Families Talk About Pregnancy, Birth During a Pandemic

masked grandmother with walker looks at baby in car seat
Fran Orkin meets her great-grandson Bradley, who was born during the pandemic.
Photo by Rachel Keiser

Dec. 13 marked a full nine months from the beginning of the pandemic’s life-changing effects in Pennsylvania — that Friday in March when adults left their offices and children left their schools and both, in many cases, did not return.

For women who got pregnant just before the pandemic, or just after it began, a period in their lives that was already sure to introduce them to a complex set of medical considerations and emotions was made even more convoluted.

Early news reports signaled that women giving birth could be barred from having anyone else in the hospital with them as their deliveries were underway, to say nothing of their newly required solitude when it came to doctor’s appointments. The circumstances were enough to give many women pause; a report from the Brookings Institution released in June estimated a 13% reduction in 2021 births, compared to 2019.

What was supposed to be a “magical time” for women like Allison Teich instead felt quite different.

Teich, 35, a teacher with the School District of Philadelphia, found out that she was pregnant with her second child, a boy, on March 27. Her doctor told her that she’d been pregnant for about four weeks. Her son Jaxon was born on Nov. 25, brought into a world shaped by the pandemic.

Teich feels fortunate to have had a more conventional pregnancy experience in the past — morning sickness aside, there’s a certain charm to everyone’s excitement about your condition, and it’s nice to have doors held open for you here and there. Still, it also means that she knew what she was missing when the Teich family went into lockdown in March.

At that time, Teich began remote work, simultaneously tending to other people’s children, her soon-to-be child, and her 2-year-old daughter Parker. Matters were complicated further by the fact that Teich was initially pregnant with twins, one of whom was lost early on.

Stressful as it all was, Teich feels fortunate to have given birth to a healthy boy, one who was able to be brought into the global community of Jews via an adapted brit milah.

“When I found out, I wasn’t disappointed. I was thrilled, despite the state of the world,” Teich said. “We have been wanting this baby.”

For women who’d already had children, pregnancy during COVID could be compared to their last go-round. For first-timers like Rachel Keiser, 31, it was a different story.

Keiser found out that she was pregnant in January. She and her husband, who live in Philadelphia, were able to tell their parents and siblings the good news in person. A future filled with babyproof furniture shopping seemed imminent.

The most memorable shopping experience of Keiser’s pregnancy, however, might have been the massive grocery-and-supplies shop that she and husband made on March 13 — a panicked stock-up repeated in supermarkets all over the country. They ended up picking out a stroller online.

It’s not just the loss of giddy shopping expeditions that nag at Keiser, whose son, Bradley, was born on Sept. 11. She didn’t get to sit on the porch at the family house in Ventnor, New Jersey, talking about what was to come; she had to share the excitement with her friends via FaceTime; loved ones celebrated his naming, eight days after birth, on Zoom.

“We just missed out on so many things during the pregnancy that I had looked forward to,” Keiser said.

If there’s one thing that Keiser does feel grateful for, besides Bradley’s health, it’s that she was able to have her husband with her in the room when she gave birth, something she’d worried about. Now, she’s getting to know baby Bradley, and getting ready for the day that he can be properly introduced to loved ones.

mom and dad in masks hold baby
Jenn Reiss Sillman and her newly expanded family prepare for a trip to Costco. | Photo by Jenn Reiss Sillman

Jenn Reiss Sillman, director of Jewish student life at West Chester University Hillel, found herself in a similar spot. She learned that she was pregnant at the end of December 2019, with an Aug. 28, 2020, due date. She was elated.

In late February, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases told reporters in a now-infamous interview that she had briefed her family on the gravity of the coronavirus, telling them that they “ought to be preparing for significant disruption to our lives.”

It was around this time that Reiss Sillman told her boss that she wasn’t so sure that she felt comfortable returning to work in person after spring break for WCU students. In the end, the world made the decision for her, and Reiss Sillman found herself working from home. Initially, it seemed like a pretty good deal.

“At first I felt really blessed. I was like, ‘Wow, how lucky am I, I don’t worry about getting myself sick, I’m not in a position where I’m an essential worker,’” Reiss Sillman recalled. “And then it started to set in when I started growing a stomach and my friends didn’t see it. My family barely saw it. I didn’t get to go out and do the normal shopping a new mom gets to do where she picks everything out.”

Reiss Sillman wonders about the world that her daughter, Hannah, has been brought into. Regardless, she is excited for Hannah and the world to become mutually acquainted.

jbernstein@jewishexponent.com; 215-832-0740


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