Dickinson resident Louretta Nickerson’s childbirth was perfectly coordinated. She would have her son, naturally — without using drugs or being induced — and she would look good doing it.

Her hair had to be done. At 37 weeks and six days, she was due soon so she set up a hair appointment at her favorite salon, Divalosity, for 10 a.m. on Feb. 18, 2018.

Her baby boy had different plans. She, her partner and mother ended up at University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston 3 a.m. Feb. 17, 2018. An hour later, six other family members and friends arrived.

Nickerson was praying her water didn’t break. After all, she still had to get her hair braided, she said.

Her water didn’t break. But her amniotic fluid — the fluid that surrounds the fetus — was low. The doctor had to induce labor.

Already at risk of missing her hair appointment, Nickerson was not about to have her original plan derailed by being induced.

The nine friends and relatives in the delivery room weren’t enough to convince her otherwise. It took a call from her doctor — who was away at the time — to persuade her.

Nickerson finally agreed to be induced and receive an epidural and 24 hours later, her son Johnny Maxey V was born.

“Everyone was so drained and laughing from exhaustion,” Nickerson said. “It was like they had the baby.”

SUSPENDED SUPPORT SYSTEMS

But these days, thanks to the pandemic, delivery rooms are far less lively. Hospitals in Galveston County and across the nation forbid crowded hospital rooms and large family support systems to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Those restrictions have vastly changed how Americans experience childbirth and pregnancy, leading to loneliness and depression for some new mothers.

The most significant change COVID-19 has had on childbirth and pregnancy is the limitation of support persons a pregnant patient can have in the delivery room, said Dr. Shannon Clark, professor of maternal-fetal medicine at the medical branch.

At the medical branch and other hospitals around the nation with similar policies, pregnant patients can only have one support person in the delivery room, Clark said.

A hospital’s polices will change based on how active the virus is in the community, and many hospitals have different COVID-19 procedures, Clark said, adding it’s important pregnant patients maintain communication with doctors to remain updated about their hospital’s policies.

Pregnant patients at the medical branch must wear masks during doctor visitors and labor and delivery, Clark said. Patients also are tested for COVID-19 during prenatal care and upon entry for labor and delivery and whether they test positive determines whether they can have a support person in delivery, Clark added.

The polices initially were difficult for pregnant patients and their families, Clark said.

“It was tough because the pandemic happened so quickly, and they couldn’t prepare,” Clark said. “They are prepared now.”

‘BEST THEY CAN’

Texas City resident D’Marche Lacy, who is 37 weeks pregnant, said her experience has mostly been lonely because of support-person limitations during doctor visits.

Her pregnancy has been good overall, she said. But it’s not the way she imagined since she was a little girl, she said.

“I always dreamed of my family being around yelling ‘Push!’” Lacy said. “It’s sad this virus has taken away the experience I’ve always dreamt of.”

More pregnant women are experiencing anxiety and depression during the pandemic, according to survey results published by journal “Frontiers in Global Women’s Health”.

Of the 520 pregnant women and 380 women who gave birth between June 2019 and June 2020 in the survey, 15 percent had scores indicating depression before the pandemic compared with 40.7 percent during the pandemic.

Twenty-nine percent of women reported having moderate to high anxiety before the pandemic compared with 72 percent during the pandemic.

It’s OK for new mothers to be upset and sad about being able to have their support systems, Clark said.

“Your pregnancy may not be what you envisioned, but it’s important to understand that health care providers are doing the best they can to protect families.”

Lacy is hoping everything magically goes back to normal, she said.

‘A BIG SHIFT’

Louretta Nickerson’s second pregnancy was different.

Nickerson was 35 weeks but not expecting to see her daughter until Jan. 3, 2021.

Nickerson still was working regularly. The patient service specialist, who usually worked 7:45 a.m. to 4:45 p.m., would sometimes schedule her doctor visits during work.

She had one scheduled at 10 a.m. Nov. 30, in the middle of her shift.

The appointment was at the same clinic where she worked but on the third floor.

She planned to go down stairs quickly to her appointment and return to work, she said.

She left her lunch in the staff refrigerator and her purse on her desk.

Nickerson ended up in labor and delivery. During the appointment, her doctor noticed her baby’s heart rate had dropped and told Nickerson they had to deliver.

Nickerson went to University of Texas Medical Branch Clear Lake. But this time, no mom and no partner.

For two days during labor, she mostly was alone.

Her mother visited during the day. Her partner didn’t arrive until Dec. 2, when their little girl was born. Her partner had to work and take care of their 2-year-old son.

Nickerson was allowed to have only one support person during the delivery. She and her partner left their son with her brother. They had to FaceTime her mother.

“It was totally different,” Nickerson said. “You don’t realize how important it is to have that support until you don’t.”

There was no family trying to persuade her to get induced. There were no friends to laugh about her stubbornness.

Just her, her partner and anxiousness.

They were nervous about their baby being exposed to COVID-19.

It was time to go home.

Myer Lee: (409) 683-5247; myer.lee@galvnews.com and on Twitter @thesquarescriv.

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Myer joined The Daily News in later 2020 after previously working at our sister newspaper the Del Rio News-Herald.

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