Coronavirus

DeKalb mom tested positive for COVID-19 on Christmas Day, gave birth four days later: ‘Getting the vaccine helped me’

“I do believe that played a part in why my baby didn’t have [COVID-19],” DeKalb mom Danielle Williams, 25, said of the vaccine. “It can be nerve-wracking, but it does help. It will keep you safer and out of the hospital.”

DeKALB - When 25-year-old Danielle Williams of DeKalb tested positive for COVID-19 on Christmas Day, she didn’t realize she’d be giving birth to her baby boy four days later.

Thankfully, mom and baby, Anthony Jr., are doing OK a month later, but Williams said she’s sharing her story in the hopes that it will encourage other expecting mothers to make sure they’re vaccinated. She said she believes her experience could have ended differently if she weren’t. She was fully vaccinated at the time of her infection but not boosted.

“I definitely think getting the vaccine helped me,” said Williams, a first-time mom and a patient care technician at Northwestern Medicine Kishwaukee Hospital. “There are so many people who are getting the omicron variant especially as well as [COVID-19] in general, and I feel like if I didn’t get that vaccine when I did, I probably would’ve been hospitalized. My birth probably would have been a lot worse off.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 42.6% of pregnant women in the county have been vaccinated as of Jan. 15. For expecting women of color, that’s even lower: 26.7% for Black women and 38.3% for Latina women.

In the beginning of the vaccine rollout, data for its effects on pregnant women was scarce or nonexistent, since early clinical vaccine trials didn’t include the subgroup. In September, as the delta variant surged, the CDC issued an urgent advisory for pregnant women to get the vaccine. Since January 2020, the CDC has recorded 166,935 cases of COVID-19 in pregnant women and 267 deaths nationwide.

The increased risk is why she was allowed to work at Kishwaukee Hospital without caring directly for patients with COVID-19, Williams said. During her pregnancy, she worked with surgical post-operation patients.

Her COVID-19 journey began the weekend before Christmas, when her boyfriend, Anthony, a rehab technician, went to visit his mother. The couple later found out his mother tested positive for COVID-19. Anthony didn’t have any symptoms. Williams, who was almost 40 weeks pregnant and due New Year’s Eve, said she started to panic.

“I was freaking out,” Williams said. “I got tested three times. All of [the tests] came back negative.”

That was before her boyfriend had tested positive himself. So after waiting the incubation period – health officials recommend people with known exposures to wait at least five days before testing themselves – Anthony tested positive.

“At that point, I had a stuffy nose, body ache, a cough, a fever, and I had no idea what it was so I went to Physicians Immediate Care, and they tested me and it still came back negative,” Williams said. “I was like, ‘Something’s not right.’ ”

Williams went to work on Christmas Eve but said she felt like she had the flu and registered a temperature of 102. She called her doctor and went home. She waited to take another BinaxNOW at-home rapid test until the morning of Christmas Day. It was positive.

“I was terrified,” Williams said. “I yelled at my boyfriend, I was like, ‘The baby could have [COVID19]. I’m scared.’ I was crying.”

With her holiday plans on pause, Williams called her doctors, who told her they would push her induction date to back Jan. 5, to give her a chance to kick the virus and hopefully be out of quarantine before she went into labor. Baby Anthony Jr. had other plans.

Anthony still was asymptomatic when Williams went into labor about 2:30 p.m. Dec. 28. Due to the fact that they were both COVID-19 positive, the parents-to-be weren’t allowed other visitors in the birthing suite. Nurses told Williams her baby would need to be tested for COVID-19 as soon as he came out. She said by the time she went into labor, her symptoms were a scratchy throat and a slight cough.

Both new mom and dad had to wear a mask the entire time while in labor and delivery.

“We could not leave the room. We were in our room for three days,” Williams said. “Everybody had to wear a mask.”

She couldn’t kiss her newborn as he was tested after birth.

“I couldn’t kiss him or anything, just because I didn’t want him to get sick,” Williams said. “Oh my God, it was so sad. They had to test him like they test us, where they stick a swab up his nose. They had to test him twice. It was hard. I was emotional.”

The results came within the hour: Negative for Anthony Jr., who was born at 20 inches, seven pounds in the early morning of Dec. 29.

“I was relieved. I was like ‘Thank God,’ ” Williams said. “I’ve heard of babies getting it.”

An expert’s advice

Dr. Jennifer Lew, OBGYN at Kishwaukee, said the hospital is noting COVID-19 cases in pregnant women about on par with national trends. She said she recommends an mRNA vaccine, either Modern or Pfizer, for pregnant women.

“Pregnant women, due to all the physiological changes that they have to undergo in pregnancy, are going to be a higher risk for having respiratory complications of ventilator use,” Lew said. “If you were to combine other risk factors such as obesity or asthma or other chronic medical illness, that risk would continue to go up.”

Williams isn’t shy to share that she, too, was hesitant to get the vaccine at first, especially when she realized she was pregnant.

Williams took her last final for her Northern Illinois University degree in April 2021 the week before she found out she was pregnant. She didn’t get a vaccine until Northwestern Medicine made it mandatory for workers, she said. November for her first dose of Moderna at a local CVS pharmacy and then December for her second.

“I was honestly terrified of getting vaccinated while pregnant because there wasn’t a lot of research on it,” Williams said. “I didn’t have any side effects besides a sore arm. I was very nervous.”

According to the CDC, pregnant women are in the high risk category for contracting severe cases of the virus. They’re also at an increased risk for preterm birth or stillbirth. With the delta variant, unvaccinated women are four times as likely to have a stillbirth, especially if they have other chronic conditions.

Public health experts recommend the vaccine for pregnant women or those who might become pregnant in the future. There is no evidence currently to show that any vaccines cause infertility in women or men. Early vaccine data also have found no evidence of an increased risk for miscarriage, according to the CDC.

Lew said it’s important for pregnant women to get a booster as well.

“There is a thought that that baby would be born with some immunity, that the longterm immunity would transfer to the baby,” Lew said. “Babies and children are not approved to receive a vaccine so they don’t have any [immunity yet] anyway.”

That’s what helped convince Williams, she said.

“Especially with the comfort knowing that your babies will also have antibodies to fight off the virus,” Williams said. “I do believe that played a part in why my baby didn’t have [COVID-19]. It can be nerve-wracking, but it does help. It will keep you safer and out of the hospital.”

Can a baby contract the virus from mom in utero?

“Not necessarily, but if the mother was actively having a [COVID-19] infection, and then was to give birth still having COVID symptoms, the thought is that she could spread this to the newborn,” Lew said. “There can be consequences of getting a viral illness when you’re pregnant. High fevers are not thought to be good for pregnant women.”

And what should pregnant women do if they do test positive? Mimic Williams’ steps: quarantine, get tested, monitor symptoms.

“And they are supposed to keep their fever down with acetaminophen, and then we would review cough and cold medicines that’s safe to take if they do need something,” Lew said. “They’re supposed to call us if there’s concern with their breathing.”

Some people also report having gastrointestinal issues with COVID-19, so if a pregnant woman is having trouble keeping food or liquid down, they should also contact their doctor, Lew said.

And how is new mom life treating her, now that she, Anthony and Anthony Jr. have made it through a bout with the virus?

“It was more of the healing process that made it a little bit harder, but mom life is great,” Williams said over the phone with Anthony Jr. fussing in the background. “I feel like I’ve adjusted really well, especially with my boyfriend here. He helps out a lot. I got really lucky.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

An earlier version of this story included information that requires clarification regarding Northwestern Medicine employees: A spokesperson for the health system said there is no specific policy in place related to pregnant employees working directly with patients with COVID-19. The story has since been updated as of 12:40 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022.