Nine months ago the world was completely different. Now four women tell their stories of bringing a child into the world during a pandemic and the surprising benefits that came along with it.
Having a baby is already a stressful event; then try throwing in a pandemic. A tiny human needs time, care, and attention. New rules seem to be added every day at the hospitals, patients are allowed only one support visitor, and nurses’ faces are hidden behind masks. But, on the other side, the quarantine also allows new parents more power in protecting their newborn and more time to build bonds and form routines.
Emily and Rex Spackman
Two weeks out from having her first child, Emily Spackman knew COVID-19 was going to be serious. In her small town of Jackson, Wyoming, the OB/GYNs were only taking appointments for pregnant women. As time went on, many doctors switched to video calls. Since Spackman had gestational diabetes, she was still able to go to all of her appointments.
Then her baby decided to come early. Born on St. Patrick’s Day, Rex entered the world the same day COVID entered Jackson. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the only hurdle little Rex had to overcome. He was born with underdeveloped lungs and quickly developed pneumonia. Without a NICU in the small hospital, Rex had to be life-flighted to Idaho Falls where he spent two weeks before finally coming home.
“Every day they had a new rule,” Spackman says about her experience at the hospital in Idaho Falls. This town was much bigger than Jackson and in a different state. Idaho had 9 confirmed cases of COVID-19 on March 17th and was just beginning their upward curve. Idaho peaked on April 2, the day after Rex arrived home from the hospital, with 205 new cases for a total of 870 confirmed cases.
“The first week they would ask if you were showing any symptoms through an intercom,” Spackman says. “The next week, anyone coming in had to get their temperature taken.”
The Spackmans had planned to stay at the Ronald McDonald house in Idaho Falls until they could go home, but it closed on March 21st due to coronavirus concerns. Generally Ronald McDonald houses are free places for parents and family to stay while their child is in the hospital. When the Spackmans found out they were closed, they had no idea what to do.
“The Ronald McDonald Houses had never closed before,” Spackman says. “No one knew what to do. The doctors and nurses didn’t know either. This is uncharted territory.”
Luckily for the Spackmans, they had family in the area they were able to stay with. But this didn’t make Rex’s stay in the NICU any easier.
“Generally you can have any approved visitors anytime but now it is only one at a time, and not even in the hospital, you had to hang out in your car,” Spackman says. “We didn’t spend time together, all three of us, for two weeks.”
What frustrated Spackman most was not the changing rules or the panic to find somewhere to stay. It was her family.
“My family still went on Spring Break; they all went to Mexico,” Spackman says. “It was really hard but I had to ask my mom not to fly out to reduce the risk of spreading COVID. I didn’t even let my sister visit and she lives 45 minutes away.”
The Spackmans didn’t even have the hardest experience they knew. Another mom with a baby in the NICU wasn’t allowed to see her baby because she had a fever. This mom had to call in to the hospital to check on how her baby was doing. It hurt Emily to know that there was no one besides the nurses to hold this baby.
Erin and Bennett Worsham
Other mothers have had similar experiences. Erin Worsham had her baby on April 9th in the heat of the pandemic.
“I went to my last several appointments by myself,” Worsham says. “Each time I went to the doctor, I was greeted at the door by a nurse in a mask who asked me a series of screening questions like was I experiencing any COVID symptoms, had I been in contact with anyone who had been diagnosed or had I been out of the state in the last seven days. Then I was given some hand sanitizer and allowed to attend my appointment.”
Thankfully, Erin’s baby boy, Bennett, was born on time and with no complications but that didn’t mean Erin wasn’t without the extra stress.
“I was very sad when I found out my mom couldn’t come but very quickly I just became anxious that they would change the policy to not allow my husband to come as well,” Worsham says. “Luckily, that never happened and my husband was able to be there.”
After being stopped by a security guard who asked them similar questions to their doctor’s office, Erin and her husband were checked in. Overall, the hospital experience was pleasant, although oddly quiet as all non-essential surgeries have been postponed.
“Everyone we worked with at the hospital was very kind but everyone was wearing masks or other protective gear for the entirety of our stay,” Worsham says. “It is really odd to me looking back that I don’t really even know what any of my nurses look like since I only saw them with masks on the whole time.”
Erin’s mother was upset that she couldn’t be there for the birth of her first grandchild but Erin was able to find a way to include her, even if she wasn’t there in person.
“We FaceTimed a lot of family throughout our stay,” Worsham says. “My mom really wanted to still be part of the birth so we put her and my dad on FaceTime in the corner of the room when I was pushing so they could hear what was going on and saw the baby when he was first delivered.
The grandparents have since met baby Bennett. However, the first family member to see him was Erin’s sister-in-law who worked in the pharmacy at the hospital where he was born. While she was under strict instructions to stay away from people unless necessary, the sister-in-law had to deliver some medications to a nearby room.
“She texted us that she had to come up anyway so we were able to just open our door and hold up the baby so she could get a glance as she walked past to deliver the medication,” Worsham says. “When we look back in a few years, it will seem crazy that she could only walk by but at the time it was quite special.”
Alyssa and Luke McDonald
Another mother who gave birth during this pandemic is Alyssa McDonald. Her baby, Luke, was born March 29th, in Logan, Utah. While the baby is happy and the birth was uncomplicated, Alyssa worries most about other people as they are already starting to open up gyms and businesses.
“People here don’t seem to really care about the guidelines and social distancing,” McDonald says. “Things are closed down and you can’t really do much but so many people are still going out and not taking precautions.”
Alyssa’s situation is much like Erin’s and Emily’s. Only one support person, her husband, was allowed to be with her. And even though Luke is a happy, healthy baby boy, Alyssa is taking no chances.
“We waited two weeks after we got home to see my husband’s brother because he had just gotten home from a mission and he was traveling in an airport and was in a place where the virus was bad,” Alyssa says. “So we waited to see his whole family to be safe.”
Since then, any time family comes over to see the baby, Alyssa makes sure they wash their hands and put on hand sanitizer before holding him. Alyssa advises new mothers to take as many precautions as possible.
“Their little immune systems aren’t super strong yet and so we want to keep him as healthy as possible,” McDonald says. “You have the right to tell people no if you don’t want visitors. It’s not worth your baby getting sick.”
Taylor and Leo Shaffer
Alyssa, Emily, and Erin are first time mothers but the situation isn’t any easier for more experienced moms.
Taylor Shaffer had her second child, Leo, on March 7th—right before the pandemic. And while things were okay for her at the hospital, some doctors and nurses joked about the panic it was causing.
“We were lucky, in a way, having Leo when we did since COVID-19 hadn’t really made its mark here at that time; our experience hadn’t changed much,” Shaffer says. “From my understanding, within the next week or so, most hospitals had limited who could be in the delivery room to just one other person and visitors were not allowed.
She has noticed a major difference in follow-up appointments. They seem to go much faster and only allow one child into the hospital. This means her daughter stays home with her husband, making it hard to schedule.
“It’s an intimidating task going out in public with a newborn during this pandemic,” Shaffer says, “Since having Leo, the kids and I have really only left the house to go to appointments.”
Taylor works in Waterloo, the seat of Black Hawk County, Iowa. There have been a few outbreaks there recently. Luckily, Taylor was already set up to work from home, but her husband still has to go to work.
“We’ve been following strict hand washing procedures and have hand sanitizer on us at all times” Shaffer says. “We also just got some face masks for all of us in case we need to go out. I even put Clorox wipes in both our vehicles to wipe everything down, including the gas pump.”
Keeping the Kids Safe
Before Erin left the hospital, she and her husband asked what extra precautions they should take with a newborn. Unfortunately, all that doctors have been able to give are the general precautions for every one—stay home and wash your hands.
“It was pretty clear to me that no one really knows much about how or if the virus affects newborns or pregnant women differently,” Worsham says.
Emily did say that there was a bright side to giving birth during the quarantine: each parent had an opportunity to share alone time with their son that they otherwise would not have been able to.
“Dallin, my husband, was able to build a good bond with him since they only let one visitor in the hospital at a time,” Spackman says. “We were able to create a relationship with Rex in a safe space.”
Rex Spackman was able to come home on April 1st. During Rex’s two weeks in the hospital, Emily did a lot of crying and a lot of worrying. Since then, the family of three has been doing a lot of cuddling and a lot of bonding.
Erin shared the same sentiment. This quarantine has given the family more time to bond and get routines in place.
“I had a lot of anxiety leading up to the birth regarding hospital policies and visitor restrictions but once we got to the hospital, and since being home, I feel like I’ve really just benefited from the extra time and slow pace of today’s world,” Worsham says. “It has allowed my husband to be home instead of working to help me prepare and take care of the baby. It allowed us to have an intimate and peaceful experience at the hospital without the extra stress of visitors.”
Taylor agrees. She is trying to reach out to other mothers to enjoy the time they have with their kids.
“Take as much of this time to bond with your littles” Shaffer says. “I know it’s cliche, but they truly hit new milestones and grow so fast. You really can’t ask for a better time to soak up some family time when you aren’t supposed to go out more than necessary anyway.”
So even though these new moms had to deal with new and unique stresses due to COVID-19, all four of them have been able to find the silver lining. Rex, Leo, Luke, and Bennett are four of the newest people in this rapidly changing world and their moms are working hard to ensure they’re ready for it.
At Urban Plains, we seek to produce content that celebrates the Midwestern experience. While our staff come from all over the United States, we’ve each made a home in the rolling plains and friendly cities that make up this unique region of the country. In the coming weeks, we hope to be a place to find peace of mind during this unprecedented time. We will continue to share the stories, videos, podcasts, photos, and other content that we know you have an appetite for. Wishing good health to you all.
– UP Staff