Jasmine McCabe-Gossett holds her son Luca James while the baby;’s father, Regi, helps make him smile. Luca is almost 4 months, born during the global coronavirus pandemic. (Photo: Greg Jaklewicz/Reporter-News)
When she learned she was going to have her first child, Jasmine McCabe-Gossett said there was no way she or her husband, Regi, could have anticipated the circumstances that would surround their son’s birth.
Luca James McCabe-Gossett, born at 7:46 a.m. April 17, entered the world during a global pandemic that has changed the game for new parents and medical staff.
He weighed 6 pounds, 12 ounces and was 21 inches long.
“There’s so much anticipation, especially with the first baby,” Jasmine, 31, said. “… I was really looking forward to being able to have my mother with me and having my sisters come in.
“It’s just my husband and I here – his family is in Washington state, and my family lives in the Leander-Austin area.”
The couple has lived in Abilene for about a decade, meeting at Abilene Christian University during their final year of school.
Hopes and fears
As the days of her pregnancy wore on, Jasmine started hearing stories of mothers elsewhere having to give birth alone, something that gave her pause.
“I realized that they were having restrictions on who could even come in just for just a checkup of the baby,” she said. “As if it’s not bad enough to think … (Regi) might not be able to be there when I give birth. The sonogram and all that stuff, he wasn’t able to be there for the latter half of those appointments.
“So that was disappointing and kind of terrifying.”
It was an enormous contrast from her baby shower, which was large and well-attended – and scheduled right before “things started to really rear their ugly head,” Jasmine said.
“It’s so ironic that was the case,” she said. “… Who would have known that was going to be the last time that I was going to have all my favorite people, people who are so near and dear to me, in one room?”
Guests traveled from all over to attend, she said.
“One of my best friends came from California just for my baby shower,” Jasmine said. “And to think now that none of those people, very few, you know, have even seen my child now, it’s just really jarring to think about.”
More: Hendrick CEO Brad Holland: COVID hospitalizations seem to be stabilizing
A bonding experience
Like any new parent, she has wondered what kind of parent she will be, and in Luca’s case, what sort of shadow COVID-19 might cast over his early years.
But his birth, a planned C-section, was a relatively comforting experience, given the circumstances.
Jasmine said she received excellent care throughout her time at the hospital.
And in the end, Regi got to join her in the delivery room, she said.
Prior to giving birth, she and her husband “were already working remotely because of COVID,” the 33-year-old new dad said.
She is donor services director for Community Foundation of Abilene. He is business manager for Texas Midwest Surgery.
After their son was born, Regi was able to be home for “at least a month,” she said.
Even with the pandemic as an ongoing concern, there still was good to be found, Jasmine said.
“Despite all the negativity around COVID, it actually brought us closer,” she said. “We were able to lean into parenthood together and learn everything together – and (have) sleep deprivation together. So, it was a unique time.”
It’s been “a bummer,” she said, to not be able to have friends over – also known jokingly as “people to parade my child around.”
“But it’s kind of nice to just lean into parenthood and to be able to have almost like a peace that surpasses understanding,” she said. “At least we have each other.”
Jasmine, 31, said the couple also was blessed in that neither new parent was laid off or furloughed at what could have been a critical time.
“So we were able to have that job security, as well,” she said. “And I know that not everyone had that luxury.”
Regi has been meticulous about keeping things safe and clean when he comes in from work, she said.
“Even though I’m young, I am in the high risk category (for COVID) because I have an autoimmune condition,” Jasmine said. “That was also just another thing that was stressful. But like I said, just leaning on one another during this time was a really great thing – for us for being new parents and for our marriage and all of that.”
Michelle Owens, nurse manager for Labor and Delivery for Hendrick Health System, said procedures obviously have changed for medical professionals in light of the pandemic, and that includes those who work with mothers-to-be.
“We’ve implemented, of course, employee screenings, visitor screenings, wearing personal protective equipment like masks and goggles for all patient care,” Owens said. “We are dedicating actual space for COVID-positive persons or people under investigation for COVID. … We’ve also implemented universal testing for all our moms that are going through delivery.”
Erica Gooding, nurse manager for Hendrick’s Mother/Baby program, said situations such as COVID-19 are “something we train for in school.”
“But I don’t think any of us really thought that we would be called to action in a pandemic,” she said. “I feel like we’ve all risen to the occasion. … It’s certainly always anxiety-producing when you watch the news and you (have to) come to work, to be honest. But I feel like our staff feels very prepared, and I think that helps the patients feel a little more at ease.”
Community support for healthcare workers has been a very important part of dealing with COVID, Owens said.
Such has been “tremendous and just very heartfelt,” whether it be mask donations or willingness to be flexible in accepting restrictions, such as on visitations.
Restrictions for safety
Patients at Hendrick must wear a mask when a staff member or anyone from their medical team enters their room, or if they leave the room — such as going into the hallway, pharmacy, cafeteria, etc.
The same policy applies for the family member who is with them.
At Hendrick, visitation in general is limited to one essential caregiver on hospital campus at a time, both inside and outside of all facilities
Delores Cox, director of marketing at Abilene Regional Medical Center, said her hospital reviews U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines daily, and adjusts practices based on that information.
“The biggest change has and continues to be the restriction in the visitation policy,” she said.
At Abilene Regional, the mother may select one person age 18 or older to be with her during labor, delivery and post delivery, Cox said.
“We continue to take numerous actions for infection prevention, restricted access to our facility, temperature checks, screening, masks, social distancing and patient flow to maintain a safe environment,” Cox said.
Gooding, who is also in Hendrick’s lactation department, said health professionals still are seeing outpatients as needed.
“Of course, we do have special precautions in place where we have them wear a mask, and our staff always wears a mask and a face shield or goggles,” she said. “That has not changed and is still a important part of care, even though they’re discharged.”
The birth story
One can’t exactly put a pause button on births, as one might do on other types of medical procedures.
Hendrick, for example, averages around 150-160 deliveries per month, with census depending on the day. ARMC has about 900 in a year.
“You can only put delivery off in a healthy situation for so long and,” Owens said. “It’s a volume that we cannot slow down. So we knew it was very important to stay on top of research and recommendations from many organizations. … Our ultimate goal is to make sure that we’re given the absolute best care to our moms and babies.”
As far as patients go, discussion starts early in physicians’ offices to help patients understand how their experience is going to look and feel, Owens sad.
“Some women and even some men have looked forward to this all their lives – and what they thought this experience was going to be like,” she said. “So they have had to be adaptable and flexible.”
But “we want our patients to know that this is still their birth story,” she said.
Bridging the gap
In telling those stories, Skype and FaceTime have become essential tools, whether it be communicating with family or a Douala before and after delivery.
Cox also mentioned Zoom as a way people are able to “share their joy with family and friends.”
To date, Regi’s family hasn’t been able to see Luca at all, mom said.
In a better case scenario, people would have been able to hop on a plane be here, she said.
“But technology, definitely, has been great,” she said. “… I’ve tried to send a weekly video to his parents and my parent.”
With or without the pandemic, that would likely have been a thing she would have relied on, given the distance between each branch, she said.
But now, having it readily available has been extremely valuable, she said.
“I’ve been so grateful for technology during this time,” Jasmine said.
Owens said learning how to best navigate the pandemic is a daily thing, requiring flexibility and adaptability, “which is definitely what healthcare workers do.”
But what’s been equally valuable through this period, both Owens and Gooding said, is offering a support system to those who come to the hospital to have a child.
Ideally, that means giving them a sense of being not just among professionals, but among those who genuinely care.
That often requires “going above and beyond,” Owens said, something well worth it since soon-to-be mothers may come in feeling uncertain about their own support systems.
“We want to care for them as if it were our own family members,” she said. “… We want to make sure that we’re being that support for them, regardless of who can or not be with them. That’s a part of our jobs, too.”
Jasmine apparently felt that, saying that during her stay at the hospital, “the staff, facilities and everything was just great.”
I just really appreciated my care,” she said. “I am sure they do that for everyone. I’m not saying, ‘Oh, they did things different because of what I was going through.’ But in a time where you hear sometimes horror stories from other facilities or just other people’s experiences, it could have been a negative experience. I really feel like they went above and beyond, and they were very, very positive for me.”
Moving on, she said she is planning to take on motherhood day by day.
“Even if COVID wasn’t happening, that’s probably the best advice anyone has given me,” she said, a plan that includes relying on her instincts, trying to not compare herself to other parents, and being grateful for support from her husband, her church and numerous friends who have become like family.
“I feel like Abilene has done a good job banding together anyway,” she said. “But I don’t feel alone in this.”
Brian Bethel covers city and county government and general news for the Abilene Reporter-News. If you appreciate locally driven news, you can support local journalists with a digital subscription to ReporterNews.com.
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