Two mothers on opposite sides of the country had unimaginable birth experiences this month: They were hospitalized for COVID-19, sedated as they were fighting for their lives, and then awoke to find that their babies had been born but couldn’t be near them. As scary as these situations are, we can also see them as beacons of hope in dark times.
We’ll give this to you good news-bad news-good news style:
On Wednesday, Long Island woman Yanira Soriano held her son Walter for the first time, 12 days after he was born. On Thursday, it was Angela Primachenko’s turn to hold her 15-day-old daughter Ava, in Vancouver, Washington.
Grab three boxes of tissues before you watch Soriano getting wheeled out of the hospital to have Walter placed in her arms.
4/ And then she got to meet Walter, her baby boy. pic.twitter.com/Ghc86S9npH
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) April 15, 2020
And here is Primachenko first holding baby Ava in the ICU:
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Such a testimony to be able to hold my little Ava. 💞 . . (the reason I’m wearing a mask is because everybody has to wear a mask now when visiting the NICU). Ava is doing amazing and gaining weight everyday like a champ! Another week or so and we will be able to take her HOME!!
When we first read about Primachenko and Soriano, we wondered if there was some special protocol about putting COVID-19 women in comas to deliver their babies. It all sounded like the hospital birth practices of the last century, when women routinely had the option of being unconscious while their babies were born. But that’s not the case here. All patients who are put on ventilators have to be sedated so that the machine can deliver smaller breaths and minimize further damage to the lungs.
“In most instances, you’re awake when you deliver the baby and you can bond with the baby right away,” Dr. Benjamin Schwartz of Southside Hospital in Bay Shore, N.Y, told ABC7 of Soriano who was 34 weeks pregnant when she was admitted to the hospital. “But in this context because the mom was so ill, she had to be put on a ventilator and put to sleep right before the baby was born.”
Primachenko was also only 34 weeks pregnant when her doctors decided to induce labor while she was on a ventilator. Without the baby in her womb, they knew she’d have better lung capacity and more nutrients available for herself, according to CNN. She was able to give birth vaginally while unconscious. Five days later she awoke to find she was no longer pregnant.
“That was emotionally unbelievable,” she told CNN. “It was just crazy to have to try to understand what happened the last 10 days, having to puzzle back together your life.”
This week, Primachenko was cleared of virus and was able to visit her daughter in the ICU.
Here’s a bit of scary bad news we’ll sandwich in here: A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found a startling number of pregnant women are contracting coronavirus without even knowing it. Of the 215 women who were admitted for delivery at New York–Presbyterian Allen Hospital and Columbia University Irving Medical Center between March 22 and April 4, 33 of them, 15 percent, tested positive for the virus. But only four of those 33 women were actually showing symptoms. This is frightening, when you think about how easily asymptomatic women might be infecting others, including their newborn babies, while we still don’t have universal testing in place. But it’s also a good sign that a lot of women’s immune systems are fighting the virus, even with the complication of being pregnant.
Schwartz told ABC7 that it’s important for families to maintain social distancing at home, because he’s seen babies and mothers leave the hospital COVID-negative, only to return because an asymptomatic family member exposed the baby to the virus.
As harrowing as the past few weeks must have been for Primachenko, Soriano, and every other mother with severe COVID-19 cases, we’re going to finish this story on a high note. Because back in March, we asked Jessica Madden, MD, a board-certified pediatrician, neonatologist and Aeroflow Breastpumps medical director, about the impact coronavirus would have on moms and newborn babies. Based on her experience in the past with babies in the ICU, there are no long-term effects of not getting held by their mothers right away.
“That bonding instinct is there,” Madden told SheKnows of mothers and babies who have had to be separated for other reasons in the NICU. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s two weeks, four weeks, two months, four months, six months. It happens. It’s just on a different time schedule.”
In less complicated times, these celebrities shared their inspiring home-birth stories.