the patients,” Rochester explained. “Outside of that, the experience is the same.”
After Jade’s water broke, she labored six to eight hours but never dilated past about 3 centimeters.
“Jade was a trooper because it was intense,” Rochester said. “She needed a lot of oxygen and had breathing problems.”
Mothers in their third trimester already experience pressure on their lungs and other organs, making breathing more difficult. But with the respiratory infection caused by the coronavirus, Jade was struggling even more.
However, it wasn’t COVID-19 that changed Jades birth path, it was the preeclampsia. Because Jade wasn’t progressing in her labor and her blood pressure was so high, doctors explained to Jade that she’d need a C-section.
At 10:15 p.m. on April 5, Marcos Miguel Chavez was born, weighing 6 pounds, 3 ounces, and measuring 19.5 inches long.
Keeping everyone safe from COVID in the hospital
A baby’s lungs aren’t usually fully developed until about 36 weeks, so babies born before then often have oxygen needs. They also may not have enough fat to stabilize their own body temperature. What’s more, during that gestational age, babies develop the “suckle” skills and digestive abilities to drink breast milk.
Marcos, however, was strong and experienced very few complications, but he still needed to go to the NICU.
“He just needed a little time and help maintaining his temperature and gaining stamina to eat,” said Laurie Dupuis, nurse manager of the MCR Women’s Care unit. “He did really well for his gestational age.”
Jade was able to see her son from a distance before he was taken to the NICU.
Data is limited, but the novel coronavirus doesn’t seem to transfer from mom to baby in the womb or during delivery. The virus that causes COVID-19 is thought to spread mostly through close contact with an infected person, via respiratory droplets, so that is why such strong precautions are taken after delivery.
Being a parent of any NICU baby is hard, but because Jade and Mikey had been exposed to COVID-19, they needed to keep their newborn — and the other NICU babies — safe from the virus by not visiting the NICU. Mikey wasn’t ever tested, but because of his contact with Jade, he was “assumed COVID-positive.” He remained at Jade’s side, supporting her.
“I’m so glad I had him there for support,” Jade said.
With the parents quarantined in Jade’s room, Dr. Rochester visited the NICU minutes after the birth to get a video and photos of Marcos to send to the new parents. Nurses also set up FaceTime over the next few days so that Jade and Mikey could see their little one as he got stronger.
“That little guy was tough,” Rochester said. “Sometimes kids that early don’t do well, but he did great. He didn’t have a lot of requirements and ended up going home quick from the NICU.”
During Marcos’ time in the NICU, Jade pumped her breast milk to provide her son with the extra nutrients and protection found in a mother’s milk. There is no evidence that COVID-19 is spread through breast milk, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Rochester said that all the new COVID-related recommendations and guidelines are discussed with the family, and choices are made through collaboration with health care providers.
“I was so humbled by Jade,” Rochester said. “They were most appreciative people and handled this very challenging delivery. It definitely wasn’t something Jade had planned, but she made the most of it, and she’ll have a really great story to tell her child one day.”
Looking ahead and returning home after delivery
Jade also stayed several days at MCR under close monitoring as her lungs healed from COVID-19. She was discharged April 11. The next day, Marcos got to go home.
“I was astonished by Jade’s strength,” said Dupuis, who was one of Jade’s nurses at MCR. “Upon every encounter, both she and Mikey were nothing short of positive and grateful. The medical team provided phenomenal care through teamwork and collaboration through this minimally chartered territory. I am so thankful that Jade endured this less-than-optimal situation and that she and her baby are together and well at home.”
At home, Marcos will remain on oxygen until he meets his “full-term” date to support his undeveloped lungs, and Jade took strong precautions and isolated herself from her son for a few more days to ensure she was no longer at risk of giving him the coronavirus.
“Mikey had to be a full-time dad for a bit and do everything by himself,” Jade said. It was just one of the many examples where Mikey shined in his support for Jade during this time.
While Jade was in the hospital, she learned she’d lost an aunt to COVID-19.
“It was a lot to take on in the week, but we did it, and I’m super grateful I’ve had (Mikey) along the way,” she said.
“I was just doing what I thought was right,” Mikey responded.
“He was a great support system,” Jade continued.
Walking down the road ahead after COVID
On May 4 — one year from the day they met — Mikey asked Jade to marry him while they strolled through a nearby park with Marcos. Jade said, “yes.”
The two said they’ve been enjoying the time with Marcos now that they are home. Of course, they’re also doing a lot of feeding and changing — and sanitizing everything all the time, Jade added. But they’re also getting a lot of cuddling time in.
“He’s a tough little baby,” Mikey said. “He doesn’t cry that much, and he’s always sleeping.”
Mikey said the experience will make he and Jade stronger as a couple and as parents. “With all the stuff, we know we can get through. We now know what we can handle,” he said.
Jade added, “It took me time to process all that went on and what I had to go through — what we had to go through — but we did it, and I’m glad we are at where we are right now.”