'I was positive for Covid-19 while nine months pregnant'

Monday May 18 2020

Nakalungi says she is happy that her daughter

Nakalungi says she is happy that her daughter was born without the virus. Courtsey PHOTO 

By Christine Nakalungi

Like most people in the world, when news of coronavirus broke and it was affecting only China at the time, we took it as ‘their’ problem. For months, we thought that the media was hyping the Covid-19 outbreak. It was until schools and most workplaces were closed that I realised how real and serious this was.

My husband, Joshua Lubinga is a healthcare worker. Knowing that he was on the frontline, he tried to follow all guidelines as advised so as to keep us safe from the virus. He wore the N95 mask while at work, washed his hands and sanitised as often as possible but still, the sneaky virus, that had also killed his manager, finally found its way into our home.

The signs

First, he developed a fever, then a cough which was not dry as had been mentioned by the World Health Organisation and so, we dismissed it. However, when the symptoms persisted and he went for testing, the results confirmed our suspicions. He quarantined in our guest room praying and hoping that he will not need to call 911.

Our first born daughter Chanel Jozel Lubinga and I avoided physical contact with him as I tried to make every remedy that was suggested. I would always have aloe vera juice, hot lemon water mixed with ginger and garlic and anything to subdue the virus at hand. But what made this more difficult and worrying was the fact that I was nine months pregnant.

Two weeks to my due date, I also developed a cough, which I ignored because it was not dry but then I was hit with loss of smell and taste. This was evidently a symptom related to mainly coronavirus patients.

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Fear of the unknown

What bothered me was the fear of the unknown. This virus was changing every day and mutating into different symptoms and there is not enough information or the hope of finding a cure.

The number of infected people in the US where we live was rising every day and so was the number of those dying.

We would always call Dr Sarah Kironde Walugembe, a family friend who at the time was stationed in a coronavirus emergency room. She would always have updated news on the virus and kept encouraging us.

“Do you still have my mother and sister’s telephone numbers?” my husband asked one day. “Why are you asking?” I inquired. “Just in case something happens,” he replied.

“Do not say that,” I urged, but we both knew what he meant. Everyday people were dying and maybe we would not be spared.

Worried for my baby

Besides not knowing what could happen to my husband, I did not know what would happen to our unborn child. I had waited 40 weeks to hold her but this virus was testing my faith. I was grateful for lack of appetite because then, I had an excuse not to eat. The worry had taken away my apetite. I will not deny the fact that I cried myself to sleep and prayed like never before.

I pleaded with my baby to hold on for some time until at least a cure was found but in vain. My family back in Uganda kept asking how I was faring but scaring them would drain me the more. So, being a believer, I told them that we were okay.

In Uganda, we say it takes a village to raise a child and I saw this happen to me. Amid the crisis, with daycare centres closed, our friends, Nnalongo Solome and Immaculate Okoth Kasozi offered to look after our daughter until we came back from the hospital.

This was risky, but it came as a wave of peace in a storm. I, however, kept praying that Chanel would survive getting the virus because she surprisingly was showing no signs. Her energy was not limited by the sombre mood in the house and I prayed that if she was sick, she would not infect our ‘good Samaritans’.

The delivery

When it is a baby’s time to come out, neither pandemic nor floods can stop them. But after days of quarantine and more than a week of no signs, my obstetrician said it was okay for my husband to join me during delivery.

At around 11:45pm, we reached the hospital and I was met with a screening team. “Have you been exposed to someone who tested positive for covid-19?” a nurse asked.

When I said yes, although without life-threatening symptoms, another nurse immediately called the labour and delivery room to warn them so that they prepare.

This nurse wheeled me to the floor herself and broke the news to the team, between contractions that seemed to last forever and a questionnaire presented to me by the nurses. I decided to concentrate on one thing; breathing through each contraction and after a few minutes, they started wheeling me to the delivery room. When my waters broke just before entering the room, panic ensued.

At least eight nurses showed up at the door but not knowing my status, a few entered the room and others just stood there indecisively. Clad in facial masks, goggles and face shields, it felt like a battlefield. One nurse was trying to start an IV while the doctor checked how far I had dilated.

Testing for corona

Another nurse was attempting to swab my nose to test for Covid-19. I politely asked her to wait until the contractions had calmed down because I doubted my resolve to stay still as she pushed that six-inch swab to the back of my nose during a contraction. Thankfully, she waited.

The baby must have felt the heat in the room and at 12:04am, she entered the world, screaming. It seemed like an easy birth even with a face mask but the uncertainty surrounding whether she will also be affected kept lingering in my mind.

The doctors emphasised that unless I am cleared with negative results, I should keep the baby six to 10 feet away. I had to wash my hands and wear a mask before feeding her. I thought this was possible until later in the night when she started crying.

My first instinct as a mother was to pick her up but before I did, my husband reminded me to wear a mask and sanitise my hands. Although it was frustrating, I knew it was for the good of our baby.

Two hours after giving birth, a nurse came back with the positive results. It was not a surprise although I had wished it was the opposite.

Quarantine

My husband and I were not allowed to leave the room after this. We were left in what seemed like an island. Nurses only entered to do assessments, bring us food, take blood samples or give us documents to fill. However, we were grateful that there were nurses even willing to take care of us in such a delicate situation.

Due to the high number of coronavirus patients, and since we did not have life threatening symptoms, were discharged the following day and I was given a list of things to do, including going into quarantine for 14 days at home.

There was also no treatment given apart from medications to reduce temperature and headache. We mainly just concentrated on eating fruits rich in Vitramin C and eating a balanced diet to boost immunity.

Virus free

It is good to follow the news and know what is going on but at some point, the news became the enemy that drained my energy. I could encourage myself and say that we will survive this only to switch on the television and be hit with all this negative news.

However, the good news is that we are now virus free and are back home. My family will never forget the year 2020 because we faced a life-threatening situation.

However, in the midst of all this, our daughter Quinn Chamil Lubinga was born as a sign of victory. So yes, this too shall pass.

Breastfeeding tips

• Although small studies have not identified any evidence of covid-19 in breast milk, it is still not entirely clear whether breastfeeding mothers can transmit the virus to their babies through nursing.
• The Centre for Disease Control notes that breast milk can help protect babies against many illnesses. If you have covid-19 and are nursing, they recommend taking proper precautions such as washing your hands before touching your baby and wearing a face mask, if possible, while nursing your baby. Or, if you can, express milk and have someone else feed it to your baby.
• If expressing breast milk, mothers should make sure to clean their breast pumps properly each time and consider letting another caregiver bottle-feed the expressed milk to the baby.

www.whattoexpect.com

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