She got COVID-19 at 38 weeks pregnant: A first-time mum shares her experience and fears
After getting fully vaccinated, and a week before she was due to give birth, 25-year-old Shermaine Vong-Lee got COVID-19. Her biggest worries were for her baby and whether she had to give birth alone. Here's her first-person account, as told to CNA Women's Sharon Salim.
I am a preschool teacher and considered an essential worker, so working from home isn’t an option for me. Due to the nature of my work, my company nominated me for COVID-19 vaccination in March this year.
It was around that time that I found out I was pregnant with my first child.
At that time, there wasn’t enough research about the safety of COVID-19 vaccination for pregnant women, so when I indicated that I was pregnant on the vaccination registration form, I found out that I wasn’t eligible for the vaccine.
I would just have to be extra careful.
I took many extra precautions, such as not touching escalator handrails and constantly sanitising my hands.
That was the start of my constant worry about the long hours of commute – my workplace is in Punggol, a one-hour-and-15-minute journey from my home at Hillview.
I took many extra precautions, such as not touching escalator handrails and constantly sanitising my hands. I would also sit away from crowded carriages on the train. At one point, I wore double masks, including an N95 mask.
My biggest worry was the hours of exposure as I travelled between work and home, and my husband was concerned, too.
NOT BEING SURE IF SHE SHOULD GET VACCINATED
On May 30, when I was four months pregnant, the COVID-19 Multi-Ministry Task Force said in a press conference that the vaccine was safe for pregnant women.
It meant that I would be able to register and make an appointment to get vaccinated starting as early as Jun 4.
But I was still hesitant.
My husband and I went back and forth for the next two months, trying to make a decision about whether I should get vaccinated. By that time, I was already in my second trimester, about 19 to 22 weeks pregnant.
On one hand, by not being vaccinated, I could cause someone else – or even my baby – to get infected. I didn’t want to be negligent.
But on the other hand, there were so many speculations and fears surrounding the vaccine and its lack of research – and how it could affect unborn babies. I was wary about its potential long-term effects.
GOING AHEAD WITH COVID-19 VACCINATION AT 30 WEEKS
It was only in September, when COVID-19 cases in Singapore rose to the thousands daily, that I spoke to my gynaecologist about taking the vaccine.
My doctor strongly advised me to get vaccinated due to my increased exposure to the virus at work and during my daily commute.
By then, more research had been done, such as how the antibodies from immunisation would be transferred to the baby in the womb.
I felt slightly more assured, and decided to get my first shot on Aug 25. I was in my third trimester by then.
I got my second dose on Sep 17, about three weeks after receiving the first jab. I had a mild fever after the second jab, but it went away after a few hours.
During that week itself, one of my colleagues tested positive for COVID-19, so I was thankful that I had gotten vaccinated in time.
GETTING INFECTED HERSELF
But about a month later, on Oct 21, I developed a mild runny nose.
I was 38 weeks pregnant, and my baby was due on Nov 2 – I could go into labour anytime.
Despite taking warm showers and drinking hot water, the runny nose didn’t go away, although there were no other symptoms.
By then, I had already started working from home. My employer allowed me to do so because of the high number of daily infections and as I was finding it physically hard to do my daily commute.
Even though I was working from home, I was still required to take an Antigen Rapid Test (ART) weekly. I had already done one three days before my runny nose started and it was negative.
But as a precaution, I decided to do the ART again.
When I saw the second line appear on the test, indicating a positive result, my heart was beating very fast. I was very scared and I didn’t know what to do.
My husband was out at the time, so I quickly called him and told him that he needed to come home right away.
There’s a one to four per cent chance of the mother passing COVID-19 to the foetus.
Upon finding out I was COVID-19 positive, my husband was really worried about the baby and me. He feared that the virus could be transmitted to the baby.
He did a lot of research and asked some friends in the medical field about the risks of mother-to-baby transmission.
He later found out from a newspaper report that there’s a 1 to 4 per cent chance of the mother passing COVID-19 to the foetus.
That night, I cried myself to sleep.
FEARING THE WORST
My biggest fear was having to give birth alone. This was my first baby and I didn’t know what to expect. I needed my husband for support.
If I needed to give birth during the isolation period, I would have to give birth alone, without my husband.
I was also worried about being separated from my baby after birth. If I was still positive and my baby was negative, I wouldn’t want to pass the virus to him.
Would my baby be okay? Would I be separated from him? And how would I handle that?
I called KK Women's and Children's Hospital (KKH) and was told that I couldn't walk in based on the ART, so I needed to get a Polymerase Chain Reaction Test (PCR) done the next day.
I got my PCR on Oct 22, and by then, my husband and I were already self-isolating and staying in different rooms.
On Oct 23, my PCR came back positive, and I received an order from the Ministry of Health (MOH) to self-isolate at home for 10 days.
Would my baby be okay? Would I be separated from him? And how would I handle that?
I called MOH to ask if there were extra precautions I needed to take as I was already 38 weeks pregnant.
Coincidentally, the Multi-Ministry Task Force announced on the same day that fully-vaccinated pregnant women who are younger than 35, and less than 26 weeks pregnant, would be eligible for the Home Recovery Programme (HRP). That is, after they are clinically assessed at selected public hospitals, such as KKH.
MOH informed me that if I were to go into labour during the 10-day home isolation period, I could call the ambulance or take SHNGrab, a special service meant to help people under isolation order travel safely between places.
There weren't specific instructions, but later that afternoon, my gynaecologist from KKH called to tell me that I didn’t qualify for the HRP as I was more than 26 weeks pregnant.
She wanted me to check into the hospital so they could monitor my baby and me, since I was very close to my due date.
Upon her instructions, I called MOH again to update them that both KKH and my gynaecologist were aware of my COVID-19 diagnosis, and to ask them to expedite my hospital admission.
The ambulance came and brought me to KKH that night.
My biggest fear was having to give birth alone. This was my first baby and I didn’t know what to expect.
In the meantime, my husband started looking up the guidelines by the National Environment Agency on how to properly sanitise the house and what protection he needed, such as putting on gloves and a surgical mask before cleaning, and keeping the rooms well-ventilated during cleaning.
While I was isolated in KKH, he went about sanitising the whole house, multiple times to be safe, in fact.
He was preparing for the eventuality that I may give birth while in isolation in the hospital and getting our home ready to welcome our baby Nathan and I home.
'THE DAYS WERE VERY SLOW'
At KKH, the hospital staff monitored me in a single room, before transferring me to an isolation ward with other pregnant women who had COVID-19.
It was a five-bedder, and there were four other women in the ward with me. One patient was on her eighth day in the isolation ward, another woman was on her 10th day. They were a mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated.
In the afternoon that I was admitted, one woman in the ward had just given birth, while others were in their 28th or 30th week of pregnancy.
My gynaecologist said she was thankful that I was fully vaccinated by then, too, and explained that I would be given a PCR test on the sixth day of being COVID-19 positive, and that I could go home if given the all-clear.
She also took me through what would happen, if, say, I went into labour before my expected delivery date of Nov 2 and had to give birth in isolation.
She said that in a normal pregnancy, she would advise most of her patients to be induced by week 40 to reduce the chances of stillbirth or the need for an emergency C-section.
But in my case, assuming that I would have just recovered from COVID-19 based on the 10-day isolation period, it would be fine for me to be induced a few days past my due date to give my body more time to recover from the infection before giving birth.
In some ways, I was thankful that I was admitted to hospital as there would be medical attention if I needed it.
Being able to see and talk to (my husband) was always the highlight of my day.
It was tough being away from my husband but I was worried about passing the virus to him.
The thought of going into labour while in isolation was daunting. Every day was filled with anxiety and I wondered: Will I go into labour today? I psyched myself to give birth without my husband beside me.
A typical day in the ward included having the doctors and nurses do their rounds, which included checking my blood pressure, dispensing medication and asking how I was.
During the stay, I developed a cough, and had mild symptoms such as a runny nose and occasional chills.
I’d brought my laptop with me and was also on the phone trying to stay connected with my friends and family. I called my husband on Zoom every night, and it helped me to keep sane during this time.
Being able to see and talk to him was always the highlight of my day. He was my pillar of support whenever I felt lonely, and would encourage and reassure me that everything would be okay.
Knowing that I had him to count on, not only for emotional support, but also knowing that everything was ready should the baby arrive at this time, comforted me.
On the sixth day after testing positive for COVID-19, the medical team took my viral count and the CT value.
If your CT value is above 25, it means that your body has created enough antibodies to fight the virus. Conversely, if your viral count is low, it means that you are not infectious anymore.
On the morning of Oct 27, after my PCR test results were out, the hospital told me that I could go home, without needing to isolate myself from my husband.
The hospital gave me a special memo saying that I had fully recovered and I could be discharged even though I didn’t serve the full 10 days in isolation.
IT’S BETTER TO TAKE PRECAUTIONS
I was due to give birth in three days so I was very thankful that I had some time to settle down at home before that.
Nathan was born on Oct 31.
Through this experience, the biggest lesson I learned was that getting COVID-19 was not something I could control.
At the same time, it’s important to remain calm throughout the whole process. I am thankful that my husband was very strong for the three of us.
My advice to pregnant women would be to get vaccinated as there’s enough research to show that it doesn’t affect the foetus. It’s better to take precautions to make sure that you don’t end up with serious symptoms if you do get infected.
And if you are going through the isolation process, stay strong and remember that there’s light at the end of the tunnel, and you will see your loved ones again soon.
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