SON alumna Allison DeSarro (BSN ’18) is on the frontlines of the COVID-19 response as a nurse at UNC Medical Center in the Medical Intensive Care Unit (MICU), the designated unit for critically ill patients with COVID-19. Here, she shares about her experience caring for a new mom on Mother’s Day.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the globe and took command of our lives, I had envisioned for the past four years spending Mother’s Day 2020 cheering on my brother with my parents in Kenan Stadium as we watched him graduate college. While our current realities changed these plans, I spent this past Mother’s Day in a different but meaningful way. With the cancellation of commencement festivities and the necessities of social distancing, I opted to pick up a shift to assist with our staffing and hopefully allow some of my colleagues who are not only nurses, but also mothers, to be able to spend the day with their own children.

It seemed only fitting to find myself starting my shift on Mother’s Day on the labor and delivery unit, caring for a patient who had just welcomed her baby girl into the world by cesarean. My patient was critically ill with COVID-19 and the medical team made the difficult decision to deliver her baby early prematurely. Gowned in my full PPE, I stayed by her side in the operating room, helping to monitor her and provide postpartum care alongside the labor and delivery nurse. I reminisced on the familiarity of the unit and its operating room, where I had spent many hours during nursing school as a volunteer doula supporting women and their families during labor and birth. As an undergraduate, I was trained and served as a doula through Dr. Rhonda Lanning’s interdisciplinary service-learning elective, NURS 611: Supporting the Childbearing Family. What started as a serendipitous educational opportunity blossomed into an enduring passion, centered around my belief that every woman deserves to be empowered and supported during birth. During my time at the School of Nursing, I spent two years serving as a Birth Partners volunteer doula at UNC Medical Center and focused my honors project on this passion as well.

As a doula, I was accustomed to being in the operating room supporting my patient while her epidural is placed, celebrating with her as she hears her baby’s first cry, and helping her to hold her baby skin to skin for the first time. It felt different to be in this operating room caring for a woman who was intubated and sedated—completely unaware that she had given birth to a healthy baby. Once she was stabilized, I coordinated with various team members to facilitate her transport back to the MICU. We wheeled her on a stretcher through a long maze of hallways back to the other side of the hospital, escorted by the house supervisor to ensure that we did not touch anything besides the equipment and patient we were transporting. Once we arrived in MICU, my colleagues assisted me in transferring her to the bed and getting her switched to our ICU monitor and ventilator. Over the course of the morning, we gradually weaned her sedation and ventilator settings and, thankfully, we were able to extubate her by the afternoon. As she woke up groggy from the sedation, we congratulated her on the birth of her healthy, beautiful baby girl and she beamed with relief and pride. Shortly after, I coordinated with the pediatric intensive care nurse taking care of her baby girl so that my patient could meet her baby virtually on FaceTime. Later, I assisted her with breast pumping to help her to prepare her milk supply to breastfeed once she recovered and was able to go home to her baby girl.

The day was unlike any other that I have had as a MICU nurse on the frontlines, but an important reminder of the vast ways that this virus is impacting patients and families. I can’t imagine what it is like to give birth during these times, especially for those women who are simultaneously battling COVID-19. I left that shift feeling grateful for my doula training and all of the incredible experiences I had as a Birth Partner that prepared me to be able to support this brand-new mom.

Since COVID-19 has changed the degree to which ICU nurses are involved in the care of pregnant and postpartum women, Allison is currently assisting nurse educators and other leaders in Women’s and MICU on the creation of an education bundle for ICU nurses on topics related to the care of pregnant and postpartum women being cared for in these units.