When Jarrod and his wife, Amelia, decided they were ready to have kids, they knew things were going to be a bit complicated. Jarrod has cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease that results in an excess of mucus in the lungs. Unlike many people with CF, Jarrod’s never been hospitalized for a lung infection. But in his case, it does mean that he’s infertile. To conceive their first child, Henry, Jarrod and Amelia used an old friend as a sperm donor. All told, it took 18 months to get pregnant, after many unsuccessful attempts at “DIY fertility treatment” and six rounds of intrauterine insemination (IUI).
Four years later, getting pregnant with their second child was more straightforward: They used the same donor, and went straight to IUI. Amelia got pregnant relatively quickly, with a due date in mid-April. And then the coronavirus hit. A few weeks ago, Jarrod’s doctor told him that because CF puts him at a higher risk of developing serious complications from COVID-19, it wasn’t a good idea for him to go to the hospital for his baby’s birth. Jarrod, who is 39 and lives in Philadelphia, spoke to us a few hours before meeting his son for the first time and told us what it was like to witness his birth over FaceTime.
A few weeks ago is when we first started to get worried. Like, What the hell does it mean to go to a hospital right now? All of a sudden, in New York, people were giving birth with no support partners whatsoever. At one point, one of Amelia’s doctors was like, “You need to be prepared to be at the hospital with no one,” which really threw us for a loop. In Pennsylvania, the rules never got to the point that you couldn’t have anyone there. The rule was that you could have one support person — but eventually, we realized that it probably shouldn’t be me.
It actually didn’t occur to me at first. I have an incredibly quote-unquote light case of cystic fibrosis. I’ve never been hospitalized with a lung infection, and a lung transplant is not something that’s going to happen in my life. So far, my CF doctor has said that I don’t need to do anything beyond what other people are doing in terms of quarantining, but that if I do start to show any symptoms, to call them immediately and they’ll take it very seriously. He’s been very reassuring in general, but at the same time he was like, “Hell no, you shouldn’t go to the hospital.”
In general, I’m an even-keeled person. Things usually roll off me pretty well. But when I realized I wasn’t going to be able to go to the hospital for the birth, that was the most upset I’ve been throughout this entire thing. It really took me like a week to process it. Like, Oh, I’m not going to be there.
Amelia was the one who was like, It’s going to be fine. We’ll have the doula, and I’ll just get an epidural if I need to, and it will all be okay.
We had a doula for Henry’s birth, and we were planning to use her again. But she was pregnant too, due a month after us, and about a week or two before the baby was born, she called us and was like, “Yeah, my doctor and my family think that I shouldn’t go into a hospital right now.” But she had a backup doula, who was amazing, and was there with Amelia through the birth, and for a long time after the baby was born.
Amelia’s due date was April 17. At first we were wondering if we could get someone to agree to induce her earlier, like at 37 weeks, to try to get ahead of this thing, since it seemed like hospitals were going to be worse and worse places to be. It turns out no doctor will recommend inducing before 39 weeks unless someone’s life is in danger. But the midwives practice that she was seeing decided to schedule her for an induction at 39 weeks, in part because of all the uncertainty with the coronavirus, and partly because from the ultrasound measurements, it seemed like this was going to be a very large baby.
Because Amelia was scheduled to have an induction, we had an appointment, so on Saturday we got in the car with Henry. She wasn’t in labor, so it felt super-bizarre. It was a lot like I was driving someone to the airport. I found a parking spot at the hospital and I got out and I said, “I love you, here’s your suitcase, good luck.” She said “I’ll see you later,” and then she walked into the hospital and we drove away. It was really weird.
We were in touch by phone for the rest of the day. They started the Pitocin, and by and large, her labor was much easier this time around. Henry and I FaceTimed her a couple of times, and she said her pain wasn’t too bad, and she got some sleep that night. The next day was Easter, and we talked about 11 a.m., and by that point, she was like, “This is getting really intense, and I’m thinking about getting an epidural now.” She asked to video-chat with me without Henry, and I’m glad that he didn’t see her. It wasn’t anything horrible, but she was having a tough time.
Henry’s still really needs a nap in the afternoon, but he won’t sleep at home — we have this routine where we go for a drive and he naps in the car. So we drove around for a little and he fell asleep. I parked the car and went out to sit on the grass in the sunshine, and I saw that Amelia wanted to FaceTime. When I answered, it was the doula, and she said, “Amelia’s ready to start pushing now.” So she put me on FaceTime with Amelia, who’s like, “Hi, I’m about to have a baby.” When Henry was born, when it was time to start pushing, in my memory, all of a sudden the room was full of people. This time, I could only see Amelia’s face and one or two people in the background. I could hear talking, but I wasn’t quite sure what was going on. All of a sudden, after about 35 seconds of pushing, I heard somebody say something and somebody laughed and then there was a baby. And yeah, it was amazing and exciting and wonderful, and also it was weird to not be there and get to hold the baby.
We were on FaceTime for maybe ten minutes, and I could see the baby a little, and then it was time for them to take him away to do the measuring and heel prick and whatever else they do. And then Henry started to wake up from his nap. Henry’s bad at waking up. It usually takes him 15 minutes to boot up his brain, and he’s just very grumpy until then. So I waited for him to wake up and then I said, “So, I have some surprising news, which is while you were asleep, Mama had the baby.” I was expecting him to still be a little grumpy, but he was like, “Can we call them?” So we video-chatted them, and there they were. Henry was very excited to show the baby how fast he can run. And then at a certain point it’s like, “Okay well, bye.” There’s only so much interacting you can do with anybody over FaceTime, let alone a baby.
Amelia ended up staying three nights in the hospital, because she was positive for group-B strep, so it’s the policy that they have to keep you for 48 hours after the birth. But everybody’s healthy and fine. She’s in a small room by herself with a newborn, which is disorienting and exhausting, so I think she’s going a little stir crazy and is just really eager to be home.
It’s definitely scary to think about what they may have been exposed to just by nature of being in a hospital right now. That’s nerve-racking. There’s enough other stuff to think about right now that it’s not the most foremost on my mind, but it is something I’m thinking about. I don’t feel particularly worried about the baby or Henry being sick, but I do worry about what would happen if any of the adults in our house get sick. This would be a really bad time for me or Amelia or both of us to be sick. Even if all of us are healthy, it feels like we have plenty to grapple with.
The fact that I met my baby over FaceTime is just really weird. I don’t feel like I have a good vocabulary for what it feels like. It’s just been very disorienting. I’m feeling pretty excited about meeting the baby this afternoon. I’m excited to pick him up and talk to him. But I am really having feelings about not getting to introduce him in person to most other people we know. With Henry, the experience of having people come to the hospital, and come to the house, was a really wonderful thing. Now it’s like, almost no one else is going to hold this baby for quite some time.
This has been edited and condensed for clarity.
No Expectations is a series about the pandemic’s impact on family planning and parenthood. Have a story to share? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us a little about your situation.