CATHOLIC HERALD STAFF
When Amy Taylor gave birth to her son Maxwell on March 19, she was, of course, aware that COVID-19 was making its presence known in society. By that point, a State of Emergency had been declared in Wisconsin, schools had been shuttered and toilet paper was flying off the shelves.
“I remember thinking that was a little unusual,” said Taylor, who attends Immaculate Conception Parish.
The day after Maxwell’s birth, one of Taylor’s nurses told her that the hospital was “recommending” that new moms return home sooner rather than later.
“We left that afternoon to what seemed to be a flurry of preparation as the hospital began to implement new social distancing guidelines,” said Taylor.
Giving birth is a highly emotional event for a mother even in the best of times. But throw in a pandemic, fluctuating healthcare protocols and social distancing, and it’s an intimidating situation the likes of which pregnant and postpartum women haven’t had to confront in a generation or two.
“It’s been isolating, exciting, terrifying, happy and sad, all rolled into one,” said Taylor, who is also mom to daughter Charlotte, age 6.
“Once you realize that your child will be born in the midst of a global pandemic, all of your own plans and expectations go by the wayside. It allowed us to truly put it all in God’s hands,” said Abby Jurken, associate director of youth ministry at St. Eugene and St. Monica parishes, who gave birth to her first child, daughter Genevieve Anne on Holy Saturday, April 11.
When the Jurkens arrived at the hospital for Genevieve’s birth, they were screened for COVID-19 and provided masks to wear during delivery.
“We were not tested, but that policy has since changed and now the hospital is testing patients upon their arrival,” said Jurken. “The OB that delivered Genevieve was wearing the N-95 mask and all of the nurses who entered our room throughout our stay wore masks.”
Before the birth of her first child, Lily Catherine, Immaculate Conception parishioner Melissa Stancato said she “had a certain image of what birth and being a mother looked like.” As a birth doula, she had seen the beauty of God’s plan and the capacity of a woman’s body to bring life into the world.
“But in my own journey, God showed me different facets of what motherhood could be,” she said. “It can be a place of humility, and a place of needing support.” Uncertainty and loss, sadly, were part of her experience of motherhood from the very beginning: Lily Catherine passed away at the age of two weeks. Three years later, the Stancatos’ daughter, Gianna Marie, passed away in miscarriage around 16 weeks.
These experiences brought Stancato to a deeper reverence for pregnancy and birth, and a sense of emotional and physical vulnerability that can envelope a woman at that time. “There is a profound need for community and sisterhood during pregnancy, especially when something goes wrong,” she said.
Now the mom to 2-year-old Joey and 22 weeks pregnant with her fourth child, Stancato finds herself facing the uncertainty of pregnancy during the age of COVID-19. She created a Facebook group for Catholic pregnant and postpartum mothers and women trying to conceive during the COVID-19 pandemic. Sharing experiences, ideas, frustrations, fears, hopes and triumphs has been an empowering experience for the group’s members, she said.
Taylor said that one of the hardest aspects of the postpartum experiences during COVID-19 is the isolation. “I can’t leave the house with Max unless it’s to go to the doctor, or just a drive to pass the time. My 6-year-old daughter is also stuck at home and dealing with stress, boredom and loneliness,” she said.
“Our parents are first-time grandparents; so it has been especially challenging not having had them or our siblings welcome the baby at the hospital or visit our home to snuggle Genevieve,” said Jurken.
But all three moms describe their Catholic faith as a lifeline during this time, and express gratitude for expanded opportunities for family time.
Stancato said that, in addition to providing a space for support and resource-sharing, the Facebook group has also been a source of welcome reminders that, even in the midst of a pandemic, life continues to begin anew: “To pray for their pregnancies and celebrate their healthy births has been a light in the darkness,” she said. “A reminder that even during this uncertain time there are still miracles happening.”
Jurken said that, whatever the circumstances surrounding her birth, she always wants Genevieve to know she is one of those miracles.
“We want Genevieve to know that she was a symbol of hope during this time,” she said. “That despite what was going on, she was proof that life hadn’t stopped and that goodness can be found even during the most challenging of times.”
And Taylor said she is hoping there may be another silver lining that reveals itself a few years down the road.
“With all the Masses I’ve been streaming and prayers I’ve been saying since he’s been born, I wouldn’t be surprised if Max felt a call to the priesthood someday as a result,” she said.