When Aislinn’s 4-year-old daughter came home from preschool sick at the end of February, it didn’t occur to her that she might have coronavirus. It wasn’t until a month later, after Aislinn, her 2-year-old son, and her husband had also gotten sick that her husband tested positive for COVID-19. At that point, Aislinn was 8 months pregnant; she’s due in May. Because her family was now presumed positive, she wasn’t able to see her doctor for weeks and was warned that after giving birth, she could be separated from her baby. Aislinn, who’s 37 and lives in Massachusetts, told us about her experience.
At the end of February, we started having different sicknesses in our house. We thought that my kids must have picked something up at school. It started with my daughter. She had a fever, and then that became a cough. Then about five days later, my son got sick. He didn’t get a fever, but he was congested and he developed a really deep cough.
We took the kids to several doctors, and none of them seemed to think it was likely that they had coronavirus. At that point, I still hadn’t been following the coronavirus that closely. My kids both had a stomach bug with diarrhea and vomiting in addition to the cough, so it seemed like a weird collection of symptoms. But I think if it had been a few weeks later, when there were more cases and more testing, we might have thought of it differently.
The kids both had to miss about a week and a half of preschool. By the time they didn’t have any symptoms, it was literally the day before their schools closed for the pandemic.
I got sick maybe five days after my son did. I started waking up with a headache. Then I got a cough, and there were two or three days where I couldn’t taste or smell anything. My doctor thought it was probably just a sinus infection and prescribed antibiotics, but it felt like it took a long time for it to go away.
My husband was the last of us to get sick. His symptoms were initially more mild. He had a dry cough, and then, after two weeks, he started to get shortness of breath. He said it felt like there was something around his neck, which was what prompted him to go in and get checked. Part of the reason they gave him a test is because I was pregnant and they wanted to make sure that if he was positive, we could isolate.
He tested positive, and at that point, obviously, we were thinking back to all the different symptoms we’d had, and wondering if we’d all had it. Most of all, it felt confusing: We got a lot of different advice about what to do in our house in terms of distancing. My husband’s doctor said that he should isolate completely. Like, he should stay in the basement and not be around any of us until the public-health department cleared him, which usually takes seven to 14 days. Even though the rest of us had already been sick, they thought it was still worth isolating. But my OB said that given that we’d been around each other already for the past several weeks, the likelihood that we hadn’t been exposed already was very low — he felt more okay with me not isolating myself.
At first, we did try to have my husband self-isolate. We have an unfinished basement, and we’d bought a foam mattress to put down there for when the baby comes in case one of the adults needs a nap. He got the test results in the afternoon, so then he went down to the basement with some bedding and bottled water and utensils and started sleeping down there.
It was really tiring for me to have to watch the kids all day by myself, while also being almost nine months pregnant. The kids were really confused about why he had to stay in the basement, since everything happened really quickly. It made them kind of anxious, especially since they’re already in this weird situation of not knowing why things are the way they are.
At that point, I was also still working remotely. My husband is a freelancer, and right now I’m the sole provider for our family. So I didn’t really have the option to stop working altogether and someone had to take care of the kids. It was already really chaotic and hard to focus on work having the kids home, so I couldn’t really imagine how we were going to have my husband keep self-isolating. We were texting back and forth, and after not very long we agreed that we would take the risk and assume that we’d all already been exposed.
It seems fairly logical to assume that we all had the coronavirus. The fact that my cough and sinus infection lasted so long seems very unusual. It definitely seemed like a stronger virus than I’ve had in a long time. Given the fact that I was sleeping next to my husband and eating with him for weeks, it seems really unlikely that we wouldn’t have been exposed.
He had his test on April 2, a Thursday, and I was able to get one the following Monday. The results took about five days to get back, but in the meantime they said that because my husband tested positive, they’d do my next OB appointment via phone call. So I got a call from the OB, who was trying to help me understand that because our whole household was now presumed positive, my experience giving birth in the hospital could really be impacted, even though I wasn’t due until May. Unless we had clear documentation to prove that my husband and I were both negative, they said that it was likely that the baby would be taken right after birth to protect them from getting it, and we’d have to stay separated until being discharged.
I was quite terrified of the idea of being separated from my baby. It also seemed weird to me, because if you’re only in the hospital for a day or two, and then you’re going home — how are you going to protect the baby after that? If my husband and I are both presumed to have it, who’s going to care for the baby?
I was very confused after that phone call, and it was hard to get any answers. I was looking online, and the guidelines kept changing. I don’t know how it works in reality. I think some hospitals will put up a screen divider between you and the baby, and you have to wear a mask if you’re breastfeeding.
I was worried about what would happen at the hospital if my husband and I didn’t have enough evidence to prove that we didn’t have it. My first was born ten days early, so it seemed like sort of an unknown how early or not this one would come. One friend sent me a draft of a legal consent waiver that basically says you’ll release the hospital of any responsibility if anything happens to the baby. And I had the WHO guidelines, which say that it’s detrimental to separate the baby from the mother even if the mother is positive. I have all these printouts in my hospital bag to bring in case we need them.
At that point it was mid-April, and I hadn’t been able to see my doctor since February, which was a bit nerve-wracking. I was afraid I’d go into labor without knowing all these things that they usually check for, because I hadn’t seen a doctor for so long.
A few days later, my test came back negative. But it turns out that for me to actually be able to see the doctor, my husband had to also test negative, and then I had to be tested again, since time had passed since my first test. We had to scramble to find a place that was willing to do a second test for my husband, since access to testing is still so limited, but eventually he was able to get one at an urgent-care center that was willing to make an exception.
Both of those tests came back negative, so now I can resume my weekly appointments. I just have a few weeks until the baby is due. We have all the printouts of the test results, and we’re hoping that when we go to the hospital, my husband will be allowed in. But we’re still not 100 percent sure what will happen.
This has been edited and condensed for clarity.
No Expectations is a series about the pandemic’s impact on family planning and parenthood. Have a story to share? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us a little about your situation.