First Nations mom separated from her newborn because of COVID-19 says virus is ‘unbearable’

Former APTN reporter Shaneen Robinson-Desjarlais is still in hospital where she says it feels like an elephant is sitting on her chest.


A First Nations woman in Winnipeg is urging others to take the COVID-19 pandemic more seriously after both her and her newborn son contracted the virus.

It’s been 16 days since Shaneen Robinson-Desjarlais gave birth to her third son, and she has spent about half that in hospital and away from him.

The Cree and Gitxsan mother says she has been in hospital for the past three days with a lung infection and COVID-related pneumonia.

This is her second time since giving birth she has had to be hospitalized.

Two days before giving birth she received a notice from her children’s daycare saying one of the workers tested positive.

About six days after giving birth she began to develop a migraine. She went to the hospital and was tested for the virus, which came back positive. She returned home but this week her condition worsened and she went back to the hospital.

Doctors tell her she has low oxygen levels meaning her blood and lungs aren’t getting enough to function normally.

“It feels like there’s an elephant sitting on my chest. It’s unbearable. It’s scary. You feel like you’re drowning in your own lungs. It’s this unexplainable scary feeling,” Robinson-Desjarlais told APTN News from her hospital bed at the Health Sciences Centre.

Miller Desjarlais in hospital. Photo courtesy: Shaneen Robinson-Desjarlais.

While in hospital the 41-year-old hasn’t been able to see her newborn because she said doctors tell her she’s too weak to care for him.

“As a mother I feel really helpless. My job right now should be to be able to take care of my family and breast feed my little baby and just be enjoying my time at home. That’s what I was praying for and hoping for,” she said.

Her husband and three sons are isolating at home after her two youngest also tested positive. Her father Eric Robinson, a former Manitoba NDP cabinet minister, also tested positive.

Robinson-Desjarlais said its been hard for her husband but the family is doing well otherwise.

“We’re just doing a lot of prayers and a lot of people are reaching out and helping,” she said.

She’s not sure when she will be able to join her family about but for now she’s focusing on getting better, “I’m no good to my family sick or dead. I just have to tough it out.”

First Nations people make up approximately 40 per cent of the COVID-19 hospitalizations in the province.

For much of the pandemic First Nations people have been disproportionately impacted and at much younger rates.

This week there have been six deaths including a male and female in their 20s.

Robinson-Desjarlais with Miller. Photo courtesy: Shaneen Robinson-Desjarlais

COVID-19 variants are also on the rise with the province saying today they are now treating all infections like they are variants of concern.

Dr. Marcia Anderson, with the Manitoba First Nations Pandemic Response Team, said during an Facebook live event today the most important thing now is to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

“Most of the cases being diagnosed in Winnipeg now are due to [variants of concern]. They are causing more severe outcomes. We’re seeing more cases in younger ages,” she said.

“Really want to emphasize how important the vaccine is.”

For Robinson-Desjarlais she is stressing the importance of following safety measures.

“I get we’re all frustrated but if we ever want to be together again we’re all going to have to just deal with the reality of it.”

Reporter / Winnipeg

Brittany joined the APTN news team in October 2016. She is Ojibway and a member of the Long Plain First Nation in Manitoba. Before coming to APTN, she graduated with a joint degree in communications from the University of Winnipeg and Red River College.