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The Meaning of Care Magazine
Pregnant and Positive: Addressing Fear and Complications When COVID-19 StrikesPublished: April 21, 2021
“He’s a FOMO baby, for sure,” Justin Comstock said of his son, Casey. “He’s up at about 5 a.m. and ready to party. He likes to be awake, he likes to be held, and he really likes noise – anything loud and obnoxious, he’s here for it.”
Dad might be onto something with Casey’s “fear of missing out.” During a recent visit with Methodist maternal-fetal medicine specialist Andrew Robertson, MD, the 2-month-old couldn’t tear his gaze off the bright lights above him. It was as if he was waiting for them to change colors or do something spectacular.
Nicole and Justin Comstock returned to Methodist Women’s Hospital to thank Andrew Robertson, MD, for the care he provided.
Little did Casey know, the doctor holding him was another light in the room – a shining source of comfort and compassion during Mom and Dad’s darkest, most daunting days.
Losing a Long-Awaited Dream
The 1-year-old maple tree that stands in the backyard of the Comstocks’ Elkhorn home signifies heartache but also happiness. It’s the same age as Casey’s big sister, Bexley.
“We planted it last summer for what would have been her first birthday,” Nicole Comstock said.
While the tree reminds the couple of the time that’s passed since they lost their firstborn, it also represents the new life they’ve been given – thanks to the help of dedicated professionals at Methodist Women’s Hospital. That’s where Nicole and Justin’s journey toward parenthood began.
Struggling to conceive, they sought out Methodist reproductive health specialist Abigail Delaney, MD. The couple eventually found success with in vitro fertilization (IVF) – a form of assisted reproductive technology.
“That’s when we had Bexley,” Nicole said. “I couldn’t stop crying with her on my chest. It didn’t seem real that after years of trying, it actually happened for us.”
But five weeks into their new role as parents, Nicole and Justin experienced the unimaginable: Bexley contracted a rare form of meningitis. After nearly a week in the hospital, she passed away.
“I don’t think I can describe it,” Nicole said. “It’s like your heart is ripped from your chest. The hardest part was going home from the hospital empty-handed.”
“Looking back at that empty car seat,” Justin added.
“And going home to a quiet house,” Nicole said as she tried to hold back tears. “Your body and mind just don’t adjust. I mean, I still heard her crying at night.”
More Feelings of Failure
After months of grieving, Nicole and Justin returned to Dr. Delaney. They were ready to try again. Their second IVF attempt was unsuccessful, but their third was not. They soon discovered they were expecting a boy. Like Nicole’s first pregnancy, this one was healthy – until the third trimester in November 2020.
“Nicole had gone to bed early,” Justin said. “I sat down to watch the election after pouring myself a little whiskey.”
That’s when it hit him: He couldn’t taste the whiskey.
Justin and Nicole tested positive for COVID-19 the following day.
“I started crying,” she said. “I thought, ‘There’s no way! We’ve been so careful.’ It felt like we failed again. We failed to protect our baby.”
A COVID-19 Complication
Even in the middle of Nicole’s two-week quarantine, her care team at Methodist Hospital Perinatal Center insisted on seeing her in-person.
“They had all the precautions in place,” she said. “They had me enter through a back stairwell, and they were all gowned up.”
Because of her COVID-19 diagnosis, Nicole would now be getting more ultrasounds, fetal growth scans, oxygen level monitoring and other testing. Having cared for Nicole during her first pregnancy and after the loss of Bexley, Dr. Robertson knew that his patient needed more support than ever before.
“You could just sense that she was waiting for me to tell her something might go wrong,” he said. “So, we watched her a little closer. She probably had a few more visits than others – just to try and relieve that anxiety. It was important to reassure her that things were going OK.”
But it wasn’t long before they weren’t.
At 35 weeks pregnant, Nicole – who had just recovered from COVID-19 – was diagnosed with preeclampsia, which affects up to 10% of all pregnancies and is one of the leading causes of maternal death.
“Typically, preeclampsia is a first-pregnancy problem,” Dr. Robertson said. “And she didn’t have it with her first pregnancy. So, the fact that she got it with her second – and right around the time she contracted COVID-19 – yes, I’ve got to believe it was directly related to the virus. COVID-19 is a vascular condition. So is preeclampsia. And Nicole never had a blood pressure problem until after she got sick.”
His goal for Nicole was to make it to 37 weeks. But at 36 weeks – as her blood pressure continued to rise – it became clear: Her planned cesarean section couldn’t be delayed any longer.
“I thought, ‘Here we go again. Another curveball,’” Nicole said.
But it ended with a home run.
Casey Jerald Comstock was born Nov. 23, spending just six days in the Methodist Women’s Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
“I’m certainly happy and proud of the outcome,” Dr. Robertson said of a stressful pregnancy with “many complicated layers.”
“Best Care Team in Our Corner”
Nicole went home on blood pressure medication and continued seeing Dr. Robertson for her postpartum care. She’s since been vaccinated against COVID-19.
Nicole and Justin Comstock with Baby Casey
“I’m telling most of my patients that I’d prefer them to get vaccinated,” Dr. Robertson said.
When it comes to COVID-19 during pregnancy, he wants his patients to know the risks but rest assured: “Our group wouldn’t be here if we didn’t truly believe we’re the best place in the region for moms and babies who need extra care.”
“In my eyes, COVID-19 was like this cold,” Nicole said. “I had a fever, chills and cough. But after two weeks, I felt better. So, in my mind, it was like I had beat COVID. It wasn’t until the preeclampsia – the warnings of seizures or stroke – that I realized how serious this was. But I also knew I was in the best hands possible.”
In February, Nicole and Justin returned to Methodist Women’s Hospital to thank the providers who made them who they are today: The proud parents of a healthy baby boy. Dr. Robertson scooped Casey from his mother’s arms to tell him how special his parents are. The three laughed as Casey continued staring at the ceiling.
“Dr. Robertson has been there from the beginning,” Nicole said. “When we lost Bexley, he hugged us.
He embraced us. He knew we couldn’t lose another baby. These doctors – Dr. Delaney included – they’re part of our story. They put just as much time and effort into helping us be successful as they do comforting us when we’re not. When we look at Casey, it’s a blessing knowing they made this possible. And words can’t express how much that means – to have the best care team in our corner.”
- Learn more about maternal-fetal medicine at Methodist.
- Read more from the spring 2021 issue of The Meaning of Care Magazine.