Looking at my daughter squealing in delight as she tries to bring her foot to her mouth, I am filled with emotions for the past year. It has been over a year since WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic and we began masking and social distancing, but I remember March 28, 2020, as though it were yesterday. At the time, I was eleven weeks pregnant, and there was much we didn’t know about COVID-19 and its effects on pregnancy. With PPE in short supply and diagnostic tests unavailable, my colleagues and I fretted as laboring patients huffed and puffed in front of us trying to push effectively. I remember running across the street to get to labor and delivery to perform an emergent cesarean delivery for fetal bradycardia. As I quickly gowned, I couldn’t help wondering if the patient had COVID-19 and what that would mean for me and my pregnancy. Like many physicians do with many unprocessed emotions, I pushed my worries aside and made room for the emergency at hand.
As the pandemic and my pregnancy continued, I found myself in my patients’ shoes. We shared lost hopes and dreams of joyous pregnancy moments. Instead of having a baby shower, we embraced isolation and anxieties while questioning our safety and the future amid social injustices. In that tumultuous time, I found my light by focusing on my patients’ emotional health. Since I also didn’t get to have my husband at my anatomy ultrasound, I advocated for patients to have the option to FaceTime in the obstetric ultrasound suites. I made sure to offer patients the opportunity to put their support person on the phone during their visits with me, whether it was routine counseling or an unexpected outcome in an emergency room.
Becoming a mother during the pandemic was a humbling experience for me. I learned that it is not easy to follow medical advice sometimes. Going for a walk to manage postpartum anxiety is a much harder task than I previously thought. Breastfeeding is not just a personal choice but a communal commitment to give time, space, and support so that a new parent can breastfeed and pump every two to three hours. So perhaps the next time we see a patient who didn’t follow our medical advice, we can ask them what barriers they’re facing and how we can help them take better care of themselves before calling them noncompliant.
In the end, our knowledge and skills will only go so far. It is the compassion that we show ourselves and others that will make the final statement. It is that word of encouragement, that sympathetic hug, and that extra space of understanding that will be remembered years from now, when this pandemic becomes a forgotten, conquered enemy.
Dr. Mai Hoang is an obstetrician-gynecologist at University of California San Diego Medical Center in San Diego, CA.
Disclaimer: The thoughts and opinions in the Frontline Voices initiative reflect experiences of individual ACOG members and do not represent official organizational opinions of ACOG.