Karina LeBlanc knew life would change when she became a mother.
But the Canada Soccer Hall of Fame goalkeeper did not expect the terrifying roller-coaster that followed the birth of daughter Paris, with serious health issues forcing LeBlanc back to hospital before having to endure an agonizing 14-day self-quarantine at home away from her newborn.
Paris Karina-Kobe LeBlanc-Mathot arrived March 24, to the sounds of Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” in the maternity room.
“Beautiful & Perfect,” tweeted LeBlanc, who now makes her home in Miami where she serves as head of women’s football for CONCACAF which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean.
LeBlanc celebrated her 40th birthday six days later, marking the occasion with a photo of she and husband Jason Mathot kissing their tiny daughter on the beach at sunset.
“The rest of my life will be the best of my life,” she wrote. “Wishing the same for all of you.”
Two days later, the couple were racing to hospital with baby Paris clutching a freaked-out LeBlanc’s finger.
LeBlanc was suffering from shortness of breath, scary at any time but especially now because of COVID-19. After describing her symptoms to her doctor over the phone, she was told to get to hospital immediately.
There they found the shortness of breath was the result of fluid buildup in the lungs caused by heart failure and dangerously high blood pressure.
After stabilizing LeBlanc, doctors elected to send her home after three days — fearful of possible additional exposure to COVID-19 in the hospital. That meant 14 more days away from Paris and trying to stay calm to keep her blood pressure down.
Back home in self-quarantine, LeBlanc detailed her health issues in a social media video post that drew close to 180,000 views. A day later, she posted a raw, emotional video of her watching her baby in the arms of her husband on the other side of a glass door.
“I love you, I love you so much, Paris. So much. Mummy loves you. Oh my God,” said LeBlanc, her voice breaking.
There were more tears — this time happy ones — as LeBlanc was finally reunited with her daughter on April 17 after 17 days apart.
And the happy ending continues. LeBlanc’s health is improving although she acknowledges that the emotional peaks and valleys have taken a toll.
“Today, it’s a good day,” she said in an interview Monday. “But women who give birth, there’s emotional roller-coasters either way.
“I’m not complaining at all, I’m much better. But I’m not also fooling myself thinking that it is just going to be easy sailing from here on out.”
Mostly LeBlanc is grateful.
Grateful her daughter is healthy and for the doctors who looked after them. Grateful to her husband for his one-stop parenting while she was unable to help (their parents were both supposed to join them but their travel was curtailed by the pandemic).
Grateful to her family, friends and all those who reached out with messages of support. And especially grateful for her faith.
“Everything in my mind gave me a million reasons why things were going to be bad. But having faith, knowing that this too would pass, and I would get through this,” she said.
She started making journal entries, documenting what she was grateful for rather than asking why this was happening to her.
“Because trust me, I asked myself why,” she said.
But ultimately her faith triumphed, giving her the belief she would get through it. “And there would be something better for this at the end.
“Obviously being reunited with my daughter and husband was what was better for me. But for me, going through it, I know that I’m stronger now for whatever is next to come in my life.”
There were still scary moments.
As a former elite athlete who won 110 caps for Canada between 1998 and 2015, LeBlanc knows her body. One red flag was swelling in her legs, not unusual after giving birth but not as bad as she had it.
When she woke up one night with trouble breathing — “I was grasping for air” — the rush to the hospital ensued.
“That went from ‘OK, this is scary’ to ‘Oh my God, is this it?’” she recalled.
“Every emotion hit me at that point … For me I was like ‘Is this it? I’ve just met my daughter. Is this all I’m going to get with her?’”
When they reached the hospital, only LeBlanc was allowed in because of a COVID-19 lockdown.
“It went from scary to lonely and I was just filled with fear,” she said.
A CT scan showed the fluid in the lungs. Doctors believe her body didn’t fully process that she had given birth.
She eventually took a COVID-19 antibody test, which came back negative during her self-isolation. But she was told that did not necessarily clear her and the choice was made to remain in quarantine rather than return to hospital for another test and risk further exposure.
Many mothers have since opened up to her, telling their story and offering support or suggestions.
“It definitely helped me understand we’re all going through something. All of us at this time,” said LeBlanc.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 4, 2020.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press