Mothers of pandemic babies in Anchorage remember isolation, anxiety and deep resolve

Part of a series. The Anchorage Daily News and the Anchorage Museum collaborate to Neighbors: Stories from Anchorage’s Pandemic Years. We collect stories and give residents the opportunity to share experiences of the last two years. We would love to hear from you. E-mail [email protected].

It was five days before Anchorage closed in March 2020, in a room at Providence Alaska Medical Center, when Tiffany Hall says she first understood what it meant to be a mother.

She was in labour, having a baby as a bachelor. The pain filled her with dread. Exhaustion clouded his thoughts. Friends had tickets to Anchorage to help out, but COVID grounded them and made the world upside down and scary. Hall was only allowed two people in the room besides hospital staff: a doula and her sister Lisa. She told Lisa she couldn’t go on.

“I know,” said her sister. Then Hall looked around at the nurses and the doula. Everyone had been there before.

“They were all like, ‘Yeah, that’s it, sister,'” Hall said.

Hall had a burst of motivation. The pandemic had filled everything with uncertainty, but little Margaret showed up anyway.

Some parts of motherhood are sojourn, especially in the beginning, with pregnancy, childbirth, certain middle of the night scenes that only a mother knows, like when she’s beyond tired, breastfeeding in the dark. You can’t anticipate the courage needed until you find yourself in the middle with no choice. Some women who gave birth to pandemic babies in Anchorage hospitals say their transition into motherhood has been calmer, more difficult, more anxious and lonelier. They also say coping with all the uncertainty clarified priorities, strengthened bonds with family and showed them that they were more capable than they imagined.

“These women, they had to dig deep and keep digging deep to get through something difficult,” said Natalie Ward, an obstetrician at the Anchorage Women’s Clinic. “You know that courage is not the absence of fear, right? It’s being scared to death and doing it anyway. The pandemic has made us do this in multiple areas, but especially by becoming mothers.

Ward said the biggest change brought about by the pandemic was isolation, especially during childbirth. The policy of limiting the number of people attending births reduced the risk, but the isolation that came with it created other challenges. Lack of childcare has also been a problem.

“People who had toddlers at home, and especially those who have been here and don’t have family in the area, have had a very difficult time figuring out what to do with their grandkids when it’s time to go. ‘have a baby,’ she said. “So we brought in mothers where the father didn’t come for the birth but stayed home to take care of the other children. They may have come to give birth alone, which is not usual.

Alaska’s seven-day rate of new cases per 100,000 is still high, but it has fallen from the fifth-highest in the nation to 10th in the past week. The three Anchorage hospitals continue to limit the number of birth attendants to two, according to their websites. Earlier in the pandemic, when cases were increasing, hospitals limited that number to one.

Before scientists fully understood the disease, even Ward isolated herself, separated from her husband and four children. Decisions about vaccinations and worry about getting sick have stressed his patients in new ways. She found that women more often came alone to appointments. They were also more often alone in tragic situations, such as when a baby had no heartbeat during a CT scan. She called the pandemic a magnifying glass for everything that comes with transitioning into motherhood. It made the hard parts more difficult and also when the women arrived it increased the joy.

“All of this life through a pandemic has really sharpened our focus on so many things,” she said.

Elana Habib was a very social person before the pandemic. She met her partner five months later and got pregnant unexpectedly, which they both welcomed. All of this pushed her to withdraw into herself, she said, which was rewarding and necessary. Pregnancy and the pandemic have connected and refocused them, she said. They both wanted to start a family.

“Honestly, my experience of being pregnant during COVID has been amazing because I didn’t have to be around people judging me. I mean, I don’t know if you’ve been pregnant, but it’s crazy” , did she say.

It was also lonely. He missed spending Christmas with his family. Her partner and father came when she was born, with a rotating doula due to the two-person limit.

“My mother was also in town, but we had to end up in the hospital for five days because of a caesarean section,” she said. “I think it was hard on the family because, you know, we didn’t know when I was going to have a baby and so my mom was in town for quite a while without seeing us.”

Katie Cueva gave birth in August 2021. She missed the community and the ceremony of having an in-person baby shower, she said. But, she liked working remotely on Zoom because she could choose whether or not to tell her colleagues about her pregnancy. Remote work has also made things easier after giving birth. Cueva gave birth in the hospital with only a doula and hospital staff. The sense of accomplishment afterwards was incredible.

“The nurse was amazing. My midwives were amazing. Turns out my body is amazing too,” she said.

COVID has complicated the time directly after birth for many women as well. Visits to the doctor and lactation consultant often happened via Zoom.

“My lactation consultant was on the phone while, like, I have Margaret in one hand, my phone kind of tucked away somewhere, my breast in another hand,” Hall said.

Hall’s parents moved in with her for a time after she gave birth. Her own mother helped her hold the phone during this appointment with the lactation consultant. Many women said they depended heavily on their parents, especially their mothers.

Ty Roberts, a longtime doula, said the pandemic has put a damper on important support for women before, during and after birth. Many women could not use doulas during their pandemic pregnancy and childbirth due to limitations. Because they didn’t have that relationship in place, they didn’t use them after giving birth. Many also did not feel comfortable getting together with other mothers due to virus concerns.

“Moms, they want to go meet the other moms for lunch. You know, they want to do these things and just talk about life and what they’re going through, which is a good outlet for their emotional needs and their mental capacity,” she said.

It’s only now easing, she says. The work of doulas in hospitals is also getting easier.

Sarah Wilcox, who had her baby in March 2021, said she just misses being around other mothers raising their children. Wilcox spent a lot of time researching conflicting advice online about things like diet and sleep, then gave up.

“I was like, ‘OK, whatever. I think I can just relate to that. She’s human. I’m human. We can connect and understand what she needs and how I can be her mother. “, she said.

Robin Echols had her first child in February 2020 and soon became pregnant again. Her second pregnancy was complicated and she was bedridden. Doctors urged her to go to the hospital and terminate her pregnancy there. She would have been unable to have visitors for weeks.

“I have a son. I have a husband,” she said. “I was like, there’s no way I’m surviving living in an isolated hospital.”

She gave birth to her daughter, Saoirse, in February. Saoirse was born without kidneys or bladder. Doctors told her the newborn would not survive. The hospital may make exceptions to the visitor policy in certain circumstances, such as end-of-life visits. This allowed her pastors, Saoirse’s grandparents and her son to see the little girl. After that, the doctors told her they had to take her daughter off life support. Echols was grateful that she and her husband were alone.

“The doctor said, ‘OK, it’s time. You must make this decision now. I said, ‘I just want to hold her,'” she said. “It was the hardest decision I’ve had to make for a mother.”

The pandemic became moot then, she said, but the experience reinforced her belief that time spent with her children is precious. She vowed to make time with her son a priority.

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Savanah Bonfield was pregnant with twins over the winter and spring of 2020 and 2021. Her husband, Colin, was away in Seward in July 2021 when she started having signs of early labour. She ended up needing an emergency caesarean section. A friend accompanied her while Colin returned home.

“In the operating room, she was the only one who could be in there. Colin was driving back from Seward and he got to the hospital in time, but he couldn’t get into the operating room. , she said.

It was hard on both of them, but Savanah also said she was happy to have her friend’s support. This is followed by a month and a half stay for the babies in the neonatal intensive care unit, with a limited number of visitors. The Bonfields also have an eldest son who needed care and had to wait to meet his siblings. They took all sorts of precautions to keep everyone healthy, but Savanah ended up getting infected with COVID-19, just like Colin, and she’s pretty sure the babies did too. She also lost two loved ones to COVID. The whole experience was difficult and frustrating beyond measure, she said. She learned to make peace with what she couldn’t control.

“I think I’ve found a lot of joy and just feel grateful that the twins are here and healthy and getting better all the time,” she said. “It’s been a tough few years. … You know, I think, though, now I feel like, ‘Life: Try it, try me. I can take it.’ ”

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