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Cortney’s story: My baby and I barely survived COVID-19

In February, I learned I was pregnant with the most precious gift, a baby girl three years in the making. After two miscarriages, chemo from a molar pregnancy, health issues and infertility struggles, I was finally pregnant. I diligently took my vitamins and some extra supplements and baby aspirin due to finding out I have a genetic issue which can lead to clotting and miscarriage.

When I first considered getting the COVID-19 vaccine, I was very cautious. At the time, there was little research out there about the effects of the shot on pregnant women. I’m a stay-at-home mom and my husband has one coworker—so, after talking it over together, we didn’t believe it was a necessity for us to get the vaccine. We felt that the risks outweighed the benefits.

Photo by Meg Parsley Photo Co.

We are both young, in good health, have low exposure and I had a fragile pregnancy. I carefully and deliberately made a decision to wait until after pregnancy to look into getting vaccinated.

If only I could go back in time…

We are a house of health nuts. I love fast food, but we geek out on supplements and fresh air and we don’t use any products with toxic chemicals in them. So, when my husband Travis wasn’t feeling well on July 31, I started pumping myself and the kids with the best of the best vitamins and kept Travis away from us.

I thought I wouldn’t get sick. I knew what to do and what vitamins to take. I have no health issues other than fertility problems. I wasn’t scared.

Travis was confirmed to have COVID-19, and my positive test came days later. Though we had low risk of exposure, it still happened. A lot has changed with the COVID-19 virus since my pregnancy began in February. The variants are stronger and more contagious. No matter your age or health, we are all at risk.

At first I thought, “This is easier than my last sinus infection.” Then it started to get harder to function without coughing up a lung. Then harder to breathe. Then urgent care said I’d be fine with some steroids and rest. Then the ER said they’d like to monitor me because my oxygen was low and I was 25 weeks pregnant. Then I was admitted to the hospital.

I was getting worse, not better. And I was getting scared.

Through the haze of the first few days, I remember my doctors would talk to me about my miracle baby and how unsafe my oxygen levels were for her. I was taken off regular oxygen and put on high air flow oxygen. It wasn’t enough.

I was told I needed to be flown by a helicopter to a hospital in Austin that had a women’s center and could provide a higher level of care. This would put me in the best position in case things got worse and I ended up having to have an emergency C-section at 26 weeks.

The next thing I knew, I was in Austin in an ICU room and my baby was hooked up to monitors. It was a blur. I couldn’t talk. I didn’t have enough energy. So instead, I typed what I wanted to say on my phone and showed the nurses. I was scared for my life and all alone. My husband and family were safe back at home, where I feared my last goodbye to them had been my last goodbye.

You see, because of the shape I was in, if I had to be rushed to an emergency C-section, I knew I would not have survived. My baby Elise might have. I would not. That was my harsh reality. To my kids, mommy looked very sick and scary the last time they FaceTimed with her. Parents, that’s not a memory you want etched in their mind as the last time they saw you. In-person goodbyes aren’t always possible with COVID-19.

My time in the ICU was a blur. I’ve been close to needing to be intubated but thankfully never had to. I’ve felt as though I was knocking on death’s door. I’ve lost hope and found it and lost it and found it again. I’ve wondered who would replace me in Travis’ life and “Would they love my kids enough?” I wondered how my unborn baby Elise would look and who she would become.

There’s a lot of time in a hospital bed for wondering. I even wondered if I did this to myself and to my family by being cautious about the vaccine.

The medicines and nurses and doctors fought fiercely to keep me off the ventilator. They knew I may never recover. The prayers of my community—small groups, friends, churches, family—saved me. The hospital teams did their best and God did the rest. My prayer warriors are the hands and feet of Jesus. He moved mountains.

I will now be getting vaccinated because this unfortunately could all easily happen again to me in a few months or years, and I refuse to allow that. If you feel a stirring to do the same, I encourage you to do so. No amount of articles or message boards or social media posts you read will teach you what I learned listening to nurses and doctors who fight for their patients every single waking hour. Or what I’ve learned listening to people die in the room next to mine. You don’t want to learn the way I did, trust me.

I think at least a dozen people have reached out to say they got the vaccine because of my story. I keep finding out more and more every day. My best friend who was completely against this vaccine changed her mind. Several pregnant friends changed their minds.

I’m in therapy weekly to process the trauma and help with anxiety. My main goal now is getting back to good health before I give birth. I do this through therapy as I recover from COVID-19 and through the constant support of my friends, family and doctors.

At the beginning of my pregnancy, there was minimal scientific support of the effects of the vaccine on pregnant women, which fed my uncertainty. Now, the science is clear: the vaccine is safe and effective for pregnant women.

Pregnant moms—I urge you to get vaccinated for yourself, your family and your unborn baby.

Read more stories like Cortney’s here.

This story was contributed by Cortney James.

Cortney’s story: My baby and I barely survived COVID-19