Cori Longo: Gave Birth During the Pandemic

Cori Longo was seven months pregnant when the first lockdown was announced. She and her partner, Michael Sarson, had a two-year-old son, Eliot. Both Cori and Michael work full time. Longo’s work as regional representative for Canadian Labour Congress shifted to working remotely from home, while Michael worked away from home as a battery pump operator in oil and gas. 

Longo said it was challenging parenting alone and working from home. 

“I was trying to get Eliot out with winter coats and boots and stuff in 10 minutes, working full time and pregnant. He was getting no stimulation or education or arts. I would try to do stuff at home, but conference calls with him around were too hard. It was exhausting to do everything, dishes and meals at home.”

They decided to send Eliot back to daycare during the third trimester of her pregnancy. Eliot’s daycare, ICFC (Intercultural Child and Family Centre), was open for frontline workers. They had processes in place to keep the children safe. 

“He’s happy to be back, [there’s] normalcy and routine to life. I was worried about Eliot in the daycare, but I felt safe with ICFC.”

Longo continued, “Michael got laid off in May, so we were both at home for a few weeks. It was a good lead up to the birth. We had two weeks to get everything ready. Before that, it felt like we didn’t have much time to prepare for the birth: physical and mental preparation, communication, role-playing, etc.”

In March and April, it was still unknown how Covid would affect pregnancy, birth, and babies. There was also concern about contagion between members of the birthing team. While the majority of women have babies in hospitals, Albertans have access to home birth with midwives. 

Longo had a home birth with Eliot and wanted the same for her second birth. She said, “I am a trained RN. I had seen birth, but mostly [in] the operating room and [through] c-section. I had seen the process and that was not what I wanted.” 

In March and April, it was still unknown how Covid would affect pregnancy, birth, and babies. There was also concern about contagion between members of the birthing team. While the majority of women have babies in hospitals, Albertans have access to home birth with midwives.

Public health information around birth was confusing and stressful.  

“With Covid, guidelines were changing every week. We were always worried we wouldn’t get the birthing experience we wanted. If any one of us [Cori, Michael, or Eliot] would have had any symptoms, we would have had to go to hospital. The last place you want to be with Covid is in the hospital.”

Longo was worried she’d have to give birth alone and without a birth partner. “Doctors in the States were recommending pregnant mothers get iPads so they could share the birth with their partners.”

“In the midst of all this, they [the City of Edmonton] started working on the street and we could not access the front. The back alley was often blocked, too. We had two midwives and one doula. We drew them a map on how to access the yard and the back alley. We tied balloons on the back door, but we worried if we needed EMS.” Longo laughed with relief, “But, it was smooth sailing.”

While normally all prenatal care is in person, Longo’s care was a mixture of on the phone and in person. “We would go to the maternity clinic for blood pressure and fundal height. They were masked.” 

At that point, information available to health care professionals and to the public changed daily. “There were so many unknowns and stresses. We were told that Michael was going to have to mask in our own home.” She worried that this would have been a barrier to the non-verbal communication and support she would need during labour. In the end, he did not have to wear a mask. “My midwives and doula wore masks the whole time, which was uncomfortable for them.”

Longo shared her birth story. 

“I birthed at the end of the restrictions, when they started loosening up. So many women weren’t that lucky. The birth was four hours. My water broke the night before on June 9 at 11 and she was born on June 10. At 9:30 [a.m.], we lowered the lights and lit candles and had aromatherapy. At [noon] my doula, who was the same one I had with Eliot, arrived. At 2, the midwife came. By 3:45, Rosalind was born. The second midwife came at 4:15.” 

She continued, “I surrendered to the pain. She came out in one push, no tearing; she was swimming in the pool. I felt the cord pulsing against my leg. She had vernix and lots of hair.” 

“The week after the birth we called the oxytocin bubble. You go from the worst pain to utter elation after the birth. Both are really emotional, lovely, falling-in-love stages.” 

Longo felt lucky and fortunate to know about midwifery-assisted births. “I feel like I was let in on a sacred world, but everyone should know the benefits. I wouldn’t change a thing. I had easy pregnancies and easy newborns with no challenges in breastfeeding.”

The normal round of visitors to see a new baby changed. At that point, the effects of the virus on infants and children were still unknown. When Rosalind was born, Cori and Michael had to decide who could see the baby. 

“We had one visitor in two months, which is so different than with Eliot when we had a visitor every second day.” There have been positives from this, too. “We’ve been able to learn each other and spend time together. Michael was home for a month. We had a whole bunch of family time together. In some ways, it was a relief to have it be just us.”  

She added, “But you want to show off your baby. I get joy from seeing other people experience my children. I would let anyone hold Eliot. Now, a stranger tried to touch Rosalind’s foot and I pulled her away. Her social interactions are less than Eliot had.”

Only Longo’s mother and brother could hold Rosalind and not wear a mask.“ Everyone else must wear a mask and everyone has to wash their hands. My in-laws have not come from Ontario like they did with Eliot.”

Community supports and social interactions are so important for new parents. Longo explained how the pandemic changed this. 

“I really loved my moms’ group at the Norwood Child and Family Resource Centre, [but] Baby Bunch is closed. When Eliot was a baby, we would go to the library at Spruce Ave two to three times a week for the baby programs. Libraries are closed now. The postpartum time was really difficult.”

The lack of parental supports informed Cori and Michael’s decision to put Eliot back in daycare. However, the UCP government recently withdrew the $25/day daycare program.  “Our fees went from $550/month to $1150/month on July 31.” A federal program softened the blow, bringing the cost down to $800.

Longo clarified the decision she had to make. “I feel mom guilt. But I don’t have supports. No moms’ groups. No friend support.” Even going to the park with her children was no longer possible as they were closed by the City of Edmonton. 

In addition to parenting a newborn and a toddler, the couple had to contend with a rescheduled surgery. At first, all non-essential surgeries were halted. Originally they had scheduled a surgery for Eliot’s lazy left eye for before the birth so he would be healed by the time the baby was born. This surgery was rescheduled for several weeks after Rosalind’s birth. 

Longo explained, “Since he was six months, we’ve done glasses, patches, and eye drops. His surgery was scheduled for April 4, but was cancelled because of Covid. It was rescheduled to July 2.”

She continued, “It was stressful leading up to it with a three-week-old baby, and thinking of going into the hospital. We went to a pre-screen at the hospital the day of the surgery. I parked with Rosalind and Michael took Eliot in. We were only allowed one legal guardian in, but we were not told that on the phone. But we were both carrying things Eliot needed. I couldn’t go into the closed ward, so I dropped stuff off and just sat outside on a bench. I hadn’t said goodbye or hugged him. It’s still anesthesia and surgery. I wanted to give him some extra snuggles. They brought him to the door so I could hug him. I waited for several hours. Bringing a newborn to the hospital was not what you wanted. Covid health experiences [means] always weighing the risks. What is worse? I needed to be with him.” 

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