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As hospitals across the US are overwhelmed with patients who have COVID-19 and with little known about the effects of the coronavirus on fetuses, many people are facing new and unimaginable anxieties about the health of their pregnancy. These challenges became a reality for my wife and me during the birth of our first baby, Diego Julian Sanchez, born on April 19 in New York City, the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the US.
From the beginning of the pregnancy, we knew that we couldn't control the circumstances of how this baby would come into the world. We understood that each pregnancy brings its own unique challenges and joys — and we decided early on that whatever happened, we were along for the ride. But as cases of COVID-19 grew exponentially in the area we lived, it became clear to us that whatever expectations we did have were quickly dissolving into the shocking reality of delivering our baby during a pandemic.
Kelly was 8 months pregnant when New York City first enacted its shelter-in-place order to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. In the days that followed, we lived every moment of every day with the fear of contracting the virus and the concern of what that would mean for the pregnancy. “I wasn’t expecting to deal with the mental stress of the unknown," Kelly said. "The economic uncertainty, the idea of going into labor in a hospital that was treating COVID positive patients, and thinking about risks that a simple sonogram appointment in the city could bring took a huge mental toll on me. I was crying every other day while having to deal with this new normal.”
Four weeks before our baby’s due date, Kelly became ill with symptoms of HELLP syndrome, a rare form of preeclampsia that can be fatal for the mother if the baby is not delivered immediately. After rushing Kelly to Mount Sinai’s maternity ward, medical personnel in full personal protective equipment (PPE) quickly stabilized her and began preparing for an emergency cesarean section. Kelly was tested upon arrival for COVID-19 and cleared of the disease before her surgery, but my test was held up due to a clerical error, and because of this, I was asked to leave the hospital immediately after delivery. Four days passed before I saw my wife again and was able to hold my child for the first time.
As Kelly recovered in the hospital, the emotional and physical toll of an emergency delivery was made worse by the absence of a support person. “To me, this was the hardest part of the entire situation," she said. "It was emotionally draining to not have my husband there. I think the nurses and the staff did as much as they could, but things appeared very strained as they tried to keep babies with their moms as much as possible and keep everybody separated. Because I had such a hard delivery, it made it incredibly difficult to take care of my own baby without my husband to help."
Parents and relatives who planned to be there when the baby arrived could only send their love via FaceTime, and while the medical staff were kind and offered tremendous support, thick layers of PPE and face masks obscured their smiles and created an air of anxiety. In the hallway, the Beatles song “Here Comes the Sun” was continuously playing to signal the discharge of a healed COVID-19 patient. "This was a constant reminder to me that the hospital was also dealing with COVID and that I could possibly be exposed to the virus while I was there."
Today, I am so grateful that Kelly and Diego are safe and healthy at home — for this, we owe a great deal of gratitude to the work of the caring medical staff in Mount Sinai’s maternity ward. “As strained and abnormal as the situation was, the staff gave me a lot of emotional support and kept reminding me that the things were going to be OK," Kelly said. "This was the most trying experience of my life, but at the same time it showed me the strength I have as a mother. It reminded me that you have to take life one day at a time and try not to overwhelm yourself with unknowns and worst-case scenarios."
These pictures offer a glimpse into what it’s like to give birth during this extraordinary moment in history.