In October 2019 I found out I was pregnant with my second baby, due July 2020. I had just moved to the Seacoast of New Hampshire from New Jersey. My daughter was barely 1 and I was coping with the recent passing of my infant nephew. Being pregnant on the Seacoast during a pandemic scared me. Anxiety and upheaval surrounded the early moments of my pregnancy. But babies are a blessing, right? Of course! So we forged ahead. Twenty weeks of near-debilitating “morning sickness” followed. Thankfully, by February, I was feeling much better. I was able to do play dates, hit the kids museum and attend my mom groups regularly again! Hooray for getting out of the house!
Enter March 2020. The month the wheels fell off for the entire world…
Each expectant mom has our baggage, don’t we? This time around, I was chasing a toddler around, coping with PTSD from devastating loss, living in a new state, and navigating a worldwide pandemic. NBD.
Since March, the landscape of birthing keeps changing. In the Seacoast region, our numbers have stayed low compared to the rest of the nation. But protocols still fluctuate. During my pregnancy, the internet and news bombarded us with information about what was going on in other regions, especially related to pregnant women. No birthing partners? Masks during labor? No skin to skin? The list of scaries grew and grew as I sat in my house with my growing belly and toddler, heeding the call to isolate.
Trips to the “baby doctor” went from adventures with my toddler by my side, fascinated by the ultrasounds to me sitting alone in the parking lot waiting to be escorted inside.
In a world full of unknowns, Harbour Women’s Health was my constant while giving birth on the Seacoast during Covid-19.
When I moved here from New Jersey and needed to have my annual GYN exam done, I scoured my Facebook mom groups for recommendations. Mom after mom shared glowing reviews for HWH. So, I took their advice and attended my annual with Dr. Heidi Keup. The exam was business as usual but the time she took to get to know me as a patient and the way she spoke of her colleagues resonated with me. I left the visit thinking I would not be back for a year. However, lessons from sex ed apparently wear off after 35 and I was back about a month later. Whoa.
So what stood out to me about the team at Harbour Women’s Health?
One stop shopping…
I’m 36. For those of you who haven’t had kids over 35, they used to call pregnancy at this age ::gasp:: GERIATRIC. Somewhere along the line they gracefully changed that terminology to “advanced”. I’m no doctor so I can best explain it simply as: MORE. More visits, more bloodwork and more monitoring. To some that may be daunting but for a worrywart like myself, I welcomed as much oversight as it took to keep me and my baby safe.
The extra checkups due to my advanced maternal age were easy because of how genuinely loving each doctor in the practice is. Even with Covid, I felt heard and I was seen in person, every time. I know of other practices that did OB appts virtually. But for me, that would never have worked.
What was starkly different though about my experience with HWH from say, my previous practitioners in NJ, was that most everything was done in house. Ultrasounds and non-stress testing — in the office. Lab work? Same building. I was even able to get my Tdap vaccine in the office! (A very recent policy change the doctors successfully advocated for). And as everyone who’s already a parent knows, time is precious! Add Covid to the mix and the less traveling I had to do, the better.
Straightforward communication is my bread and butter. Every doc in the practice met this expectation for me. There were some hiccups during my pregnancy- the most notable of which being an occasion where I called the office simply because I was feeling “off.” The had me come in, same day and as it turns out my dear son’s heart rate was sky high. This required an unexpected trip to the hospital which is conveniently located across the road. So it’s Covid, I’m about 38 weeks and I’m headed to a hospital I’ve never been inside (no tours during Covid!) with a potentially dangerous situation going on. The calm of every single person I interacted with, from Dr. Sonja Nelson at the office, to Dr. Keup who was on rounds at the hospital, to the amazing staff at Portsmouth, KEPT. ME. CALM. And at 38 weeks that is a tall order. Turns out I was dehydrated and I was able to go home after a few hours.
The doctors at Harbour Women’s Health made me feel so comfortable calling in when I just felt “off”. Dr Nelson and the team took my gut instincts so seriously — the outcome could have easily been different for my son. I trusted that I would be heard, and I was. For someone who was already so nervous about giving birth on the Seacoast during COVID-19, HWH’s calm and clear communication was everything.
Now, to be perfectly clear, I cannot take credit for this nickname. Let me explain what I mean:
I called Dr. Caroline Scoones to tell her I was having very close contractions (I’d quietly been laboring at home since the day before). She kindly said “please make your way to the hospital so you don’t give birth in the parking lot”. She was my ROCK. Within minutes of my arrival to Portsmouth Regional, Dr. Scoones was in the room to greet me and my husband. This wasn’t my first rodeo so I expected this experience to be similar to my last. I labored for hours when at the hospital in NJ with an angel on earth, otherwise known as a labor and delivery nurse- only to see the doctor at the finish line.
However, this was not the case with Dr. Scoones. She checked on me so often, I commented to the nurse how amazing it was. She responded by telling me that’s why she loved to work there. In fact, when she’d first started she’d made the same observation! The nurses in the birth unit at Portsmouth Regional Hospital lovingly refer the docs from Harbour Women’s Health as “the doula docs” because of their super hands-on approach.
So low and behold, at 6:36pm on 7/6/20, my son came into the world not much differently than his sister had just 20 months before. The devoted doctors and nurses who cared for us were the same as I’m sure they’d been before the pandemic- empathetic, passionate, and ready for everything. They wore masks but the kindness in their eyes was just brighter and their voices were just louder.
My husband was with me but we couldn’t have visitors. My little boy met his big sister at home, rather than in the hospital.
But we had our baby boy. And we went home. And it was all ok. As it always is in the end, isn’t it?
And so my story isn’t one of some stoic uniqueness. It’s much like yours and just a reminder that you’re doing it. And I hope that you are receiving care that is comprehensive, competent and compassionate. Whether you’re worried or fearless. Whether you read all the news or none. This is happening and you’re doing it. The worries of a mother start as soon as we see that positive pregnancy test and it just never really ends. So, no, it’s not that different now either, even with big bad Covid. Find a good tribe.
Take care, mama bear. Happy birthing.
For more information about Harbour Women’s Health, visit their website. 155 Griffin Rd.
Portsmouth, NH 03801