After more than three years pursuing a PhD in curriculum and instruction, Queshonda Kudaisi, 29, found herself in a terrifying situation: She was diagnosed with COVID-19 while pregnant, and in danger of not only missing graduation, but of possibly losing her pregnancy and even her life.
"I had a fever almost the whole time, even after taking Tylenol. I didn't eat for about 14 days. I fractured my ribs because I was coughing so much," Kudaisi tells TODAY Parents. "I ended up developing pneumonia — it was just terrible. I really thought I was going to die. I was thinking to myself, 'Wow, I have worked so hard to get to this point and it's going to be snatched away at the end.'"
Thankfully, Kudaisi recovered and gave birth to a healthy baby girl on Wednesday, Dec. 8. The mom of five even made it to graduation days later, her newborn in tow, to celebrate the monumental occasion.
"I was just praising God that I didn't die," she says. "I was just grateful."
Kudaisi says that her former nurse practitioner didn't recommend she receive the FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccine while pregnant. (Studies have shown the vaccine is safe and effective for pregnant people, and can even pass on COVID-19 antibodies to babies.) Kudaisi later changed providers.
"I actually wrote a complaint to the office about the situation, because I felt like I was lied to," she explains. "So I switched to another provider at 32 weeks, and that OB-GYN recommended I get the vaccine while pregnant." Kudaisi received her first COVID-19 vaccination shot in November and is scheduled to get her second.
"Normally I'm a fighter," Kudaisi adds, "but I just didn't have the strength to fight with (the first nurse practitioner). It was better to just go to another provider."
Kudaisi says that her husband also contracted the virus, and that her children were sick as well. "My kids' school did say that they were in a classroom where teachers and students had tested positive. I guess they passed it to us," she says. "So many people have lost their lives to Covid and I'm not special — It could have happened to me as well. So it was a very stressful, anxious time."
Kudaisi is no stranger to adversity. During the pandemic she's juggled school, pregnancy, parenting and even managed to start a non-profit organization to support her community, Narrow Path Outreach, with her husband. When she started working towards her PhD she had three children — now, she has five, all under the age of 10.
"My third daughter was born in January while I was taking the Graduate Record Exam (GRE). I was practically in labor," she explains. "And then my son was born in 2019, so I had kids throughout the program."
Kudaisi says that while it was challenging, she didn't go through the experience alone. From her husband to her graduate student community, she had support from friends, family, and loved ones every step of the way.
"Leaning on God and acknowledging God in your life makes all the difference," she says. "I have a partner who is Super Dad, and extended support through my church, my family, and my writing group, who really gave me the support that I needed. We were all working towards the same goal, so it was so helpful and so amazing."
Kudaisi hopes that from her example, her children will learn the importance of pursuing an education, even and perhaps especially after you become a parent.
"People who have children in academia are not necessarily treated the same way as people who don't have children," Kudaisi explains. "They're often viewed as being not as educated, not as motivated, or not as committed. I think I've shown that's not the case."
Kudaisi has no plans of slowing down, of course — her non-profit organization is hosting a college and career prep for high school students in her local community.
"I was grateful that even though everything didn’t go the way I planned it, and even even though things were out of my control, I was still able to make it to the destination where I wanted to be."