BARNESVILLE, Minn. — Kallie and Jordan Swenson were eagerly planning for the arrival of their first child when they found themselves facing the coronavirus pandemic.
Kallie was doing everything she could think of to prepare for the big moment, which she’d always anticipated would include visits from family and friends to help celebrate the joyous occasion.
The preparations took on more urgency as her due date approached in late March, when anxiety about the coronavirus intensified and people began panic-shopping for essentials.
Would she be able to buy baby diapers? What if the diapers she bought caused a rash and she couldn’t get replacements? Were people hoarding diapers as they were toilet paper? What if she ran out?
What she feared would be a fruitless quest — Kallie was pleasantly surprised when she got to the store.
“I’m waddling around in the diaper aisle,” trying to calm her anxiety, she said, recalling the frantic errand.
The baby was in a breech position, still not having turned very late into her term, so in consultation with her obstetrician-gynecologist, Kallie decided to induce labor on March 23.
Meanwhile, other expectant or new mothers from around the country in a Facebook group she followed were posting about their experiences, some reporting they had to leave the hospital early because of the demand for beds during the pandemic.
“It was just very scary for a new mom,” she said.
As Kallie was preparing for admission at Essentia Health in Fargo, the Swensons learned the hospital had to impose strict limits on visitation to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.
The new mother and baby would be allowed just one visitor, and that would be Jordan.
Instead of having a roomful of visitors after the new baby arrived, the Swensons would have to improvise, like countless other new parents around the country, to share the experience with family and friends.
“We wrestled with that quite a bit,” Kallie said. “It’s our first baby but also the first baby for each side of our family, so it was difficult to let that go. I’ve had to come to peace with that.”
But, she added, the couple understands the importance of limiting contact, especially in a hospital setting, to keep the community safe.
Olivia Swenson was born at 2:45 a.m. on March 24. A few hours later, she made her family debut. Seated on the sofa in their hospital room, where Jordan had spent the night, the new father cradled Olivia while Kallie held up her iPhone for a FaceTime conversation with her parents.
“I was so fatigued,” having been awake for 26 or 27 hours at that point, Kallie said. “We were both so drained. It was a little anticlimactic.”
Next, it was time for Jordan’s parents to meet little Olivia in similar fashion, followed by other family members, some via Google Hangouts, an arrangement that forced some to become familiar with the video chat platform.
In advance, Jordan had set up his mother’s iPad. When the time for the virtual meeting came, he called on the landline to help her navigate the connection.
“Definitely a culture shift,” he said.
“It was not as exciting as I had pictured it,” Kallie said of Olivia’s introduction to the family. “It was better than nothing. They were still able to share the joy over the video-conference call.”
The video introductions were brief; more traditional meetings will be held later at their home, once it’s safe to receive visitors.
“Our families have both decided to quarantine for 14 days and not have any contact with anyone” so they will be able to visit Olivia, Kallie said. “It’ll probably be a few weeks yet before anybody meets her. Both of our families have been so supportive.”
In the meantime, they’ve been sharing updates on social media.
“We took a lot of video on our phones and took a lot of photos with the nice cameras that we have,” Kallie said.
Dr. Stefanie Gefroh Ellison, an obstetrician-gynecologist at Essentia, said her patients have many questions about how COVID-19 could affect their pregnancy or the health of their newborn.
Encouragingly, research so far has not found transmission of the virus from pregnant mothers who are infected to their babies, she said. The virus has not been found in amniotic fluid, the placenta or breast milk.
“We’re not seeing any transmission from mom to baby in utero, which is reassuring,” she said, adding that Essentia so far has not treated an expectant mother who has tested positive for the virus.
Reported cases of pregnant women who become infected by the coronavirus generally do not require hospitalization, she said.
Some prenatal visits that ordinarily would be face-to-face now are conducted via phone or telehealth, but those visits are still done in the clinic in cases requiring testing, especially later in a woman’s term, Gefroh Ellison said.
“Overall, it’s been very well received,” she said of telehealth visits. “I think the patients have been very willing and understanding.”
In her case, Kallie Swenson is grateful that everything with the delivery went smoothly, and thankful for the care she received at Essentia, where she said there was no pressure to leave early.
She wants to keep outings to a minimum while the virus is circulating, and she's hoping her supply of disposable diapers lasts.
“Even now, I’m hoping we have enough to get through the next couple of weeks,” she said.