As if the physical and emotional adjustments to pregnancy and childbirth weren’t enough, tens of thousands of Arizona women have been experiencing it under the continuing cloud of pandemic life.
Hard to believe, but it’s been nearly a year since schools first closed, many jobs moved online, masks and self-quarantining were recommended, and restaurants and other gathering places experienced rolling lockdowns.
Hospital labor and delivery policies changed quickly, too. The Arizona Republic reported in late March that many of the state’s largest hospital networks — Banner Health, Dignity Health, Valleywise Health and HonorHealth — had limited each labor and delivery patient to just one adult visitor. Most birth centers still do.
Here are profiles of four local women who gave birth — or soon will — during a particularly challenging time of added safety fears, lifestyle restrictions, enforced isolation and greatly changed expectations. No self-pity here. We heard flexible, go-with-the-flow attitudes and grace from families focused on celebrating the miracle of life.
The Ayo family of Phoenix
Karlie and Chris Ayo of Phoenix can’t wait to meet their daughter, who is due on March 21. They’ve already picked out a name for this much-anticipated child, the first grandchild on Chris’s side of the family.
The couple shared their decision during a photo shoot for this month’s cover. It was a gloomy Sunday afternoon of fierce thunderstorms, angry clouds and muddy desert landscapes. Baby Ayo’s name, we learned, will be Rayne. How appropriate!
And purely coincidental. The name more meaningfully reflects this couple’s deep respect for family ties. Chris’s grandfather, who died in recent months, was named Raymond. Karlie’s middle name is Rae. Rayne is a unique blend of those two names, but its meaning will always be clear: You are part of us, and so many others, now and forever.
Karlie, a payroll coordinator, has been working at home since last March. She is grateful for a job she can easily do from home, though she misses friends at work and the daily interactions we all once took for granted.
Chris, who works for the City of Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department, has continued to go to work at the community center where he is based. The center has been closed to recreational activities but provides childcare — with strict safety and social distancing protocols — for essential city employees and first responders.
The toughest part of expecting during a pandemic, both say, has been separation from friends and family. “We’re really social people,” says Chris. And Karlie’s mom lives in California, making visits difficult.
“Everything has gone virtual,” Karlie says. “It’s hard enough getting used to what’s going on in the world, and then there are changes to my body and my mood and still trying to get everything done [online].”
They’ve been learning about childbirth, breastfeeding and postpartum care online, because their hospital, Banner Thunderbird Medical Center in Glendale, has halted in-person classes and tours (as have most other hospitals and birth centers). She relies on friends and relatives who have “been there” to fill in with support and suggestions.
Their obstetrics practice allows Chris to attend prenatal visits, where their physician keeps them current on evolving hospital labor and delivery safety procedures. At this point, Chris will be able to attend the birth, but “can only leave the room every 24 hours,” Karlie says, “so we will have to be prepared with everything he needs — food and everything.”
Barring any complications, it’s likely the new family will be discharged just 12 hours after the baby arrives. With the continuing presence of COVID patients in area hospitals, they’ve been told, they are safer going home.
Karlie likes to focus on the unexpected gifts of pandemic life: “It has connected me with others I haven’t seen or talked with in awhile.” She has been methodically going through her contacts and reaching out. A virtual baby shower is in the works. “We’ve been thinking about games to do virtually,” Karlie says. “But mostly it will be about having time to connect with family and friends.”
In the meantime, she says, “The USP and FedEx delivery people must wonder what’s going on. We are getting packages almost every day.”
The Miller family of Apache Junction
When we talked with Trenise Newman-Miller of Apache Junction, she was the very new mom to a healthy boy born Jan. 16, 2021.
Her tiny son bears a big, bold name: King James. And, of course, there is a story behind it. Her husband’s name is Jamison. Her mom’s husband, killed in a motorcycle accident in 1996, was named James. Her husband first suggested “Sir James,” but one night Trenise had a dream in which she heard her mom say “King James.” And so it became when their 4-pound boy entered the world by cesarean section, after Trenise had spent five days in labor.
This isn’t her first experience with pregnancy and parenting — she and her husband are raising a boy and two girls ranging in age from 14 to 24. But with all the added uncertainties and adjustments of COVID, it “felt like the first time all over again.”
Because of the pandemic, she says, she experienced some typical shared milestones by herself. Her husband couldn’t attend prenatal visits. He didn’t see any of the ultrasounds. He didn’t hear the baby’s heartbeat until they were at Banner Gateway Medical Center in Gilbert, awaiting their son’s birth.
Trenise remembers being tested for COVID-19 before being admitted to the hospital and learning that “if you were positive, they had you deliver in the ER. The babies ended up in the NICU.”
Luckily, despite her long labor and an unexpected C-section, “everything was OK.” King James was small, but his lungs were strong. He stayed with his mother throughout her hospital stay.
King James’s arrival upset plans for the baby shower that was planned that day, but the older kids threw the shower anyway. They sent food, Rugrats-themed decorations, custom T-shirts and plates bearing the baby’s name. They set up a video call and laughed about how they would repurpose the decorations for King James’s first birthday party.
Trenise, who works for the Arizona Department of Transportation, was offered a permanent work-from-home position two months ago, for which she is grateful. With two of her other children remote learning from home, she has plenty of eager hands available to help with the baby. “They love him,” she says. “They come knock on the door to my room and say, ‘Can I get the baby?’ They all want to sit with him downstairs, and play with him. Of course, he’s mostly sleeping these days!”
The Alfano family of Fountain Hills
Heather Alfano of Fountain Hills remembers the uncertainty in the air about a year ago, as COVID-19 was just becoming a threat.
She and her husband, Gianni, had planned to take their daughter Liliana to Legoland California. Should they go? Should they cancel? Friends would be there, too. “We didn’t want to let the kids down,” Alfano says.
They made the trip. Just days after they returned home, Arizona closed K-12 schools, and learning for Liliana moved online. Gianna moved to remote work, too. Alfano, who was seeking a teaching position (the family had recently moved from New Jersey), did job interviews on Zoom. Then Heather became pregnant, and the family had a whole new realm of COVID-related changes to navigate.
“My husband wasn’t allowed to be part of the major experiences — ultrasound, hearing the heartbeat,” she says. “But the person it hurt the worst was my daughter. She’s been waiting so long [for a sibling].” Liliana wanted to be involved, every step of the way. She’d say, “Mommy, I can come with you to the doctor! I can see the ultrasound!” When she learned it wouldn’t be possible, “that devastated her,” Heather remembers.
Heather took a teaching position in a kindergarten classroom, and in the fall, she and Liliana both went back to school — first under a hybrid model and later fully in person.
Heather kept working through Nov. 25. Her son Luca was born on Nov. 27, the day after Thanksgiving, at Banner Ocotillo Medical Center in Chandler. Because the baby was a week overdue, labor was induced.
Six-year-old Liliana was still attending in-person school when her parents came home with the baby. “When he was very newly home, it was part of her routine to strip down and get in the shower right away,” Heather says. “We told her she couldn’t hold the baby until she washed the germs away. We’ve explained it’s to protect him, [and] she totally gets that.”
When we talked, Heather was preparing to return to her kindergarten classroom after finishing eight weeks of maternity leave. She was scheduled to get a COVID vaccination and was calmly anticipating this next stage. The pandemic has taught her “you just [have] to go with the flow, even when you don’t want to go with the flow,” she says.
The Amick family of El Mirage
Jodi Amick of El Mirage was just about three months pregnant when the coronavirus shutdowns began. She wasn’t particularly fearful about getting sick, she says, but she was aware that pregnancy can lower your immune system and did everything she could to avoid exposure to the virus.
Jodi works as a design consultant at The Container Store. She was grateful when the stores made a quick pivot to curbside pickups, which allowed full-time staff to continue working. “They needed help on the phones, so it was the perfect thing that happened for me. I was able to sit in the back, away from everyone, and make calls for the corporate office, right up until my maternity leave. I didn’t work with the public a lot.”
Her husband Chris, a business analyst with USAA, has been working remotely since March. “My biggest fear was that my husband wouldn’t be able to be there with me when I delivered,” Jodi remembers. “For a little while, no other people were allowed in delivery rooms.”
Jodi says she’s “a huge planner,” but “one of the benefits of having a child later in life is I’ve learned from friends’ experiences.” With any pregnancy, she says, “it probably goes the way you plan about 10 percent of the time.”
Her obstetrics practice wasn’t allowing any extra people in for regular office visits, but Jodi’s high-risk pregnancy meant she also was seeing a perinatologist. That practice allowed her husband to accompany her for appointments, meaning he saw the ultrasounds and heard the baby’s heartbeat.
Jodi spent 10 days at home on bedrest because of gestational hypertension. Labor was induced at 37 weeks, and she eventually had a C-section at Banner Del Webb Medical Center in Sun City West. Her son, Max, was born on July 19, 2020, just as the number of coronavirus diagnoses was peaking ominously in Arizona. Chris was with her the whole time, “except for two hours after Max was already born, “when I told him to go home, take a nap in his own bed, take a shower, and get some clean clothes.”
Jodi took three months of maternity leave; Chris patched together family leave and personal time off for all but two weeks of that time.
The pandemic meant her pregnancy was “not what I had envisioned,” Jodi says, “but there are a lot of things I’ve been very grateful for, a lot that has happened well in our favor. I feel guilty saying that, when so many families have been devastated by this disease. I was lucky.”