(NEW YORK) — When Cierra Chubb looks at her phone, she said she’ll often see texts throughout the day from her husband with messages like, “I’m so glad you’re here.”
That’s because at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, Chubb’s family did not think the 34-year-old mom of three from Lancaster, South Carolina, would come home to them.
Chubb was one of the hundreds of women in the United States who faced severe complications from COVID-19 during pregnancy.
In Chubb’s case, within days of being hospitalized in July 2021, with her pregnancy in distress, doctors made the decision to perform an emergency C-section.
Her son, Myles, was born two weeks premature but healthy. Chubb, though, would go on to spend the next over 100 days hospitalized, with many of those days spent on a ventilator, an ECMO machine and in intensive care.
Chubb’s husband, Jamal Chubb, was by his wife’s side the entire time. He remembers a conversation he had to have with their oldest child, a daughter named Eden, as a sign of how close Cierra Chubb was to dying.
“Eden was 7 when Cierra got sick and there was a very intimate conversation that she and I had to have,” Jamal Chubb recalled to ABC News’ Good Morning America. “Hey, all the doctors think your mom is going to die, and you need to hear from me before you find it out from anybody else. There are only a few people that believe she’s going to live.'”
In the end, Cierra Chubb ended up being one of the lucky ones.
She went home to her husband and three kids in November 2021, five months after being hospitalized. Her return home was the first time she had been reunited with her three children and husband all at once.
“For me personally, looking around our house is like looking at a battlefield almost,” Jamal Chubb said. “There was a battle that was fought and won. When I look at Cierra and I look at our children … it just feels like victory has been won.”
The toll COVID-19 took on pregnant women
Saturday, March 11, marks the third anniversary of the World Health Organization declaring COVID-19 a global pandemic.
Since the start of the pandemic, hundreds of pregnant women in the U.S. have died due to complications from COVID-19, data shows.
In two months alone, August and September 2021, in the United States, more than three dozen pregnant people died of COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those deaths came during the height of the Delta variant, which took a particularly hard toll on pregnant women.
Thousands more pregnant women, like Chubb, were hospitalized, often with severe complications, but ultimately survived.
During the pandemic, COVID caused a two-fold risk of admission into intensive care and a 70% increased risk of death for pregnant people, and increases the risk of a stillbirth or delivering preterm, or earlier than 37 weeks, according to the CDC.
Why COVID-19 caused such severe illness in pregnant women became a focus of research over the pandemic, some of which continues to this day.
What doctors do know is that pregnancy causes changes to the immune and respiratory systems that seem to make pregnant women more vulnerable to the disease. The severe lung disease caused by COVID-19 in pregnancy is the major cause of death in pregnancy due to COVID-19 infection.
Research has also shown that pregnant women who are vaccinated have a much lower risk of death and severe complications from COVID-19.
Still, vaccinated pregnant women remain nearly twice as likely to get the virus than those who are vaccinated and not pregnant, data shows.
Moving at the ‘speed of gratitude’
Cierra Chubb, who was not vaccinated at the time she contracted COVID-19, said she still struggles with fatigue and has to pace herself doing everyday chores like laundry.
For several weeks, she had supplemental oxygen at home, and for many months she wore a leg brace, but now both of those are gone.
She still has lingering nerve damage in her foot that she said is painful and makes it difficult to walk, but doctors have told her she may see improvement with more time.
Given how sick she was for so many months though, she said she has “improved drastically” and has no long-term health complications from her COVID battle.
“It’s been great to do things with my kids that I wasn’t doing before, stuff that my daughter is passionate about or helping Langston with video games and watching Myles grow up,” she said, referring to her daughter and two sons.
Nearly two years after her own COVID battle, Cierra Chubb said it feels like an “out-of-body experience” to look back on not only her personal struggle but the coronavirus as a whole and the number of people who suffered. More than six million people around the world have died due to COVID-19 to date, according to the World Health Organization.
Jamal Chubb, who spread his wife’s story around the world through his viral TikTok updates, said he keeps in touch with people he met along the way, including recently meeting in-person for the first time a woman whose husband was sick with COVID at the same time as Cierra Chubb and passed away.
The Chubbs say they also hear often through social media from people who are hoping for miracles for their loved ones as they say they saw happen with Cierra Chubb.
“There are so many more stories of people who died from COVID than there are people who miraculously made it through COVID,” said Jamal Chubb. “So, yes this is a miracle. No, we don’t understand it … Yes, we’re holding space for people who lost loved ones, always.”
Both Jamal and Cierra Chubb say life for them has returned to a level of normal that they do not take for granted considering the physical and emotional obstacles they’ve overcome. For many weeks after Cierra Chubb came home, she said their 4-year-old son worried she would leave again and never return.
“For many [normalcy] is an anti-climactic answer, but when you’ve had a loved one dying and kids not knowing if their mother’s coming home, normalcy feels really good,” said Jamal Chubb, who continues to share on social media and is now working on a book about his family’s journey.
Cierra Chubb said her family has learned to live as though you can go from being sick at home to being near-death in the hospital for five months, as she was. When frustrations arise, she said they have the perspective now to quickly find a solution and move on, adding, “We don’t have time to sit and be mad. We’re not doing that anymore.”
And when Cierra Chubb needs to walk slowly or take a break due to her lingering complications, Jamal Chubb calls it “moving at the speed of gratitude.”
“It really slows everything down and causes you to take it all in because there was a battle that we won, and we won it together,” he said.
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