Working in the emergency department during the coronavirus pandemic is challenging for all healthcare workers. Add pregnancy to the mix and it makes for an even more anxiety-filled experience.
Taylor Poynter, a 27-year-old physician assistant at a hospital in Joliet, Illinois, wanted to bring awareness to being a pregnant woman working on the front lines against COVID-19. Poynter, who is expecting her first child with husband, Gene, in June, has been sharing weekly photos on her Instagram account of her growing baby bump from the emergency room.
"(The posts) initially started as something to remember my third trimester by, but I think it's important that people recognize when pregnant women post these pictures, we are celebrating our pregnancy in the only way we can right now," said Poynter. "I also think it really gives people a clear picture of what our lives look like right now — this is as real as it gets, all summed up in one photo."
"Regardless of what stage of pregnancy you are in, no woman wants to look like that: tired and sweating with skin breakouts from our masks," she continued. "I feel passionately about standing up for pregnant women working on the front lines and that includes making people aware of all the emotions we battle that we should never have to walk through."
Poynter, who miscarried prior to becoming pregnant with the baby boy she is currently carrying, says caring for patients during the pandemic has been a "whirlwind," as she balances pregnancy hormones, worries about what's best for her child and the desire to help the patients who enter her hospital.
"I have had to force myself to step back from seeing critically ill patients," Poynter told TODAY Parents, explaining that she's treated COVID positive patients, but has tried to interact infrequently with patients who have the virus to protect herself and her baby. "But just because I'm pregnant and in the midst of this pandemic does not change my desire to serve my patients and aid my colleagues in the workload."
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"My approach to patient care has definitely altered," said Poynter. "Prior to the pandemic, I often saw patients without wearing gloves, masks or other PPE (personal protective equipment). I felt very comfortable completing my history and exam without these, as washing my hands was enough at the time. Now, I do not even fully enter the room until I receive a more detailed history from the patient and determine if I need to add a gown to what I am already wearing at baseline."
Poynter's "baseline" work attire already includes an N95 surgical mask, surgical scrub cap, face shield and gloves for every patient she encounters.
Poynter hopes sharing her photos will help people understand the importance of social distancing and staying at home to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
"I wish every single person could see the pregnant women working in the hospitals right now, being in close contact with COVID patients," said Poynter. "People forget that by not following the suggestion to stay at home, they are putting others at risk, including us pregnant moms that are still working."
As Poynter approaches her due date, she is deeply aware of the unknowns that exist surrounding her delivery and her son's first few weeks of life. The Michigan native says her entire third trimester has looked different than she anticipated: Two out of three of her baby showers have been canceled, she can't visit her family, her husband is unable to attend prenatal appointments with her and the couple, who has been married for two years, can't take birthing classes together.
"My biggest fear is that I will be tested for COVID on the day I go into labor, come back positive for some reason, and be told I cannot interact with my baby for two weeks," said Poynter. "This would be so devastating to me."
"No one will be able to visit us at the hospital, or so I anticipate, and I doubt we will allow people to freely come into our home after the delivery," she added. "All around, this is just not what I expected with our first baby."
Poynter says while she is grieving some parts of her pregnancy that she feels she missed out on, she and her husband are focused on strengthening their relationship before they become parents.
"If I had anything to say to people that aren't in our shoes, it would be not to assume pregnant women want to put themselves on the front lines during this time, or that we are poor mothers due to our work situations," said Poynter. "There is no right or wrong decision when it comes to working on the front lines while being pregnant. This is uncharted territory."