My cousin Elana received the happy news she was pregnant with twin girls before any of us ever had heard of COVID-19… but as she came closer to her due date, the Brooklyn hospital where she would deliver became overrun with coronavirus cases. This is her story in her words, of a pandemic pregnancy, delivery, and ultimately, her baby girls’ arrival home.
The transience of all things can be a source of both light and darkness. In bleak times as we are in now, where the end of this pandemic is not within our sight, the reminder of this impermanence has become a beacon of light in the impossibly thick darkness. This notion that this is all temporary helped me throughout my pandemic pregnancy, NICU stay, and as my husband and I brought newborns home — all during the height of the COVID-19 epidemic in New York City.
We became pregnant in August 2019, a beautiful year, and were looking ahead to another wonderful year in 2020.. or so we thought. On Valentine’s weekend, almost the entire family was around for my babies’ shower; I felt so much love. Little did I know it would be the last time I would see anyone for a very long time.
As March approached and I rounded my third trimester, things turned upside down. I had scares of twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome at the same time coronavirus began to spread. I saw multiple doctors, some who gave the worst case scenario of ‘”clipping” one of the babies to save the other. The last thing I needed at that moment was a worldwide pandemic. Of course this is such a selfish way of looking at things, but in that moment, I felt my world caving in. I was drowning, but still had to put on a happy face and go to work singing (that’s my job as a music teacher).
Then, two weeks after I was put on bed rest, I ended up in the hospital. I was 31 weeks along, and it seemed likely the twins might come sooner than we thought. Within hours of my stay, with cases of COVID-19 rising rapidly, all of the nurses and doctors in the hospital were given masks with face shields to protect themselves; they were angry and made fun of them, seeing the measures as overly cautious. We didn’t know then how imperative these materials would be for their lives. I felt safe still, and taken care of, and my husband was at my side.
I went home for a brief stint, but the following week, my doctors decided the babies were still in distress, and needed to be delivered via C-section. When we arrived back at the hospital, the doctors and nurses all remembered us, even with our masks on. They laid down ground rules: my husband could stay with me from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m., and while no one mentioned whether he would be able to be present for the delivery, it seemed positive in general. I tried to take everything moment by moment, and not allow anxiety to settle in.
The next morning, I was starved and about to bite into my hospital pancakes, when the nurse stopped me and said the C-section would be happening that day. My husband wasn’t there yet, and no other visitors were allowed at all. My parents weren’t even in the same state, and wouldn’t be for a very long time, and while my in-laws were nearby, they might as well have been miles and miles away. Panic rose, and I tried to hold onto the peace and calm that I knew was somewhere inside of me.
When my husband arrived, it was a waiting game. We kept asking if he would be able to come into delivery, but no one knew, as the nurses were given changes on policy every five hours. The anticipation of the surgery was one thing, but not knowing whether he could be with me brought it to a whole new level. Late that afternoon, I was still waiting, and my doctor came to tell us that I would be brought down shortly, but my husband would not be allowed into the delivery room.
Our hearts broke into a million pieces. Worse still, my husband couldn’t be in the recovery room after the delivery either. My jaw dropped. This was just cruel. I needed him. I needed his hand to hold.
As hard as it was to accept, I understood that the doctors and nurses were risking their lives to be there. The coronavirus is impossible. No one knows if they are a carrier. We had been in and out of the hospital many times already, and I hated that I understood why these rules were in place. I hated that I almost agreed with them. Almost. I was sad for us, and sad for our babies. They would not be held by their parents for hours. After the trauma of being born, they’d be taken away from us, because they were so premature.
At 7 p.m. that evening, the hospital staff told my husband he had to leave, and I would be brought into the operating room. He noticed the waiting room filled with people, and with no way to socially distance, he sat in the car and stayed there until after the babies were delivered.
As for me, I was surrounded by amazing medical professionals. My anesthesiologist was my quasi support person, making sure to play my music and stay near my head during the surgery to talk to me. I was relieved that they let me play my music, which started with chanting meditations.
As the girls were being removed from my body, I chanted the same meditation that I say at the end of my daily yoga practice. The doctor held up Baby Mirabella, and I felt a happiness unlike any I’ve ever felt. A minute later, Baby Delilah wailed and smacked the plastic partition that separated us. Her sound was the sweetest sound, and I tried so hard to memorize it. I wanted to be able to share that with my husband; he wanted to hear their first sounds.
As the pediatricians assessed the girls, “Something” played, and I felt my husband with me. My playlist continued with my Beatles music to bring the energy up, and as “Good Day Sunshine” wafted through the room, my girls were brought close to my face so I could see them. The anesthesiologist took pictures for me to send to my husband. Tears streamed down my face from pure happiness, yet there was a bittersweet tinge because I didn’t share these moments with the one person who should have been there.
In the recovery room, I didn’t have my husband. I was alone in a cold room, unable to move half of my body. Bach’s cello suite No. 5 and Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” gave me some comfort. The first person I saw was the lactation consultant – not my husband, not my parents, not my family. After an hour, my husband was able to help bring me upstairs to my room, then forced to leave after ten minutes.
A day later, my doctor tried to convince me to leave the hospital (my daughters would remain in the NICU), but I was in the most pain I’ve ever felt, and I knew my body wasn’t ready. Why the pressure? There were concerns anyone could be asymptomatic and spreading the virus: my roommate, a nurse, someone else’s visitor. It simply was safer at home. My husband described how admittance into the hospital had become more intense, with screening procedures, and once inside, he would see equipment piled in the hallways to make space for COVID patients. All of the maternity patients were moved slowly into one small area of the hospital.
In the meantime, Mirabella and Delilah were in two different rooms in the NICU. We washed hands upon entering, seeing our tiny babies with tubes in and enclosed in an incubator, a difficult situation under normal circumstances.
Once I was home, it was difficult to go back and forth to the hospital. We suited up to go outside, and as we entered the hospital covered with mask and gloves, our temperatures were taken, and we were asked questions. ‘”Have you been feeling ill? Have you been around anyone who is sick? Have you left the country, and visited China, Italy or Iran? Is anyone in your family suffering with COVID-19?”
Then, when we arrived home from visits to see our girls, we stripped down, and sprayed disinfectant on all of our clothes before putting them in a plastic bag to be washed. My husband cleaned our masks with alcohol, and then we both took hot showers before we actually felt we had arrived home. It was exhausting, but we began to get accustomed to our new routine.
Within four days, the policy changed again. Now, we could no longer do kangaroo holding, or skin-to-skin, or breastfeed. At least though, we could hold them while they were all wrapped up. Then, days later, the policy became even stricter. We cried again. As it stands, now only mothers can visit, and they must be in a gown, mask and gloves the entire time – and they only can visit three days of the week.
Only a week after giving birth, I could hardly touch my babies, and couldn’t see them every day. The helplessness was overwhelming, not only for me, but for my husband too. He could no longer see the girls at all. I felt so heavy. While I knew I should meditate, I felt so far away from the tools I knew to help me cope. Instead, I cried. I wallowed. And I called the nurses constantly for updates. Finally, on the 16th day in the NICU, we got the call the twins could leave the hospital.
On April 11, they arrived home. Everything in our apartment had been cleaned and disinfected for their arrival, and we jumped right into parent mode. Our little bundles are so sweet, and we’re grateful now for the time spent in the NICU that taught us so much. Yet, as wonderful as it was, sleep deprivation sank in soon, and the exhaustion from recovery, feeding, pumping, burping hit me like a ton of bricks. I wished we had some help. Our families call us enough, but even the calls are draining.
Now it’s mid-May, and we have settled into an inconsistent routine. We hardly leave the house. Perhaps this is true for any parent of newborns, but with the pandemic, the fear of our babies being exposed heightens it to an astronomical degree.
The difficulty of not seeing family still hurts, and though we are happy to be just the four of us, how cruel is it to not have your babies feel the heartbeat of their grandfather and the soft caress of a grandmother’s hand on their cheeks? The mantra I repeat is this will all pass, and will be behind us someday. The girls eventually will be held by their grandparents, and showered with hugs and kisses from their other relatives. Just yesterday, we walked outside of my brother’s apartment building only blocks away, and spoke to my nephew, sitting above us on their terrace. “I miss you,” he said. “I love you. I wish you could come over.” Tears welled in my eyes and my heart; don’t we all feel the same way right now?
Today, I think again about the impermanence of this time in our lives, and focus on remaining calm. As I reflect on the experiences during this pandemic, I am so grateful for the times I’ve had with the ones I love before all of this. I am elated too to be home with my husband and babies, and excited to share them via video calls and photos.
I am a proud mama of two amazing girls who happened to arrive during the greatest epidemic we’ve experienced in our lifetime. I am stronger and more powerful than I could have imagined because of my pandemic pregnancy, and therefore grateful for this horrific experience, because it’s teaching me about my own abilities in the face of so much adversity.
Read more on how to keep long-distance grandparents close during quarantine.