She’s finding hope in the rainbows.
It’s as if they hide inspiration between their arched, colorful rows.
Whenever Meghan Gaffney Wells spots one in a Philadelphia window, or looks at the one she painted with her 18-month-old son, Elliott, she briefly forgets how scared she is to be a pregnant mom during a pandemic.
She and her husband, Jake Wells, talk to their son about the colors and try to make up for what Elliott’s missing since he hasn’t been to school in three weeks.
“I try not to let myself go into that spiral, thinking that we’re trapped and worrying that he needs more,” Meghan said. “He doesn’t. He needs love. There’s so much to enjoy that doesn’t require extra stress.”
Like the rainbows.
Life in their hilly, Roxborough neighborhood has changed dramatically since the coronavirus started to spread in Pennsylvania earlier this month.
A stay-at-home order went into effect there this week, as Philadelphia and its surrounding counties have logged the most positive cases of COVID-19 and deaths related to the disease.
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Meghan, a 35-year-old art studio manager who previously worked in higher education, has been working from home for weeks. So has Jake, who works as a user-experience designer at the intersection of business and technology.
She sees more cars than people outside now, though Meghan sometimes spots other families walking around looking for rainbows.
Hundreds of residents in several neighborhoods have joined together to create a rainbow scavenger hunt for kids.
“We can’t go to playgrounds or on playdates, but maybe this can be a way to connect to each other,” a description reads on a Google map showing scores of locations along the rainbow walk.
As pregnancy in the time of coronavirus grows more isolating, Meghan welcomes these little opportunities to connect with the community.
Soon, she plans to add a 7-foot display of Gritty in her front yard.
Meghan’s love of family and Philly is sustaining her during a pregnancy riddled with concerns and changes.
She is 21 weeks pregnant and due on Aug. 7 with their second child. So far, she’s had a mostly healthy pregnancy, though she wonders if she had the coronavirus in February before testing was readily available. She said she had all the symptoms.
This week, Meghan’s pregnancy became more difficult when she was told her husband could no longer go with her to medical appointments, including the ultrasound when they were expected to learn the gender of their baby.
A moment like that is typically marked with excitement and happiness for both parents. But new coronavirus policies at Lankenau Medical Center require patients to be alone at appointments. That means Jake can’t be at appointments designed to check on their baby’s health.
“It makes me very sad,” Meghan said. “He’s already being isolated from this child and this experience. We are not sold separately.”
Jake went to all of her appointments when she was pregnant with Elliott. While they were waiting together in a lab once, Meghan said another patient commented that it must have been their first pregnancy. The patient suggested that once they had more children, the novelty would wear off and Jake would probably be at fewer appointments.
Jake rejected that notion and told Meghan, “I don’t care if we have five kids. I’m going to be with you every single time.”
His reasoning then is the same reason why being separated at appointments is difficult now.
“I never want you to get stressful news when you’re by yourself,” he said.
But Meghan followed the rules and didn’t take anyone else to her appointment on Tuesday, including Jake.
“I hate it. My husband is so hands-on,” she said.
Everything felt different Tuesday from the moment she arrived at the hospital for her 20-week ultrasound.
Medical workers were screening patients for coronavirus symptoms and taking temperatures as they entered the parking garage, Meghan said. Nature stills were playing on the TVs in the hospital instead of the news. She had to put on a glove to sign electronic agreements.
And she could only FaceTime Jake for the last 3 minutes or so of her appointment.
The coronavirus-inspired hospital policies are reminiscent of a time when men weren’t allowed into delivery rooms and dads were treated like second-string parents, but Meghan is finding a way to make sure Jake is as included as possible.
“He did everything last time but nurse the baby. To have society say that’s not valuable feels very, very counterintuitive to us,” she said.
They make it a point to connect daily and share the pregnancy together.
“We talk every day about the baby. When I’m feeling consistent high-fives or kicks, we always spend a minute together, smiling about the baby,” Meghan said. “We check in, listen to the little heartbeat and remind ourselves life is a miracle.”
She frequently refers to her husband as “the most incredible man,” and she is confident they will remain close even when they have to be apart.
“At the end of the day, the biggest concern is the health of our baby. My relationship with Jake grows exponentially every day. Whether or not he will be with me, I would be able to draw strength from this relationship,” Meghan said.
‘It’s terrifying honestly’
Courtney Neiderer is also feeling overwhelmed by facing pregnancy milestones alone.
A 25-year-old mother of three from the Leader Heights area of York County, she also wasn’t allowed to have her partner of nine years, Ned Einsig III, or anyone else with her when she went to an ultrasound this week at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.
It was a difficult appointment. Doctors were looking at a potential problem with her baby’s kidneys.
Courtney and Ned have a 7-year-old daughter, Crystil, who has dyslexia and a 13-month-old daughter, Anabelle, who has a heart defect.
The family has been on their own quarantine since December when they returned from Minnesota after Anabelle had an open-heart surgery at the Mayo Clinic. As a precaution, they’ve stayed in mostly to avoid seasonal colds, strains of the flu, pneumonia and other seasonal pneumonia.
Now, they are facing the coronavirus pandemic and possibly more health challenges with their baby.
Courtney, who is 24 weeks pregnant and due July 18, is “overwhelmed.” She needs support now more than ever and says it’s hard to go to appointments alone and find care for her other children while she goes.
“It’s terrifying honestly. It’s just myself. Sitting there with three other doctors performing ultrasounds, and they’re giving you news which might not always be great. You have nobody else there with you,” Courtney said.
She works at nights as a third-shift freight dispatcher for UPS and felt too tired to drive to her morning appointment this week. Ned, who works for the government, was able to drive her to the ultrasound, but it was hard that he couldn’t stay, Courtney said.
“We are still both working, and the coronavirus is not affecting our health yet. But it’s affecting us in other ways,” she said.
Next week she needs to take Anabelle to get a shot. Courtney is allowed to accompany her daughter, but her 7-year-old daughter is not allowed in, she was told.
“I’m stuck canceling or rescheduling at a time when Ned can stay home and watch our oldest,” Courtney said. “When you’re being told to stay home and social distance, you can’t have a bunch of babysitters coming to the house.”
The biggest fears
Courtney’s biggest fear is what she might learn at her next appointment — if there’s a hole in her baby’s kidney and if Ned will be allowed to be in the hospital room when she delivers her baby.
“I definitely don’t want to do it alone,” she said.
Hershey Medical Center’s temporary ‘No Visitor’ policy includes exceptions for labor and delivery patients, who may have one visitor, according to hospital spokeswoman Barbara Schindo.
UPMC Pinnacle is also allowing a laboring mother to have one support person for her entire hospital stay. This could be her partner or a doula, for example, according to Dr. Kenneth Oken, chair of obstetrics and gynecology at UPMC Pinnacle.
WellSpan Health’s policy allows a mother to have one partner or support person with them through their admission and care.
“We believe it is important for a new mother to have a support person at the time of delivery and will do our best to preserve that relationship in our visitor policies,” said spokeswoman Julie Kupchella. “However, keeping everyone in our hospitals safe is our No. 1 priority. Out an abundance of caution, we continue to modify our visitation policy to limit the spread of COVID-19 in our communities.”
It’s that possibility of change that worries Meghan.
The coronavirus could be mostly gone by her August delivery date or it could be worse, prompting hospitals to make their visitor policies more restrictive, she said.
“I won’t let myself think about delivering alone. I don’t want it to come true. I’m not unwilling to acknowledge that’s a possibility, but I’m also not emotionally strong enough to unpack that right now.” Meghan said. “Who knows what it will look like then? Maybe I’ll have to deliver at an entirely different site.”
Most hospital systems have offered similar answers to questions about space for laboring moms where they might deliver their babies. All have said they will have room for laboring mothers and delivers, and none committed to exactly where those deliveries would take place.
“All OB patients that come to our hospital to deliver their baby will be accommodated,” UPMC Pinnacle’s Oken said.
When asked if laboring women would be sent to another facility, such as one that might be created for surge capacity, he said:
“Our UPMC hospitals operate with the robust ability to adapt to demands by sharing facilities, resources, and expertise across our system. We are carefully and thoughtfully planning to ensure our system can accommodate all patients in the facility best suited to their clinical needs.”
Courtney and Meghan have wondered if a hospital is the safest place to have a baby, given the growing number of COVID-19 patients who are going to regional hospitals daily.
Oken said UPMC is screening all mothers and their support person prior to coming into the hospital.
Though Courtney and Meghan are both still planning to have hospital births, they have wondered if it’s any safer to deliver at home with a midwife during this time.
“Mothers who are planning a hospital birth should continue to plan for their delivery at the hospital and talk to their doctor about any questions or concerns they have,” Oken said.
Hospitals in New York, which is being called ground zero for the coronavirus infection in the U.S., are discharging moms and babies sooner than usual to free up hospital capacity. As long as there are no other complications or concerns, some women and babies have been discharged the same day as delivery there.
At UPMC, mothers and their babies may be discharged as soon as 24 hours after birth, Oken said. For cesarean deliveries without complications, mothers and babies may be discharged as soon as 48 hours.
This should be one of the most joyful times in their lives, but Courtney and Meghan can’t help but feel like they’re being robbed of a peaceful pregnancy.
“I’m honestly disappointed,” Courtney said.
She and Ned were planning a gender reveal party for their first and only boy. They’re not planning to have anymore children.
They had a shower with their first daughter and special maternity photos with their second daughter, but the coronavirus has canceled any plans they may have had for this pregnancy.
“We are missing out on all of that stuff this time,” Courtney said. “I feel like I’m being robbed of an experience, but at this point I think everyone is being robbed of experiences.”
By this point in her previous pregnancies, Courtney had already stocked up on diapers and wipes, but not this time.
“I can’t do that now. I know there are other people who need it right now more than I do,” she said.
Meanwhile, she and Ned are thinking of baby names and trying to take life one day at a time.
Meghan is also trying to take life day by day and quell her fears.
“I’m not the kind of person who runs to the doctor all the time. But I’ve become aware of every change in my body, wondering if I’m sick or something is wrong,” she said. “It’s beyond hypervigilance. It’s constant anxiety.”
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And Meghan, who doesn’t consider herself a very religious person, has been thinking more about spirituality, heaven and close relatives who have passed away.
“I just want to talk to someone and have them make it OK,” she said.
Meghan is also really aware of her hormone changes and sensitivity as an expectant mom.
“My emotions are electric. I can’t watch sad news or certain shows,” Meghan said. “I try to distance myself from the news and yet I can’t stop scrolling.”
She said she has to remind herself constantly to live one day at a time.
“I can’t wrap my head around the what-ifs,” Meghan said. “It’s too real, too personal, too scary.”
As their lives and pregnancies are upended by the pandemic, Courtney and Meghan are finding new reasons to be grateful.
“It’s making us take a step back,” Courtney said. “It makes you appreciate what you had and what really matters.”
Meghan is realizing how many things she had taken for granted, “like picking up a pen in the doctor’s office without using gloves.”
“I appreciate the bumps and kicks. I appreciate every little feeling. I appreciate our family of three. I appreciate Elliott who is so smart, so funny, so cute,” she said.
Every pregnancy, even when there’s not a pandemic, comes with its share of fears, she said. You always worry and deeply desire to deliver and bring the baby home safely. But there’s only so much a mother can control.
Meghan is focusing on what she can control, like finding rainbows.
“The are so many awesome people in the world. There’s a resilence in us,” she said. “I have no idea what the new normal will be, but we’re preparing for it. I read that to plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow. Every morning when I look at Elliott, I think what gardens are we going to plant today.”
Candy Woodall is a reporter for the USA Today Network. She can be reached at 717-480-1783 or on Twitter at @candynotcandace.
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