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Expecting in COVID-19: Families deal with unexpected challenges of having babies in quarantine
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Expecting in COVID-19: Families deal with unexpected challenges of having babies in quarantine

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EMORY, Va. — Baby showers, baby scans and maternity clothes are exciting milestones for any mom-to-be expecting a newborn, but for five local couples the shadow of the pandemic in 2020 hovered over their memorable time with anxieties and uncertainties.

The couples whose spouses each work at Emory & Henry College shared something in common during the onset of the pandemic — they all were expecting babies.

Although the couples expressed their thankfulness for delivering healthy babies and escaping COVID-19 while pregnant, they were sorry to miss out on celebrations and rituals that usually mark the joyful occasions.

It was just a weird time to be pregnant, they agreed.

Rachael Wilbur, web content manager and chief photographer at Emory & Henry College, recently threw an informal birthday party for her 1-year-old daughter Lily and invited the four other couples who also were expecting babies at the same time she was pregnant.

Wilbur said the network of friends on campus was a big comfort for her during a time when visiting with family and friends was restricted.

“I’m not originally from this area, so it was hard not having family here,” said Wilbur, who grew up in Granite City, Illinois. I’m thankful for the other moms on campus. We all shared very similar experiences. It was like our own little community that bonded us together.”

Wilbur found out in early January 2020 that she and her husband Dan Van Tassel, the chair of the art department at the college, were expecting a baby. “We had just started hearing about COVID. At that point, no one knew what was going to happen next.”

Just as she was starting her second trimester of the pregnancy, the college transitioned to virtual learning and many employees started working from home.

Wilbur had to navigate through many pandemic restrictions before delivering on Sept. 11, 2020.

“The 20-week ultrasound is an important scan,” she said. “But my husband had to watch from the car using FaceTime on his phone.”

They originally wanted to take classes for first-time parents, but they were canceled and replaced with online instructions, she said.

Wilbur resorted to creative measures when it came time for a baby shower. Friends dropped off their gifts at the front door, and all of the packages were later opened while the gift givers watched by Zoom.

She exchanged her maternity clothing for wearing pajamas while working at home.

“A lot of my colleagues didn’t even know I was pregnant. I missed people seeing the baby bump grow.”

Wilbur said these pandemic memories will remain vivid for a long time.

During her time at home, she created a baby book of her experiences during the pandemic. “It will be a historical record for Lily.”

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Dylan Johnson, director of campus recreation at the college, and his wife Brittany Reynolds said their baby Miloh born on April 15, 2020, is the oldest of the quarantine babies.

The couple was thankful they escaped a lot of the restrictions since the pandemic had just started a month before the arrival of their son.

“But I was really nervous I wasn’t going to be allowed to be at the delivery,” said Johnson, who had heard that other hospitals throughout the country were not allowing fathers in the delivery rooms.

Turns out, Johnson was allowed to be there when his wife needed him during the delivery.

The months that followed have been spent reconnecting with family while still taking precautions to avoid exposure to the highly contagious virus. Miloh was 4 months old before he met Reynolds’ mother and 6 months old before he met Johnson’s mother.

Ryan Bowyer, executive director of Strategic Initiatives in the Office of the President, said he and his wife Lauren Meares found out they were expecting a baby in December 2019 — just three months before COVID hit the region.

“The first trimester was typical, but everything changed in March,” said the new father.

Meares, who is technical services librarian at Washington County Public Library, said the hardest thing they had to sacrifice was not being with family and friends during the pregnancy. Meares said she went her entire pregnancy without seeing her family who live in South Carolina. “I was looking forward to baby showers and shopping, and that just didn’t happen for us.”

Her husband had to watch the first ultrasound of their baby on his phone from the car. After that, he was allowed to attend the scans while wearing masks.

Matt Shannon, history professor at Emory & Henry, and his wife Samantha, who also taught history at the college during the pandemic, found out they were expecting before Christmas 2019.

“It was hard not seeing our families who live out of town,” said the wife. “Even though we weren’t able to get together physically, it was nice to know so many couples in the Emory community were going through the same things.”

One funny thing that happened was the couple’s daughter Hazel became an expert at video chat during their quarantine time. “Her introduction to technology is far superior to anything we had at that age,” said Samantha with laughter.

Samantha Lopez said her life didn’t dramatically change before delivering her son Theo in May 2020. Lopez, who is director of housing and residence life at Emory & Henry College, remained on call while many of her colleagues worked from home.

Lopez and her husband Luis Lopez both live on campus, making it difficult to visit often with their families due to visitation restrictions on campus.

None of the mothers could have imagined spending nine months pregnant during a pandemic. But not all of the changes were bad, they said.

While quarantining at home, many of the couples discovered there were positive sides to the pandemic woes.

Johnson and his wife said they value the time they got to spend at home together.

Meares said one good thing about being at home during the quarantine was that she got to rest and eat whenever she wanted.

Carolyn R. Wilson is a freelance writer in Glade Spring, Virginia. Contact her at news@washconews.com.

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