Postpartum in a Pandemic: One Family’s Story

How a local writer and his wife navigated premature twins and postpartum mental illness amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Pandemic Pregnancy
The story of every growing family is different, even with the shared experiences of life under COVID-19. These Rhode Island families welcomed new babies into the world at different points throughout the pandemic.

Monika and Mario Zuluaga
Priya Zuluaga was born to Monika and Mario Zuluaga on March 14, 2020, at the outset of Rhode Island’s first COVID-19 wave. In her third trimester, Monika was diagnosed with cholestasis, a condition that made her itch from head to toe and brought with it a terrifying risk: an increased possibility for stillbirth.

“It was nerve racking,” she says. “I would stay up all night long counting kicks and making sure she moved every hour or so because I was so scared of the worst-case scenario. That was my whole February.”

It wasn’t until the days leading up to her scheduled induction at thirty-seven weeks, around the time then-Governor Raimondo declared a state of emergency, that COVID-19 really began to factor into those worries. Thankfully, Priya arrived healthy.

The next challenge was quarantining with a newborn and their three-year-old daughter, Mila, without the help they had planned on. Mario was back to work, in-person, four weeks after Priya was born. Then in May, they lost their first family member to COVID. Monika describes it all like “a tornado that was happening around us.” Monika, experiencing postpartum depression, took an extended leave from work. Through virtual therapy sessions she found help processing the loss of her uncle and the stresses of pandemic parenting.

The Zuluagas followed all COVID protocols, but in January all four of them contracted COVID just as Priya cut her first tooth. In the end, they all had mild cases and recovered quickly, and it was an odd sense of relief: The worst thing they thought could happen did happen, and they saw it through.

In February, Monika and Mario had their first date night in more than a year; an older sister, Atiana, fully vaccinated, came over to babysit.

Mindy Deering McCombs  and Seth McCombs
On the evening of November 6, as cases were skyrocketing across the country, Mindy Deering McCombs and her husband, Seth, were on a flight bound for Texas to adopt their son, Mars, who had been born the previous day. After months of observing strict precautions, they were on an airplane in masks and face shields while the pandemic was spiraling out of control.

The pandemic disrupted many once-in-a-lifetime moments. For Mindy and Seth it meant that they couldn’t be in the hospital to meet their son. Instead they explored downtown San Antonio the morning after they arrived, waiting for the text from his birth mother. Mindy and Seth rushed to the hospital in their rented minivan and met their baby in the parking lot. Then they went to Target for diapers and formula.

As Seth ran in for supplies Mindy waited with Mars. “I sat in the car with a baby I had just met. It was very surreal, like some kind of dream.”

Back in Rhode Island, they allowed a limited number of family members who had tested negative for COVID-19 to come and meet Mars. Mindy works from home, but Seth had been out of work since last March. It’s not how they would have planned things, but they’re focusing on the positives.

“It’s great,” Seth says. “I have the best thing in the world in my house, and it’s terrible that we can’t share him with everybody, but we have had all this time together.”

Kelsey and Steve Carroll
Kelsey Carroll, a middle school English teacher, and her husband, Steve, had both been working from home when the pandemic began, and they learned that Kelsey was pregnant in early June.

Later in the summer, as the start of the new school year approached, the push for in-person learning became a source of concern. Would it be okay for a pregnant woman to be exposed to classroom disinfectants? Would a plastic divider on her desk really keep her safe? Her students were excited about her pregnancy and took the new COVID rules seriously, but Kelsey was feeling the stress and guilt of being pregnant while having to work outside of her home. She would continue teaching in person until her school went back to remote learning just before Christmas.

At 2:30 on the morning of January 24, 2021, three weeks before their daughter Eleanor’s due date, Kelsey’s water broke. They still hadn’t installed a car seat or packed their hospital bag. During labor, Kelsey never thought to take her mask off, except for during the most intense contractions when she and Steve were alone.

“I didn’t even think about it when we were wearing them in the hospital because I taught in one,” she says. “When you’ve been in it for a while you kind of get used to it.” Eleanor came quickly, and though premature, was healthy and discharged from Women and Infants after forty-eight hours.

The difference between having a baby in December versus having a baby in January was significant. By the time Kelsey delivered Eleanor, many of the doctors and nurses she was interacting with had been vaccinated.