'Is the baby going to be OK?': Sask. mom recounts getting COVID-19 while pregnant

·5 min read
Six months after delivering Mac, Shaleen and Tom Erwin are breathing a sigh of relief. Both parents tested positive for COVID-19 while Shaleen was pregnant.  (Kirk Fraser/CBC - image credit)
Six months after delivering Mac, Shaleen and Tom Erwin are breathing a sigh of relief. Both parents tested positive for COVID-19 while Shaleen was pregnant. (Kirk Fraser/CBC - image credit)

Shaleen Erwin bounces a happy, blonde baby boy in her lap. Her husband Tom grabs the tiny blue soother every time it falls out of six-month-old Mac's mouth.

There was a time this family did not know if they'd get these happy moments. The entire family contracted COVID-19 while Shaleen was 23 weeks pregnant.

The Erwins' story literally starts on a dark and spooky night: Oct. 31, 2020. They spent the night trick-or-treating with their four-year-old son Leo, along with Shaleen's sister, brother-in-law and niece in their town of Springside, Sask.

The next day, their little niece started throwing up. They chalked it up to too much chocolate and candy the night before.

Submitted by Shaleen Erwin
Submitted by Shaleen Erwin

That same night, Nov. 1, 2020, the Yorkton daycare their son Leo attends notified them there was a positive case in their son's room. Quick testing revealed the young family of three had all contracted COVID-19.

Shaleen, pregnant and unable to take anything for her symptoms, was hit the hardest of the three. She was sleeping 16 hours a day.

"I just remember thinking, 'Is the baby going to be OK?'" Shaleen said.

Submitted by Shaleen Erwin
Submitted by Shaleen Erwin

What followed was a seemingly never-ending series of doctor's appointments. Shaleen's obstetrician brought on two more physicians as consultants, telling her she was his guinea pig because she was his first patient of this kind.

Google didn't bring any relief, delivering terrifying search results.

"It was all doom and gloom," Tom said. "There was nothing positive or productive and it just made me think, 'Oh boy I'm going to lose my wife and my unborn child and I'm going to be a single dad.'"

They decided to induce labour in Regina at the General Hospital at 39 weeks, just one week before their original due date of March 12.

Submitted by Shaleen Erwin
Submitted by Shaleen Erwin

The Erwins said doctors were most concerned that the baby wasn't growing enough in the womb, and they couldn't get a clear image of his heart.

"They weren't able to see a picture of the heart ever," Tom said, blaming the baby's positioning in the womb. "Even after he was born we had to go back to Regina for an echocardiogram to make sure his valves were proper."

WATCH | Shaleen Erwin recounts her battle with COVID-19 while pregnant

A day before the Erwins were supposed to drive to Regina for Shaleen to be induced, Shaleen woke up in the middle of the night in labour. Tom and Shaleen made the necessary arrangements and made the drive south. But when they got to the General Hospital, labour stalled.

After a two hour nap in a hotel, suddenly things became urgent. The couple barely made it back to the hospital.

"She only had, I think, three sets of three or four pushes and then out came Mac," Tom said.

The delivery wasn't the end of the ordeal. Mac wasn't breathing.

The doctors told Shaleen and Tom they thought it was because he came out so fast.

"So [Neonatal Intensive Care Unit] gets called in, I think six or seven nurses from there come in," Tom said. "I'm plastered off to the side way in the corner, there are four or five doctors dealing with her because she has torn so bad.

"So they're trying to stop the bleeding, with her, they're trying to get Mac breathing, and I'm basically leaning on a wall almost passing out because I don't know what's happening."

Shaleen was more concerned about her son than herself.

"I barely got to take a look, and there they were like, 'We're going to get him checked out,'" Shaleen said. "Then i was thinking, is this COVID-related like his breathing, because who knows right?"

Submitted by Shaleen Erwin
Submitted by Shaleen Erwin

Mac was, in fact, OK. He started breathing a few moments later.

In true Prairie form, the Erwins asked to be released the next day, March 8, because there was a blizzard en route and they needed to drive home to Springside.

Shaleen's placenta was taken for COVID research. She doesn't know what has come of it.

Today, Mac is six months old and weighs 19.5 pounds. His parents say he's a pretty easygoing, content baby, especially considering his dramatic delivery. He has not been tested for antibodies, but they are crossing their fingers he's protected.

"I was breastfeeding when I was vaccinated," Shaleen said. "I know they mentioned to me that antibodies would come that way. So between the exposure in the womb and the antibodies through breast milk, we're hopeful."

Kirk Fraser/CBC News
Kirk Fraser/CBC News

Things have also changed since Shaleen was pregnant with Mac, and there's a bit more data, too.

A new briefing document from Ontario's COVID-19 Science Advisory Table released Sept. 13 says pregnant women don't appear to get COVID-19 more than the rest of the population, but compared to non-pregnant people they have higher morbidity and mortality, and a higher risk of intensive care admission. Pregnant people who get COVID-19 also have higher instances of pre-eclampsia, c-sections and preterm births.

Shaleen wants her story to be a comfort for other parents who might be facing a similar circumstance.

"I do feel like it would be helpful to see something positive," she said. "Because there was nothing positive when I was pregnant, that's for sure."

WATCH | Shaleen Erwin was one of the people featured in CBC Saskatchewan's Faces of COVID series

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