Hope for the Future

Dina Davis, with her son, Ezra. Ezra was born 15 weeks premature on March 18. Photo by Tanner Health System.

Three Local Mothers Share Their Experience After Giving Birth During the Pandemic

By Angela Dailey

Dina Davis wasn’t supposed to be in the hospital that week in March when the deadly coronavirus began sweeping across our nation. Her baby boy, Ezra Matthew, wasn’t due until June 26 – another 15 weeks. But when Dina was only 25 weeks pregnant, Ezra had other plans. 

She was terrified, and for good reason. 

In September 2018, when she was only 20 weeks pregnant, her daughter passed away in utero. “I went to an ultrasound appointment, and she was measuring a little small,” she shares. “At the next appointment, the ultrasound showed no heartbeat. It was just devastating.” She and her husband, Matt, named their baby girl, Mia Nour Davis. “Nour means ‘light’ in Arabic,” she says. “I’m half Egyptian, so it just felt right.” 

Dina’s father was a soldier in the Egyptian Army, and was stationed at Fort McClellan, a former U.S. Army post in Anniston, Ala., when he met Dina’s mother. “They had a really good engineering program in Anniston and were training these Egyptian officers in engineering,” Dina explains.

The U.S. and Egypt share a strong partnership based on mutual interest in Middle East peace and stability, economic opportunity and regional security, according to the U.S. Department of State.

Her parents were married and moved to Egypt where Dina was born. They moved back to the states when she was only 6 weeks old. Dina grew up in Woodland, Ala., with her mother, stepfather and brothers. She now lives in Temple, Ga., with Matt and his two daughters, Delilah, 14, and Isabelle, who will be 13 this month. Ezra, who is currently in Tanner Health System’s NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit), is scheduled to come home this month – closer to his original due date. 

An Unexpected Delivery

Dina was considered high-risk due to the loss of Mia, and she was seeing a doctor who specialized in high-risk pregnancies. At a couple of her ultrasound appointments, Ezra had been measuring a little small, which was worrisome. When she went in on March 11 for a routine ultrasound, her doctor told her to go straight to the hospital. 

She was only 24 weeks pregnant. 

“I was scared to death,” she relates. “I’m a teacher, and I left my classroom a little early that day. I had someone come in to take care of my kids so I could leave to go to the appointment. I have not been back to my classroom since.”

Once she was in the hospital, she was able to meet regularly with her obstetrician, Dr. Shannon Couvreur and her baby’s neonatologist, Dr. Francisco Velez. Ultrasounds were done every day.

“Dr. Velez was so amazing,” she shares. “He really calmed me down. I was so afraid of the worst – of losing my baby because I lost Mia. He told me, ‘I know you have had the worst experience you could possibly have – you’ve lost your baby. But, I need you to go into this positively and not think about the fact that you might lose him. We want to think about the quality of life we are going to give to him – that he is going to thrive.’ He really helped me reframe my thinking and from that moment on, it was not so much, ‘I’m going to lose Ezra, I’m going to lose him,’ it was, ‘Ok, I need to stay positive, stay good, stay pregnant as long as possible.’ I had to get him the shots and the steroids he needed to develop his lungs so that he could have a chance to fight.”

Dina jokes that she had planned to be a resident of Tanner hospital until she was 35 weeks pregnant, but, only one week later after one of her daily ultrasounds, Dr. Couvreur had some disconcerting news. She told Dina staying pregnant another few days could be life-threatening for Ezra. 

Although she didn’t have a birthing plan nailed down at the time, Dina, like any new expectant mother, thought that her mom, Matt’s parents and his daughters would be allowed inside the hospital to wait on Ezra’s arrival. But that was not to be, thanks to COVID-19. 

“My mom really wanted to see me before I went in to have the C-section, so she had to tag out with my husband. She stayed with me for about 20 to 30 minutes and cried. I just felt so bad for her. Then she tagged Matt back in and we went on with the C-section.” On Wednesday, March 18 at 5:40 p.m. little Ezra was brought into the world. Although he weighed only 1 pound, 8 ounces, he was doing even better than anyone had expected. 

“He came out doing exactly what he should have at 25 weeks,” she says. “and he’s doing as well as we can possibly hope for. Since he was born, we’ve been so lucky. A lot of 25-weekers have lots of issues right out of the gate, but we haven’t experienced any of that. It took a long time to get his weight back up after he dropped to 1 pound, 4 ounces, but since we’ve started incorporating skin-to-skin contact, he has just thrived. He was less than 2 pounds when I started holding him, and I’ve been holding him for about two weeks now. Since I’ve been holding him, he has gained more than an ounce a day. He is now 3 pounds, 2 ounces.”

Dina was discharged three days after the birth, and remembers her shock when she left the hospital. “It was a ghost town,” she recalls. “When I checked into Tanner on March 11, everything was normal. But when I left the hospital I thought, ‘What has happened to this town?’ I knew things were going down on the outside because the first few days I was in the hospital, we could have visitors as normal. Then it became less and less. Then it was only your spouse or significant other.” 

Even something as simple as getting food for Matt became more difficult as time went on. Getting in and out of the hospital was much harder than it had been just a few days before. “We were always afraid they would tell him, ‘No, you can’t come back in,’ so, we stopped ordering takeout,” she says. 

Life in the NICU

After several weeks, Delilah and Isabelle still have not met their baby brother in person. They’ve seen him through FaceTime and photos, but Dina says it’s not the same as physically being there with him. 

Before the pandemic, both parents could visit their baby in the NICU at the same time, and up to four other people could be placed on a list as visitors, but that isn’t possible now. Only the parents are allowed to visit, separately. 

“The first time I was able to hold Ezra, I asked them if they would allow Matt in there just once so we could experience holding him for the first time together,” she shares. “They said ‘Yes,’ and that was awesome. They are really great. Now, when I visit Ezra, Matt sits in the hospital parking lot and I FaceTime him while I’m inside. Technology definitely helps.” 

Dina is hoping by the time Ezra is released that things will be somewhat back to normal, but she still plans on taking precautions to protect her son.  

“This might sound crazy, but I’m going to be checking temperatures of visitors,” she says. “It’s hard enough having a preemie, but having one during the coronavirus is a different story altogether. Our family understands and they aren’t offended. They understand we’re just trying to protect him.”

Jamequa and Cohen Stallworth

Jamequa Stallworth, MS, CCC-SLP, a medical speech-language pathologist for the elderly, is considered an essential worker. So, when Gov. Kemp issued a state-wide shelter in place order in April, she continued the daily commute to her work at a nursing facility in Buchanan, Ga., in spite of being nine months pregnant.

On Monday, April 6, she began to have contractions. After three days and two false alarm labor and delivery visits, she told her supervisor she wouldn’t be coming in on Thursday. “I told my boss the baby was definitely coming soon,” she laughs. “I worked up through that Wednesday and we had Cohen on Friday.” April 10 also happened to be Good Friday. “It was a good Friday to have a baby,” she laughs.

Jamequa and Cohen Asher Stallworth. Photo by Zachary Dailey, Dailey Life Photography.

Because of the coronavirus, Jamequa had already screened many of the speech-language pathologists who would possibly take her place while she was on maternity leave. “They had to fly someone in to come and replace me,” she explains. “This new person was coming, and there were a lot of people at our facility who were concerned because these people were coming from places that had high levels of COVID-19, hotspots such as California and Florida. But, it all ended up working out fine.”

Her husband, Willie, is also an essential worker. He works for UPS as a package handler. In addition to being a speech-language pathologist, Jamequa is a former doctorate student. Despite being one dissertation away from candidacy, she has decided to put that on hold for a little later in her journey. They live in Villa Rica, Ga., and they have three other boys besides baby Cohen Asher; Ethan Alec, 2, Liam Austin, 6, and Jamarr “Jay” Anthony, 15. 

Easing Her Fears

Jamequa had many fears surrounding her upcoming labor and delivery. She was afraid she or Willie might catch the coronavirus while at the hospital, so she did everything within her power to be proactive. “I was very, very afraid,” she shares. “I wasn’t sure what was going on with the coronavirus. I made sure we had masks, and all the bags and everything we brought in I put in plastic wrapped containers.”

When they arrived at Tanner hospital in the early morning hours on Friday, April 10, her fears subsided considerably. “There wasn’t a lot of traffic, there wasn’t a lot of people there, the staff was still practicing social distancing and they were still wearing masks,” she says. “They were making sure we were safe when we came in there. Just seeing the process they went through to make sure we were safe showed us that they weren’t letting just anyone come in. They were making sure our temperatures were good, and all of the precautions the doctors and nurses took just gave me closure. The room was clean and prepared for us. Everything seemed fine.”

Far From Home

Jamequa is originally from Mobile, Ala. Her family, including her mother, still lives there. She had expectations of family members coming to help with the baby and her mom being there at the hospital during the birth. Sadly, because of COVID-19, her mom was not able to be there.

“My family is over 300 miles away,” she says. “They were expecting to come here to help with the baby and be there in the waiting room. My mom was going to come and help me. I didn’t get any of that because of the coronavirus. She wasn’t able to come because she was afraid she may be asymptomatic and that she could pass it on to the baby.” 

Once the coronavirus hit, Jamequa and Willie had to come up with an alternate plan for the labor and delivery. With three other children, they had to prepare for Willie to be there during the birth, but also for him to go back home and care for the other children afterward.

“It ended up working out perfectly,” she says. “My oldest son is 15, so he was able to take care of the other boys. Luckily, I went into labor early in the morning while they were all sleeping. We had Cohen at 8:15 that morning. We had already discussed this with my son and had a plan. He’s very responsible. He is able to cook, change diapers, whatever we need him to do. My husband was able to hang out with us for a couple of hours after the birth and then go home, but they were all fine. If we didn’t have Jay, I don’t know what we would have done.”

The morning of Cohen’s birth, Jamequa FaceTime’d her mother and gave her the surprise of her life. “It was a shocker to my mom because the 10th wasn’t the actual planned due date,” she shares. “I flashed the camera on the baby’s face, and she just burst completely into tears. It was a nice surprise for her to be able to see her grandson.” 

Cohen Asher Stallworth was born on April 10. Photo by Zachary Dailey, Dailey Life Photography

After they brought Cohen home, they did not allow family members to visit. She says her family was very understanding and just wanted to make sure Cohen and the other boys were safe. “They wouldn’t be able to bear it if they were to give them anything, so they were fine with it,” she explains.

In spite of all of the hoarding of baby wipes, diapers and formula during the pandemic, Jamequa says she hasn’t been affected. “For whatever reason, I guess it was divine intervention, we had our shower early in February,” she shares. “There wasn’t a coronvirus threat then. We went home to Mobile for the shower, and we actually had all of the diapers and wipes that we needed for the baby, so everything was fine.” She is also nursing Cohen, so formula has not been needed.

She says the birthing process overall and the labor and delivery at the hospital was fine, but she is disappointed that her family – especially her mom – couldn’t be there with her after Cohen’s birth.

“I wouldn’t say it was as positive an experience as it could have been,” she shares. “I would have loved it better if my family could have been there, if my mom could have been there to try to help me out some. But, I think, even with us not being able to have many visitors, I was able to really bond with Cohen and get into my groove of being a new mom without the chaos. That was a special time for us.”

Misty and Wilder McIntyre

As a certified marriage therapist and online relationship coach, Misty McIntyre, LMFT, is accustomed to working with couples who are dealing with challenging situations. But in late March and early April, she and her husband, Ty, experienced several challenges of their own before giving birth to their son, Wilder, during the state-wide shelter in place order. 

“We were worried prior to the birth that something would happen, that one of us would get it,” she explains. “We worried either I would have it or my husband would have it and he wouldn’t be able to come with me during the delivery.” 

Misty and Wilder McIntyre. Photo by Zachary Dailey, Dailey Life Photography

There was also concern about being in a hospital setting and being exposed to the coronavirus.

“You just hear that it’s like a war zone inside of there,” she says. “We were worried about getting something and taking it back home, and about who we would leave our other son, Oakley, with while we were there.”

Childcare was a huge concern. Misty’s mom was originally the one who would care for Oakley, but there was a problem. Her mom has custody of Misty’s young nephews, and one became sick just a few weeks before the induction. Her little nephew had the typical cornonavirus symptoms: fever and a terrible cough. “That was an issue because if he was positive, then my mom wasn’t going to be an option for childcare,” Misty says. 

Backup childcare for Oakley would be Ty’s mother, but Misty’s in-laws were facing their own challenges. Two weeks prior to Misty’s induction, her father-in-law had to go to the ER for a blood clot. Then he was required to followup with a doctor at Kennestone Hospital. Both trips had potentially exposed him to the coronavirus.

“That was a big decision, trying to figure out the safest thing for Oakley,” Misty relates. “I was urging my mom to go get my nephew tested. We were just super hypervigilant about who to leave him with and what was going to be the best course of action.” 

Misty’s nephew was tested for COVID-19. It took seven or eight days to get the results back, which they received one week before she was scheduled to be induced. “Thankfully, my nephew tested negative,” she says. Oakley was able to stay with Misty’s mom during the birth.

A Safe Haven

Before she went in to have Wilder, Misty began to ask questions about safety protocols inside the hospital. “I asked my doctor, ‘What are we going to do? What’s the plan?'” she says. 

Her doctor assured her that they weren’t letting anyone in labor and delivery who didn’t need to be there. Cafeteria staff, other non-essential workers and visitors were not allowed. 

“Once I heard from the doctors and several nurses that they pretty much had it on lockdown on the maternity ward, that eased my mind a good bit,” she shares. “When we were there, our own nurses were bringing our food – it wasn’t anyone from the cafeteria – they were really keeping it tight.” 

The day she was scheduled to be induced, Misty and Ty went in through the ER where they were both screened and had their temperatures taken. Then, a nurse came down and escorted them to labor and delivery. Once there, they were screened again.

“Oddly enough, all of my anxiety about it went out the window once I was there. Which is totally the opposite of what I thought would happen,” she laughs. “It was really thorough. I never saw a nose or a set of lips the whole time. I think you recognize how much you miss seeing facial expressions and smiles, but at the same time the staff did a really good job of being super warm and compassionate.”

The First 48 

Misty says the birth itself was pretty smooth sailing, and she gives praises to the Tanner doctors and nursing staff. However, she was disappointed that she had to cancel the birth photographer and videographer she had scheduled. She really wanted Oakley to be there for Wilder’s “Fresh 48 photos,” (A photography session typically done within 48 hours of baby’s birth). 

Wilder Ty McIntyre was born on April 10. Photo by Zachary Dailey, Dailey Life Photography

“We wanted him to see his brother and meet him, and obviously we wanted family there, but that couldn’t happen,” she shares. “So that threw a wrench in the gears a bit.”

Another unexpected development happened just one hour after the delivery: Wilder was in respiratory distress and had to be transferred to the NICU. This added a new level of concern, not only because they would be in the hospital longer, but also about what might happen once they brought him home. “We went in on Thursday and left on Sunday, so it was longer than we anticipated,” she says. “We were nervous because at the time we thought anybody with respiratory issues, asthma or a compromised immune system was more at risk. We wondered, ‘What happens when we get home and what if he gets it?'” 

Coming Home

Wilder’s grandparents waited a few weeks before they were able to hold him and, even then, they had to sanitize, change their clothes and wear a mask. “The grandmothers were having a hard time not giving the kisses,” she shares. “That part was really hard because you want to share the baby. He doesn’t even look like a newborn anymore because those days are so fleeting. They missed out on that.” 

Misty and Ty live in Ranburne with their two boys and two Labrador retrievers, Axl and Addi. Ty works with his dad and his brother in their logging business. In addition to being a marriage therapist and relationship coach, Misty is completing her sex therapy certification.

She says she’s had two really great pregnancies, and they were both special in their own way. “I cherish each one and I don’t know that I would change a whole lot – would I have a baby outside of the coronavirus?” she laughs. “Yes, that would be preferred, but they also made it a really awesome experience and a good story to tell one day.

“I think one of the important things that we will focus on is that even though it was a time of a lot of stress and high anxiety, we were very intentional about trying to focus on the good, the positives and the blessings. We were induced on my mom’s birthday, he was born on Good Friday, we came home on Easter Sunday and even in the midst of a pandemic, we were really able to focus on adjusting to being a family of four.” 

Hope for the Future

“I’ve thought about what I’ll tell Ezra a lot,” Dina says. “The day that I left my classroom to go to that doctor’s appointment if you would have told me, ‘Hey, you’re going to go to the hospital, and not only that, there is going to be a world-wide pandemic,’ I wouldn’t have believed it. I didn’t know that life could just shut down like that. It was just outside of anything I’ve ever experienced or anything that I could have imagined. 

“So, I think that I would tell Ezra that his life, his birth story and everything about him is extremely unique, coming 14 weeks early and coming smack dab in the middle of a pandemic. I want him to know that he truly is very special.”

“If I could tell Cohen about the time when he was born, I would tell him, ‘You were born during a pandemic, but you were just that special,'” shares Jamequa. 

“I think I will tell Wilder that he was born at the perfect time, exactly as it should have been and that we were all ok,” Misty shares. “We had trust and faith in a bigger plan than what we had. And it all worked out beautifully and seamlessly.”

Although these mothers’ birth stories are all unique, one common thread is that even in the midst of a pandemic, there is still much to be thankful for – and there is always hope for the future.

Special thanks to Tanner Health System marketing department for assisting with coordinating our photo shoots and interviews.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.