Mother’s Day on the front lines

ER nurse and physician balance 'pandemic parenting' with coronavirus care

Two women wear face masks in side-by-side mugshots
Two women wear face masks in side-by-side mugshots

For moms who work on the front lines of COVID-19, Mother’s Day will look a little different this year.

Dr. Abigail Polzin is an emergency medicine physician and Erica Frost is a registered nurse at the Sanford USD Medical Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Both women are not only working on the front lines of the coronavirus but are mothers, as well.

With her husband, Bryant, Polzin has three kids, Hannah (7), Rory (6) and Jacob (5). Frost has two kids, Emmett (4) and Nona (1) with her husband, Jesse.

Balance amid uncertainty

Polzin has been a physician for 10 years but says it comes down to finding a middle ground.

“It’s always been about balance because you have a really demanding job and you also want to be the best possible mom, so you feel like you get pulled in a couple different directions,” Polzin said. “My mom stayed at home when I was growing up so I didn’t get to watch somebody figure out how to do that.”

Polzin finds this balance despite having a hectic schedule — she works overnights on the weekends and is at home with her kids during the week. She says she and her husband, who is currently staying at home with the children, work to make sure that everyday life still feels normal for their kids, from backyard camping to playing games to watching more movies than usual.

For many, this new normal is unsettling. Polzin, however, says uncertainty is a constant part of her job.

“My job seems like it changes every single day, but the emergency department has never been a controlled or scheduled place,” Polzin said. “We are experts in not knowing what to expect.”

Polzin also says that even though she doesn’t always know what to expect, she’s not afraid.

“I’m not really scared about it,” Polzin said. “I’ve been a physician for 10 years this month, and I’ve treated patients with HIV and AIDS, tuberculosis and MRSA. I feel like that’s just part of my job.”

Additional precautions and emotions

Frost also experiences uncertainty but said this feeling has now been amplified.

“Right now it’s a lot of emotion,” Frost said. “You get up every day and do your job like normal and mom like normal, but there’s just this added bit of fear. There’s also an added passion because you’re in the front lines.”

Frost works three 12-hour shifts per week but says her job has only changed in terms of the necessary precautions.

“It’s an ever-changing, ever-evolving world that we’re living in,” Frost said. “It’s still the same job, but there’s a lot of added steps and awareness of every move that you make.”

Frost and her husband send their children to a home day care that cares for many other health care families, Frost said.

Handling motherhood on the front lines

While both women have different schedules and different COVID-19 experiences, Polzin and Frost share some similarities in how they’ve been handling motherhood during this time.

Both women have changed their routines to keep their families safe from the virus.

They change from their street clothes to scrubs at work and vice versa instead of changing at home. They wipe down and sanitize every belonging and part of their body that could have been exposed to the virus. Additionally, both women have chosen not to physically quarantine themselves off from their families during this time.

“We felt like the emotional toll wasn’t going to be the best thing for our children or for me,” Polzin said.

Polzin and Frost say they wear the extensive, necessary PPE during their shifts and take every precaution — even small ones at home.

“You can’t just lick the spoon anymore when you’re making cookies with your kids,” Frost said.

Polzin says she understands the scrutiny that moms everywhere are facing while “pandemic parenting.”

“Everybody has to make a lot of decisions right now, and you may feel like you’re being judged by other people, so the last thing you need is to be really harsh on yourself for those decisions that all of us are having to make right now,” Polzin said. “Be gracious with yourself.”

Celebrating Mother’s Day in a pandemic

Amid the chaos of COVID-19 and finding a new normal, both moms will still be celebrating Mother’s Day.

Frost plans to have brunch with her mother and sister-in-law followed by a day of family fun with her kids.

“I hope that people embrace the time they do have with their families,” Frost said. “Don’t let the fear of what’s going on impede making memories with your family because that’s ultimately what’s most important.”

Polzin’s Mother Day will look a little different, but she’s still excited to celebrate with her family.

“I’m working overnight, so I’ll get home at 6 a.m.,” Polzin said. “The kids have already wrapped a present, then they’ll probably make me breakfast before I go to bed for the day. I’ll wake up around dinnertime, and we’ll have dinner together.”

Both Polzin and Frost encourage others to spend time with their loved ones and enjoy the day.

“Whether you’re a working mom or a stay-at-home mom, it’s the hardest job you have,” Polzin said. “I think it’s harder than being a physician, so I say ‘Happy Mother’s Day’ to all of them.”

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Posted In COVID-19, Parenting, Physicians and APPs, Sanford Stories, Sioux Falls