Going to the hospital to have a baby is a very exciting, emotional, and sometimes stressful, venture. During a global pandemic, all those emotions drastically increase.
New moms-to-be set to give birth between late March and early May, 2020 had just two options: either stress and worry, or don’t think about it and trust that it’ll work out. Pretty much anything they thought they had planned for the birth of their 2020 child and what followed post birth, went straight out the window as soon as COVID-19 hit our shores. Hospitals were constantly changing their procedure and policies for labor and delivery, and since you don’t choose your child’s birthday, you just didn’t know which set of rules would be in force when the baby started knocking on the door, ready to emerge into what had become a crazy world.
All women have birth stories, some more fascinating than others, but none can compare to the stories of babies delivered amid the pandemic chaos. When the doctors and nurses need to consider the possibility that you’ve contracted a highly contagious and potentially deadly virus, tensions are sky high, and nothing is normal. Many of our community women had this (hopefully) once-in-a lifetime experience. Here are some of their stories.
I gave birth at NYU hospital at the height of the pandemic, on April 1, 2020. I was instructed to bring only one person to the hospital, but this was my first child, so we brought my mom along anyway, hoping they’d let her in. Long story short, they didn’t. My temperature was checked, as was my husband’s. It was still early, so there were no COVID tests available, and masks weren’t yet required.
After a grueling four hours, my son was born, and he didn’t leave my side the entire time. No nursery. My husband was allowed to stay as long as he was healthy and in the same room as us. If he would leave the room, he would have to leave the hospital and not be allowed to return. After no sleep the entire first night, my husband was worn down and had a fever. They made him leave and held me an extra day for observation.
My son’s berit was like nothing I had ever imagined it would be. Only six people attended – my husband and I, my in-laws, and my parents. My siblings were instructed to stay upstairs, and my siblings-in-law stood outside and peered in through the window. As the berit took place on the first day of Pesach, there were no pictures taken, and no Zoom for all the family and friends who should have been there.
If I had to take one lesson from this experience, it’s that you really need your mom during labor. I couldn’t control that, and if I had to choose again, I’d probably still choose my husband so he wouldn’t have to wait for me to get out of the hospital to meet his son. But nonetheless, it was hard, and I wished my mom was with me.
Lenox Hill, the hospital where I gave birth, was eerily silent on the day my daughter was born – March 18, 2020. No hallway hustle and bustle could be heard outside the delivery room door. It was truly the strangest experience. In fact, if I had to pinpoint the strangest part of giving birth during a pandemic, I’d say it was the quiet city hospital. It smelled of sanitizer, and when I had to use the restroom, I wasn’t sure if I’d be allowed to leave my room.
At that point, the pandemic was very new. They had no COVID tests for us, and masks weren’t yet required. The baby nursery was still open. Lots of precautions that were put in place for the pandemic hadn’t kicked in yet. One thing that was enforced was that only my husband could come to the delivery, and no one could visit during recovery. It was very isolating, but at the same time, I was wary of being around people because of this fast-spreading virus. I shared a room with another couple, and I remember feeling too close. Uncomfortably close. Conflicting feelings, I suppose. I just wanted my family around me, and I wasn’t able to have it that way.
My husband named our daughter himself in our home, with our family and friends joining us virtually on Zoom. What I took away from this experience is to just be happy for what I have. I spent so much quality time with her. Our bond was so tight because I couldn’t hand her off to anyone else; it was just us. In the end I saw it as something positive.
Margaret H. Mizrahi
I gave birth to my fourth child in Monmouth Medical Center on April 13, 2020. I was expecting to deliver at Lenox Hill in Manhattan, but due to the virus, I did the unheard of – I switched doctors in my final trimester. The goal was to avoid the horror stories I was hearing about the city hospitals during the pandemic. I feel it was the right decision, and Monmouth ended up being quite calm.
My husband was allowed to join me for the birth and recovery, but once he left, he wasn’t allowed back. When we arrived at the hospital, there was a tent outside, and we were asked to go into the tent to get our temperature checked and to be questioned about whether we’d been exposed to the virus. No COVID tests were given because of the shortage at the time.
We got in the hospital, and it was such an unusual experience. It was quiet, almost tranquil. Things were clearly not normal. I had to wear a mask during the entire ordeal, even during labor and birth, in which one is asked to take deep breaths. It made it even more challenging, but not as hard or scary as one might think.
Recovery was really something different. There was no nursery for the baby, so she was with me the entire time. No visitors, no nurses checking in, no one waking me up to check my vitals or take my blood. They just left me alone. I imagined how scary it would be if this was the drill when I had my first kid. Also how potentially dangerous it was. If, Gd forbid, something was wrong with a mother or a baby, no doctors would have known, because they really did not check. Of course, this also meant that they didn’t offer nursing classes or check if the baby was latching properly, which is really important for new moms. You got the vibe that they all feared their patients. What a strange time to be in a hospital.
When we took the baby home, we named her – just me and my husband. I was in my pajamas. I honestly thought this made a lot of sense, a lot more sense than business as usual. Had it been a normal year, and I had a boy, it would have been a whole expensive ordeal. I don’t see the point in throwing out thousands of dollars every time a couple has a boy. And besides for the money, a new mom just had major surgery, has a highly dependent newborn, and is then expected to plan an elaborate event in eight days. It’s just so hard and can feel really unfair. This was a relief, a huge thing off my chest. No big social gathering, no pressure.
I gave birth to my second child, a boy, in Maimonides Medical Center on April 2, 2020. Like most hospitals during the pandemic, Maimonides was only allowing one person to be present for the birth. I understand why most people chose their spouse or mother to join them, but I chose my sister. My reasoning was that if I was going to be in a compromised state with a newborn, I don’t want my husband or my mother catching COVID.
I walked into the hospital with a full hazmat suit on. I wasn’t taking any chances during that crazy time. It was right at the beginning of COVID, and we knew nothing, just that it was highly contagious and people were dying. When I wasn’t wearing hazmat suits, I was constantly sanitizing my hands.
Unfortunately, Maimonides does not offer private rooms for postpartum recovery, so I had to share. After the birth, my sister had to leave, and I was on my own. I instructed the nurses not to bring me my baby for the duration of our stay. The nursery was open, and I thought he’d be more protected from COVID there. I felt judged, but I was doing what I thought was best for my baby.
I’m not sure I can blame this on COVID, but at one point I was in pain and had to wait four hours for someone to finally bring me Tylenol. I was alone with no one to advocate for me. Fortunately, I was sent home early; they weren’t requiring the usual two-night stay.
The best part, perhaps, about this whole ordeal was not having to plan a berit during recovery. The berit was on Pesach, with just me, my husband and the mohel. For months, my husband and I couldn’t agree on a sandak, so this experience really taught me that you can’t plan. My husband ended up being the sandak, because he was the only one there…
During my past pregnancies, leading up to the due date I would stock up on what I might need for the baby. I prepare the nursery and a hospital bag. This is called “nesting.” Nesting in 2020 took on a completely different identity. Instead of choosing paint colors and layette, we were stocking the freezer with meat, and the linen closet with toilet paper and diapers. My husband and I both felt the urge to nest in this exact same way. I thought it was funny, but also appropriate.
Having had bad experiences in the hospital where I’ve delivered in the past, I switched doctors for this pregnancy to be able to deliver in Staten Island. Little did I know at the time how this really saved me. If the hospital I’d gone to in the past was rough pre-COVID, I didn’t want to find out what it was like during…
My due date was May 6th, and I gave birth the very next day. Leading up to the birth, I was very stressed out knowing I’d be required to mask up. At the time we had just started wearing masks, and I didn’t know the difference between breathable masks and, well, non-breathable ones. So basically, I bought a cute mask to bring to the hospital, not taking into account the number one thing: whether I can breathe in it. And the answer to that question that didn’t occur to me, was no. I could not breathe well in it, but I thought that this is just what masks are. To this day, I won’t wear it to even run into a store for ten minutes, because it’s my least breathable mask. You live and learn…
They took a temperature check when I signed in, and then a COVID test in the delivery room. The COVID test was so painful – it felt like the stick went so far up my nose it poked my brain! It almost bothered me more than labor pains…almost…
The hospital hallways were nearly empty. I remember thinking that I liked it this way. It was far more peaceful. I recall nurses in the other hospital having loud conversations in the hallways and waking me up, and once again I felt lucky to not be there. The bed next to me in recovery remained empty for the duration of my stay. My husband was told he could stay if he didn’t leave my side. The minute he stepped foot out of the recovery room, he would have to exit the premises and not return. This actually worked to my advantage, because the nursery was closed and someone had to take care of the baby that night. I was grateful to my husband for taking the night shift and letting me rest.
I gave birth to a girl on Thursday. While I was focused on her and recovering, my husband was planning a super intimate kiddush in our house Shabbat morning. Just our parents and siblings were invited. We notified everyone that masks were required, and only grandparents with gloves could hold the baby. My husband left me in the hospital Friday morning to prep the house for the kiddush and to buy what we needed. He picked me up that afternoon, and they took so long with the discharge that I got in the shower just minutes before Shabbat.
I could not believe my husband named our baby in our home with just a siddur in hand. I still sometimes have doubts, like, is she really named? Just kidding, but really… Anyway, the kiddush was intimate, and I enjoyed it so much. We hadn’t seen our siblings in months, and it was nice to be together.
Healthy mom, healthy baby. That’s what we always pray for, and that’s what’s important. These birth stories are unique, different from those of any other time in modern history, and deserve to be documented. With modern medicine advancing at the speed of light and new vaccines rolling out around the world, we look forward to healthier and happier times – and births!