A pandemic pregnancy

CHRIS LOWREY
PONTIAC June 24, 2020
Pregnancy. It’s a term that conjures images of joy and celebration, but also pain and discomfort – with the pain and discomfort part usually winning out.
During the best of times, having a baby is one of the most stressful, yet exciting experiences any human goes through – let alone while living in a community with no obstetrics unit in the midst of a pandemic.
But it’s a tightrope that Tara Taylor and Ed Rusenstrom recently navigated, with Tara delivering a healthy 7lb 12 oz. baby boy named Irving Lindsay James Rusenstrom on May 30.
Irving is the youngest of the Rusenstrom’s boys – joining Carson, Bennett and Pierce – meaning Tara and Ed are no strangers to the experience of having a baby.
When she first found out she was pregnant in early December, Tara had an idea of what she was in for, albeit she knew there could be some complications. With a history of early and fast labors, there was a concern of not making it to the hospital in time to deliver.
“I was on Xarelto before,” Tara said. “I had a small blood clot earlier in 2019, so I was perscribed blood thinners for a year. I was hoping to get off them when I found out I was pregnant but obviously, that wasn’t recommended.”
Doctors advised her that she would have to stay on the blood thinners throughout the pregnancy.
“Having a safe delivery for me and the baby, given that I was on blood thinners, that was the main concern,” Tara said. “I would need to be induced to ensure that I halted medication 24 hours prior to delivery.”
With one concern already on the front burner, Tara – like every other pregnant woman in the Pontiac – was soon hit with a bombshell.
In February, the Centre intégré de santé et de services sociaux de l’Outaouais (CISSSO) closed down the obstetrics unit at the Shawville Hospital due to staffing shortages.
Between August of 2019 and February of 2020, the obstetrics unit was forced to close its doors 14 times due to staffing shortages, ultimately leading to CISSSO enacting a six month closure on Feb. 21.
“The unit closing was a huge disappointment,” Tara said. “It was more personal in Shawville.”
During her previous pregnancies, the familiarity she had with the doctors and the nurses at the Pontiac Community Hospital (PCH) helped put Tara at ease.
“I enjoyed the small town feel of delivering in Shawville,” she said.
Although the staff at the Queensway Carleton provided great service, they just couldn’t replicate that feeling.
“In Ottawa they were good to make you feel at home, they were amazing,” she said. “But ultimately, they were strangers.”
With Tara and Ed already juggling two major issues, the COVID-19 pandemic effectively put the country on lockdown in mid-March and added one more wrench to the process.
But, being a mom of three boys, having gone through this process before and contending with her other health concerns, Tara remained pretty calm throughout.
“I just kind of went with it,” she said. “I am very glad it wasn’t my first baby.”
Despite everything going on around her, Tara tried to focus on the most important thing throughout the whole process.
“My nerves were more based around, again, the health of the baby and making sure that I didn’t catch this thing, and making sure that the boys didn’t,” she said.
While she knew with the obstetrics unit closing and a pandemic raging that this was going to be a different pregnancy, she was still surprised at the contrast.
In fact, she said the whole process felt much more regimented and less informative than her previous experiences.
“I literally went to the city every two weeks, had my appointment – which took less than 10 minutes every time – and then I was back home,” she said. “They’re so busy trying to get you in and out of the office before the next client, because there’s no crossing paths with anybody else.”
This was where the contrast from her previous pregnancies was starkest – the personal touch offered by the obstetrics unit at the hospital.
“For the other boys, I had my own personal doctor that I knew,” Tara said. “And that’s just a perk of living in a small town, it has nothing to do with a pandemic.”
With her home town hospital no longer an option, Tara and Ed opted to go across the river to the Queensway Carleton Hospital in Ottawa instead of the Hull Hospital.
“When you go to the hospital, you had to go through a little bit more rigmarole,” she said. “And I did have to pay for certain things.”
One of the bonuses of going to Ontario was the fact that they got the same doctor that Tara’s brother had for his two children, so there was a degree of familiarity.
However, they had to pay for blood work, ultrasounds and an epidural if they chose to go that route.
Two blood tests cost them around $100, but they decided to do the ultrasound in Shawville.
When it finally came time for Tara’s labour to be induced on May 30, Ed dropped her off at the hospital but had to wait in his car in the parking lot until Tara was in “active labour” – the final part of the delivery where contractions become extremely painful.
While he wasn’t able to be there with Tara for the first few hours of her labour, he was able to be in the room for the final couple of hours.
Tara said she was glad Ed was able to be in the room, and couldn’t imagine if he wasn’t.
“You shouldn’t have to go through this by yourself,” she said.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on her pregnancy, another huge change came after Tara gave birth to Irving – the parade of visitors.
Typically, new moms tend to get a steady stream of cheek-pinching friends and relatives in the weeks after delivering, but with a pandemic wreaking havoc, that obviously can’t happen.
That means she’s been limiting her time outside and hunkering down with Irving until she gets the all-clear.
“I’ve been home since the first week of March,” she said. “I only went to the grocery store for the first time this week.”
In the end, after going through her fourth pregnancy, how different was this one from her other three?
“Very different,” she said.
Surprisingly, a global pandemic wasn’t necessarily the biggest obstacle she faced when it came to this pregnancy compared to her earlier ones.
The biggest change was not being able to give birth in her community’s hospital.
The familiar faces and personal touch of the staff at PCH are what Tara hopes expectant mothers in the Pontiac can experience again – sooner rather than later.
“Shawville needs their obstetrics unit back,” she said. “The unit is an important part of our local hospital and women shouldn’t have to leave the area to deliver their babies. While expecting mothers have several options when delivering outside of Shawville, if given the choice, most would prefer to stay close to home.”
“I felt at home in Shawville,” she concluded.

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