Pregnancy & Birth in the Time of Corona

Pregnancy & Birth in the Time of Corona

Three women. Three babies. Three stories of trial and triumph.

The Rich family: from left, Kayla, Lily, Michael, Jacob holding Landon, Stephanie and Connor. (Stefanie Diamond)
The Rich family: from left, Kayla, Lily, Michael, Jacob holding Landon, Stephanie and Connor. (Stefanie Diamond)

Stephanie Rich, Jaclyn Rosler, and Maya Engler share with Our Children
the story of their children and their journeys during this past year of corona. Their stories are a testament to the courage and strength of motherhood.

Stephanie Rich

Already raising four children under 6 and working outside her Englewood home in the family business, Stephanie Rich learned that baby number five was on the way in early February 2020.

Of course, it was very exciting for her to think about adding another baby to her young family – husband, Michael, and children Jacob, now 7, Kayla, 6, Lily, 4, and Connor, 2.

But not too long after she learned about her good news, the newspapers began publishing articles about a new virus, covid-19 and how it was predicted to wreak uncertainty in all spheres.

“I was excited about the baby,” said Stephanie, 32, “but I was reading all these things that made me uncertain about what was going to be. How are you going to give birth if they weren’t allowing husbands into the hospital? And other things. You really didn’t know what to think.”

By mid-March, the world took a sudden turn.

Her nanny left. The family business Skyframe, a frame and display company based in Hillsdale and Manhattan, closed, the three older children who attend The Moriah School were now at home, as was Michael, a senior manager of digital experience at the NJ Devils Prudential Center.

“When it first hit, we closed (the business) for a month on March 18. I was working from home. And we started manufacturing face masks, face shields and other PPE. We did plexiglass barriers. We already had fabric and we did acrylic and plexiglass. We just added to the business. Galleries weren’t having shows, that’s how we survived during that time.”

Without a nanny and without her network of family, parents and in-laws who were always giving them a hand with the kids, Stephanie and Michael, both working from home, were left to manage their young brood themselves.

“I was trying to figure out how to get food, how to do the shopping, how to get the kids on Zoom at different times. It was definitely a challenge. A part of you tries to block it out because it was so hard that you can’t even believe you ever went through it.”

What else began to happen was a kind of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Her son, Connor, their fourth child, was unexpectedly discovered to have a heart condition shortly after his birth. It required extra hospitalization, surgery and resulted in tremendous stress and worry for his health.

“I had some sort of PTSD from what happened to him (Connor) because it was really scary and unexpected. The pregnancy was okay throughout and then I had what seemed like a healthy and perfect baby boy. But then he wasn’t totally healthy. So, I felt like I was going through the unexpected again. I was worried that if there was an issue again (with this baby) where would we go? How would it be? Would anyone visit? Would my family come and help us with the other children? All these thoughts just ran through my mind.

“In general, we definitely were more afraid for everyone. You rely so much on your family and your community to help and then you don’t have anyone to rely on anymore. That was hard. I’m used to a lot of help. And when it disappeared, I was like, now what?”

What happened is that Stephanie and Michael hunkered down. And something else happened.

“This is the first time that me and my husband said that we felt like we were really parenting. You have a babysitter help, you have the grandparents who come and chauffeur kids around, but it was the first time that it was up to us to get them on to school, make their food, clean up everything.

“It was hard and challenging, but it was the first time we felt like we were parenting our own children. Normally, you expect the whole village, per se, to help raise your children.”

The result?

“I felt closer to the children. I got to know them better as people. I used to say, ‘I have to do this’ like it was a burden. But now I say that ‘I get to do these things.’ I’m happy to do those things and I feel blessed to have the opportunity to do them.”

They also became very creative in making sure that the kids were occupied, happy, healthy and learning.

“We bought every activity to do on Amazon. We had them put on their bathing suits and do a pool party in the bathtub. We would have them do science experiments. We did all this stuff to make it through.

On October 13, 2020 Landon was born.

Stephanie had taken a covid test days before and again one when she went to Englewood Health to give birth.

“It was strange because I knew I wasn’t going to have any visitors,” she said. But luckily, at the time, Michael was allowed to go in and out of the hospital.

Another different experience was Landon’s bris.

With her first son, Jacob, they made a big bris at their shul, Congregation Ahavath Torah. For Connor, who had gone through a medical travail, there was also a big party.

For Landon it was an at-home ceremony with the mohel, her siblings, parents and in-laws.

“It was the first time I did a bris on Zoom,” said Stephanie. “The good part is that you can invite the world. There is no issue about the numbers.”

But there were some technical snafus, which added to the unusualness.

Still, the mitzvah was the mitzvah, she said.

And what has been the upshot of this whole experience?

“I don’t take anything for granted,” she said. “Even with technology how dependent we are. You learn that you are totally capable even when things are hard, you are able to do them. Even when you are used to relying on other people or the school, you learn you are totally capable.

“I was happy and proud that I was able to provide everything for my kids. I felt I got closer to them and closer to my husband. We’ve always been a good team, but if anything, this has made us stronger. It’s such a challenging time for so many people. Once you get through certain things, you think you can make it through anything.

“It’s a privilege and a blessing to be a mother.”

The Rosler family, from left, Max, Andrew, Jaclyn holding Stella (Stefanie Diamond)

Jaclyn Rosler

Imagine being newly pregnant in your first trimester, caring for your toddler son who was a little more than 1 year old, living in your mother’s home because your own house was under construction, and then your husband, a health care professional, contracts covid.

That is what happened to Jaclyn Rosler.

“It was right around Purim when I found out I was pregnant,” said Rosler, 30, of Teaneck. “Our house was under construction and we were living with my mom. I didn’t tell her I was pregnant until much later. I didn’t tell anyone except for my husband, Andrew. And then, a week later in mid-March he was diagnosed with covid because he’s a paramedic for Jersey City Medical Center.”

Andrew was sick for about two weeks. He stayed in a separate bedroom, and Jaclyn brought his meals and left them outside the door. Andrew only emerged to use the bathroom, which they would wipe down furiously after each use.

Those were the nascent and scary days of covid when there were no people in the streets, no toilet paper on the shelves, and no real information about this mercurial and menacing virus. That was the backdrop to what was going on in her house as Jaclyn had a life – her daughter, Stella who was born on Nov. 23, 2020 – growing inside.

“It was hard,” Jaclyn said, who was also working as a teacher from home. “I was on Zooms, creating curriculum and teaching. I definitely had my hands full. I had my son, Max, at home and I was trying to entertain him. I was trying to balance my teaching and trying to take care of my sick husband, all while dealing with my first trimester and feeling nauseous, tired, not well and overwhelmed.”

How did she manage?

“Honestly, I have no idea,” she said. “I think about it now and it’s insane. I was home with a toddler. My husband had covid and I was pregnant in my first trimester. No one knew. I’m not the type of person who would ask for help. I’m not the type of person who would admit that I need help. I don’t know. I’m the type of person to tough it out. Suck it up and do my best.”

Jaclyn didn’t venture out except for a lone trip to ShopRite before Passover, double masked and gloved with hand sanitizer nearby.

“We had everything delivered. Cosco. Or my in-laws would come over with groceries.”

Her outings were limited to visits with her doctor in Jersey City.

“My doctor is in Jersey City,” Jaclyn said. “It was the only time that I would leave the house. There was no one in the doctor’s office when I was there. It felt very weird being out in public, walking around, especially at the beginning. Everyone in the doctor’s office was masked and taking precautions. The seats were blocked off in the waiting room so you couldn’t sit near anyone.”

The hardest part of her visits?

“They said no spouses,” she said. “That was a big thing because with my son, Andrew went to every single doctor’s appointment and every single ultrasound. He was always present. But with my daughter, he wasn’t allowed.”

She said it was difficult for Andrew who couldn’t share in the bonding of his soon-to-be-born daughter as he had for his son.

“It was like, I was pregnant, but it was hard for Andrew to have that connection that begins with seeing that first ultrasound,” she said.

Andrew was allowed to join Jaclyn at her final doctor’s appointment, and of course, he was with her when they went to the hospital, Jersey City Medical Center.

“Andrew was there from the start to the finish. We were brought into the room and he didn’t leave. We were confined to the room. I went into labor on Nov. 22 at night and gave birth Nov. 23 in the morning. We stayed in the hospital for two days. My mother-in-law was with my son at the house.”

After being tested for covid (she was negative) and then being shepherded to her room, she said the sight of masks seemed kind of normal.

“I don’t think being masked is such a different thing, especially in a hospital. Everyone is being masked and it is not a big deal. Doctors and nurses are wearing masks, especially when they are doing procedures.”

She and Andrew were able to unmask when they were alone in the room but put it on when the doctors or nurses came in the room.

“I think the anticipation of everything is far worse. You think, ‘Oh, I’m going to give birth during covid and nobody is allowed to visit. It’s going to be awful. We will have to wear masks.’ But what happens is actually very different than what you think will happen. There is more anxiety and more stress when thinking about it than what really happens.”

Now at home with her family, the Roslers are still very careful, especially because Andrew works as a paramedic. To protect her family, they stick to a strict routine when Andrew comes home. His shoes come off. Uniform comes off in the laundry room and he takes a shower before greeting his wife and kids.”

“We set up that consistent routine, just to make sure that we are being cautious to limit our exposure,” Jaclyn said.

Jaclyn said. the most challenging part of her pregnancy wasn’t early on when her husband was sick with covid and she was beginning her pregnancy.

The most difficult part was not being with her extended family.

“Not being able to have the support of my entire family and my (three older) sisters and celebrate with them when my daughter was born, that was the most challenging part. “I think that not having your family is hard. They live close but we’re not in the same household. So, we don’t see each other. I haven’t seen one of my sisters for a year. It’s hard.”

But her joy and appreciation has now grown with her growing family.

“The best part of all this was being able to be home. I spent a lot of time with my son and my husband that I wouldn’t have been able to spend because I was working, and my son was in daycare. Now I’m home my son and daughter.

“Being home is something I don’t take for granted and I really do enjoy it. Unfortunately, the circumstance that come with it are not enjoyable, but I do enjoy being home with both my kids

“Would I have chosen to have a baby during covid? I don’t know. I was pregnant before covid started. It all worked out, thank God. We’re all healthy and we’re good. It is something that we are faced with. We have to manage and deal with what we are given. We adapt to the situation. That is what I did.”

The Engler kids, from left, Zoe, Liam, Jordan and Romy on lap. (Stefanie Diamond)

Maya Engler

Maya Engler was into the second trimester of her pregnancy when the coronavirus pandemic hit. But she already was on her own lockdown due to her debilitating hyperemesis gravidarum, a condition of severe nausea, vomiting, weight loss and dehydration.

“I was incredibly, incredibly sick,” said Maya, 32, now a mother of four – Liam, 6, Zoe, 3, Jordan, 2, and baby Romy, born August 6, 2020. “I was on disability and on a PICC line at home with home health services and getting intravenous fluids. The hyperemesis gravidarum kicked in in late January. I was on my own lockdown because I was bedridden, and I wasn’t moving. I had a nurse come in to change my IV and give me fluids.”

Just as Maya was beginning to feel better, “the world got sick.”

“About a week before everything shut down because of corona, I was finally feeling better. Not great, but I didn’t need the IV anymore. I remember we went to the hospital and things were already a little weird there. I remember being very surprised when the doctor shook my hand, and I remember my husband, Matthew, saying, ‘Are we shaking hands still?’ It wasn’t busy, but it was getting weird. We had to wait to come into the hospital. They wanted to make sure we had not traveled at all. I was finally feeling a little back to life and then life shut down. I would have gone back to my school (she is the communications director at Torah Academy of Bergen County), but my school closed.”

Thus, began Maya’s emergence and then submergence again during her fourth pregnancy.

Maya said that had this been her first pregnancy, “I think I would have been beside myself trying to navigate this at such a crazy time. But luckily I kind of knew the drill of pregnancy.”

Maya and Romy

Still, what was going on in the world was deeply affecting her.

“It was not just the pandemic,” she said, “but the political climate and everything else that was going on in the world. It kind of felt like doomsday. I think the hardest thing was worrying about the unknown, health-wise. If I got it (covid), will the baby be okay? What would labor and delivery be like? I remember talking about it with my family and they thought by August all would be fine. I was hearing about the wives going into labor and their husbands aren’t there, and they were doing it alone, and I was very concerned about that.”

Describing herself as a person who worries and feels anxious, Maya said that “her anxiety was heightened by the combination of all the medicine I had to take when I was so sick in the beginning coupled with my emotions and my constant heart-racing anxiety. Every appointment where we got a healthy heartbeat, I was so relieved because I didn’t feel well emotionally or physically.

There were a lot of new routines.

Visits to the doctor were different. While Matthew didn’t typically go with her to every appointment, it was different now. She had to wait in the car until she was called for the appointment to see a doctor at Comprehensive Women’s Care in Englewood. Once in, there was a protocol of temperatures taken, questionnaires filled out. The visits that were more spaced. She got seen right away.

“This aspect wasn’t bad because you used to wait for a while in the doctor’s office, but everything was running like a well-oiled machine,” she said.

Like so many others when it came to shopping “at the very beginning we were getting our groceries delivered and wiping them down. spraying the bags and leaving our Amazon packages on the doorstep for two days before they could come to the house because we thought they could all live on surfaces, so we were not going out,” said Maya, who lives in Teaneck.

It was also the first time she made Passover by herself. “I’d never done it. I started sending my husband out to go masked and gloved and all that, but I hadn’t gone out. I emerged for the first time in May or June when it got warmer. I said to my husband, ‘is it weird that I’m going to go inside with a mask?’ He said, ‘No everyone is wearing a mask.’ I hadn’t seen everyone else masked and how normal it was.”

Things seemed to lighten up in the summer. The family visited Maya’s mother, who lives a block away in Teaneck. They would hang out in the backyard.

Her labor – like her other pregnancies – came about two weeks early. Familiar with labor and not wanting to spend too much time in the hospital, she called her doctor who advised her to come in when she thought best. She took a nap and then she and Matthew went to Englewood Health.

She got a covid test when she got to the hospital.

“Usual for these times, everyone was masked. They took our temperature, and we were escorted up. At that point they were allowing spouses to come and go, which now they are not doing. (If spouses go they can’t leave they can’t come back). Once I had the baby, he could go and get me food or go and check on the kids. Once we checked into the hospital, I had her within two hours. It was a natural birth.

“I had to labor in a mask. Honestly when you were in labor, it was the last thing on your mind. I didn’t even remember I was wearing one. Her delivery was unlike any other in so far as the circumstances. It felt very quiet. Things were just quiet. It was nice, if anything. There were so many other horrible things happening in other parts of the hospital that this was a happy place and a nice place to be.”

Maya who delivered 8-pound Romy (her biggest baby!) at 6:27 p.m. on Thursday, had to stay over through Shabbat because the doctors needed to monitor the baby for a full 24 hours because of an issue. “That was lonely. I really didn’t have a choice. Matthew was with the kids.”

Also difficult was that once she came home with the baby, Maya couldn’t share the celebration of Romy’s birth with her family.

“She couldn’t see her family. She couldn’t be held by her grandparents. And that for me was the hardest part I have a big family. I’m one of six kids. Normally we would all descend on my mother’s house and celebrate her, but we couldn’t do any of that. Some of my siblings have only seen her once. But it’s amazing that she still knows when someone is smiling at her. She can tell by their eyes. She will smile,” she said.

Maya is also celebrating that she survived her debilitating illness in the beginning of her pregnancy – and appreciates the gift she got at the end.

“My illness was so bad that the pandemic felt like a cakewalk,” Maya said. “I had to go through this severe illness at the beginning, and then the world got sick. I did go through a lot at the beginning, but at least I got a great baby at the end of it. Not everybody had that luxury. It puts things into perspective.”

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