Pandemic pregnancies: Giving birth in 2020

Three NH women talk about what it was like being pregnant and giving birth during COVID-19

Preparing for a baby can rattle the strongest nerves — even if you’ve had children before. But this spring, moms in New Hampshire and across the country were faced with being pregnant and giving birth during the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, there is no current data that shows COVID-19 affects pregnant women differently than others, but women were advised to take precautions without fully understanding the full scope of the virus and how it might affect their babies.

As hospitals across the state tightened their policies to keep mothers and newborns safe, women put on brave faces as they navigated pregnancy and postpartum recovery during an uncertain time.

Everything was different with child #4

Amanda And Gianna

Amanda Alley with her fourth child, Gianna, born May 14. courtesy photo

Amanda Alley, 33, was thrilled to learn earlier this year that her fourth child would be a girl. Mom to Agustin, 7, Lucas, 5, and Gabriel, 3, Amanda and her husband, Patrick never imagined that they’d be giving birth in the middle of a pandemic.

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu announced his first Stay at Home order soon after Alley began her last trimester.

Starting on March 14, the Rollinsford family hunkered down while Patrick still left to work at his construction job, which he mostly was able to do outside away from other people. As the concerns about the virus mounted, Alley started to worry about the birth and how she would handle recovery and child care afterward — potentially on her own.

Gianna Teresa Alley was born at Catholic Medical Center in Manchester on May 14 via a scheduled C-Section, with just her parents present at the birth. Alley credits the staff at CMC for keeping her informed about the precautions the hospital was following. She was required to be tested for COVID-19 prior to her C-section surgery. Because she tested negative, the staff had a better understanding of how handle to her delivery, she said.

Aside from not being able to leave the room, the nurses wore masks all of the time and Patrick was required to wear a mask when staff entered the room. Gianna also never left the room and did not meet her siblings until she came home two days later.

“They (at CMC) did a great job helping new parents and allowing you to have time with your baby and enjoy the days you had in the hospital,” she said.

With no family nearby, Alley, of Rollinsford, said they weren’t sure who would be able to help them during those first few weeks at home. Her parents live in New Jersey, which was a COVID-19 hotspot at the time, and Patrick’s parents live in Maryland. The midwives reassured Alley that they could figure out a way to make it work.

“One of the midwives said, see if your parents can quarantine for two weeks and then come up a week early. By the time you bring your baby home, they will have spent two weeks in New Hampshire,” she said. “Thankfully, my parents had time.”

This birth was definitely lonelier than the others the Alleys experienced.  From having a “drive-by baby shower” to not seeing friends and family, the “fourth trimester” has proven to be difficult.

“When I had Gabriel, I had people not only bringing me meals, but also coming to help me every day. I had women from church — who I had never met before — caring for my kids and folding our laundry. It was a joy for them to help me …”

“Everyone wants to step up, but there’s this invisible barrier. They are scared for their own families, and for me.”

Alley has previously suffered from postpartum depression and anxiety. She worries that first-time moms might not recognize the signs and have less access support, given concerns about the virus.

“Every time I bring home a baby, I’m a hot mess. With my first one, I wondered why he was crying. Lactation consultants have been helpful with every baby,” she said.

“I wonder how many moms are struggling with breastfeeding or postpartum depression or anxiety? I’ve been through this before and am praying for the new moms who don’t have support.”

Alley relies on her parish family at St. Ignatius and St. Mary Parish and a postpartum doula service she hired when her in-laws left, thanks to Wentworth-Douglass Hospital, which is underwriting the cost of postpartum doulas for families who need them.

Amanda is focusing her energy on the baby and transitioning into a family of six.

“It’s been really stressful, and I’ve been anxiety-ridden. I can do a pandemic, or I can do postpartum, but I can’t do both,” she said. “For me, someone who likes structure and plans, everything was taken from me. The future is unknown. Things that you think you can count on — like school starting in September — you don’t even know what that looks like.”

First-time parents

Jesse King gave birth on St. Patrick’s Day just as the coronavirus began to spread across New Hampshire. Her husband, Ormon, and her mother were able to be there for the birth of her first child, Christian, at Wentworth-Douglass Hospital in Dover.

“Christian was born literally on the day that things started to shut down…by the end of the week, the whole Seacoast was closed,” King, 34, of Exeter, said.

Christian 1

Jesse King gave birth on St. Patrick’s Day to her first child, Christian, at Wentworth-Douglass Hospital in Dover.
courtesy photo

At the end of her last trimester, King said she considered going to a birth center because she didn’t know what giving birth in a hospital might mean for the health of her baby, husband, or herself.

“Having a C-section had us in the hospital for an additional day; however, the nurses and staff at the hospital were so cautious and wonderful, you wouldn’t have known there was a deadly virus circulating outside,” she said.

The Kings have been staying home with Christian, and have kept their distance by walking in their neighborhood and visiting her parents, who live across the street.

When Christian goes to the doctor, King keeps him covered under a blanket or nursing cover and they bathe immediately after they get home. She also said she is careful to sanitize his car seat, her phone, and other objects that may have come in contact with germs.

“We are very fortunate to live across the street from my family. We made the decision to self-isolate because my husband and I had a support system to depend upon. We have had help with Christian from the day we got home and are extremely grateful to be able to have had a small group of people to share him with,” King said.

While King has been on maternity leave, she’s also been considering the health risks other children might face. As an owner of a child care facility, she’s been working hard to make sure her staff was prepared for any potential repercussions that could come along with the virus.

“The day I gave birth I had to be on the phone making decisions about when to close, how to communicate that to parents, and what our procedure would look like going forward,” she said.

During her maternity leave, King spent hours on Zoom each week and created a handbook for child care reopening procedures based on guidance from the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control, as well as the American Academy of Pediatrics. It’s been shared with centers in 30 other states to aid them in their own reopening processes, she said.

Her advice to parents giving birth is to stay focused on your baby — not the virus.

“The hospitals are doing such a great job isolating mothers and newborns from any potential exposure,” King said. “Be sure to bring your phone or tablet and a charger. FaceTime is going to be your best way to introduce your baby to people.”

Mcintosh Family

Julia and Ian McIntosh with newborn, Cyrus, and Cain, 3. Photo By Maxine Cadman Photography

A quickly changing situation

Julia and Ian McIntosh welcomed Cyrus Charles Douglas McIntosh into the world on March 5, before the state locked down. Born via C-section at Exeter Hospital, Cyrus and his family were not affected by any restrictions and he had plenty of visitors, including his grandparents, aunt, uncle and brother Cain, 3.

It wasn’t until after the Stratham family returned home that they felt the impact of the coronavirus restrictions. At McIntosh’s two-week checkup, she was not allowed to bring Ian or the baby with her. She rescheduled Cyrus’s two-week checkup to limit his exposure to the virus.

“I had to go alone to the hospital and the people in the front were doing the screening,” she said. “I didn’t yet have to wear a mask.” At her six-week follow-up appointment, masks were required.

What McIntosh, 40, missed most were some of the hospital-affiliated support groups she had joined after Cain was born. However, she used telehealth technology to receive lactation consulting. While it was helpful, McIntosh said it’s something that’s way easier to do in person.

“They make everything work (but) they can’t observe as much with the baby,” she said.

A few weeks after Cyrus arrived home, McIntosh noticed he looked small and ordered a scale. She discovered he had only gained 2 to 3 ounces in five weeks. Thankfully, her lactation consultant was able to advise her to pump every two hours, which helped Cyrus gain weight.

With family members socially distancing at home, the McIntosh family could not rely on immediate family to help them out.

“For my first child, my parents were able to help out daily. Although my husband had great parental leave, we had planned for my folks to help again this time, especially with our older kid,” she said. “I also couldn’t tap into my friends or work family for baby snuggles.”

Ian was able to take eight weeks off to help Julia, who went back to her program management job after 10 weeks of maternity leave rather than the 12 she had planned.

“At that point I wasn’t getting paid, I had been quarantined, and I was chasing children around and watching bad TV. It wasn’t like they were losing bonding time with me — both kids were still with me all day.”

Both parents are back to work full-time in their home offices, and McIntosh often juggles video calls with holding Cyrus. Her parents are now able to watch Cain a few hours each day until his child-care facility re-opens.

“I’m sure that childbirth and the ‘fourth trimester’ never go exactly how anyone expects them to — but this was truly bizarre,” she said. “There was one very special thing that came out of this for my family; we had eight full weeks of just us.”

What you can expect if you are expecting

As the state begins loosening some of its restrictions, new parents will see fewer restrictions in the delivery room, too.

But still, at Wentworth-Douglass Hospital, visitors (with the exception of your partner or doula) are not welcome, said Lyndi Sargent, CCBE, CCA, LMT, and maternal/ child resource coordinator at Wentworth Douglass Hospital.

The policy now is for all patients to be tested for COVID-19. When moms come into the hospital in active labor, they receive a rapid response test, Sargent said. If they have a planned procedure, they are required to take a test ahead of time.

“A lot of families appreciate knowing their test is negative, so they don’t have to worry about how that might affect their babies,” she said.

If moms do test positive for the coronavirus, hospital staff wear full personal protective gear, in addition to their masks. However, the nurses don’t want moms to be scared, so they’ve added their own personal touches to their PPE.

“We’ve printed large pictures of ourselves smiling so you can see what we look like behind the mask,” Sargent said. “Everyone is trying to remember what’s most important is the mom and baby we are caring for. Providing compassionate care is an important part of what we do here.”

Parents will be asked to make arrangements for someone else to care for pets and children while they stay at the hospital. They should also bring anything they need once they are admitted, such as a car seat. Sargent expects that soon siblings will be allowed to visit their new brothers or sisters in the hospital.

Resources and information for parents who are expecting

  • Centers for Disease Control (www.cdc.gov/coronavirus): Information regarding pregnancy, childbirth and caring
    for newborns during the pandemic.
  • MotherToBaby (https://mothertobaby.org/covid19): Resources pertaining to COVID-19 during pregnancy and while breastfeeding, including links to fact sheets.
  • Catholic Medical Center (www.catholicmedicalcenter.org): Online childbirth classes and information about
    giving birth during COVID-19.
  • Wentworth-Douglass Hospital (www.wdhospital.org): Online support groups, resource guide and more about
    the Seacoast Babies app.

Krysten Godfrey Maddocks is a monthly contributor to ParentingNH.

Categories: Planning for baby