Health care heroes: a first-time mother’s working worries

ICU nurse Courtney Kotewa was pregnant at the beginning of the pandemic, which created added fear as she continued to work. Photo by Bryan Esler

Editor’s note: This is part four of a nine-part series on health care employees working during the COVID-19 pandemic. To read more stories, click here.

Being a first-time mom brings anxieties to everyone, but being pregnant during COVID-19 and working as a nurse in the ICU sure takes those anxieties up a notch. Courtney Kotewa, an ICU nurse at Metro Health, had just begun her second trimester when the initial shutdown arose back in March 2020.

“Since we didn’t know much about the virus at that time, I was pretty freaked out,” Kotewa said. “It was scary because when you’re pregnant, you are immunocompromised. I wasn’t sure if I was putting myself at too much of a risk going into work every day. I even questioned if I needed to quit my job.”

But Kotewa did not quit her job. Luckily, Kotewa felt as safe and supported as she could have when pregnant because Metro didn’t put her in charge of any patients who were confirmed or suspected to have contracted COVID-19.

That, however, changed once her maternity leave was up. Returning to work in mid-November turned out to be one of the hospital’s highest peaks in cases. “I was right in the thick of it,” Kotewa said. “I’ve been a nurse for 12 years, but those first few weeks going back to work were nothing like I could ever imagine. It was pretty intense as our unit was over-capacitated, but the hardest toll was having to see so much sadness amongst our patients and their families.”

Because of this, those same fears from before crept back into Kotewa’s mind. “For any new mom, going back to work is hard, but with the added risk of the pandemic, I kept having to ask myself, ‘Is this where I should be? Am I putting my baby at risk?’ Although the cases and numbers got in my head, we did get through it and I’m thankful it has settled down now,” Kotewa said.

One of the biggest reasons why Kotewa felt motivated to keep working and providing care to her patients was the community’s long-lasting support. “All the hospitals around Grand Rapids have received such great community support — from people sending us meals to the same groups of people showing up at our employee parking lot, holding up thank-you signs. It felt so nice to be shown that support from the community.”

While being pregnant during the pandemic brought added challenges to Kotewa’s personal life, such as having to go to ultrasound appointments without her husband, Kotewa said in other ways, she was blessed to be given much more quality time with her husband and newborn. “There was a silver lining because it allowed our new family of three to bond much more closely than we would have had otherwise.”

This story can be found in the May 2021 issue of Grand Rapids Magazine. To get more stories like this delivered to your mailbox each month, subscribe here

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