Celebrating New Life Amid the Pandemic
More than 22,500 babies have been born at NewYork-Presbyterian hospitals in the year since COVID-19 hit New York City. Despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles, here’s how nine families navigated pregnancy, parenthood, and the pandemic.
The coronavirus pandemic has brought unspeakable losses and new challenges to our daily lives. But in a year of hardships and heartbreak, there have been moments of hope.
At NewYork-Presbyterian, more than 22,500 babies were born across the greater New York area since the hospital diagnosed its first COVID-19-positive patient on March 1, 2020. That’s roughly 61 families a day who were able to briefly suspend the harsh reality of the pandemic and experience the thrill, joy, and disbelief that comes with welcoming a new little one.
Here, meet 12 of the youngest members of what has been dubbed the COVID Generation and their families, who met the enormous challenge of navigating pregnancy, parenthood, and the pandemic over the past year.
“It has not been the ideal situation, but we have tried to make the best of it,” says Chadine Connor-Gyimah, who gave birth to her daughter Scarlett at NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital last April when New York City was the epicenter of the global pandemic. “We have been blessed to have the right people in our lives — our midwives, our doctors, and our pediatricians.”
Though at times it was overwhelming, learn how these parents persevered in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and how they survived the tumultuous yet joyous first year of baby milestones (and sleepless nights!) with resolve and an endless reserve of love.
Born March 21, 2020
NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center
When Quinaya Coleman gave birth to her son Jamie at 28 weeks, he weighed only 1 pound, 8 ounces. At the same time, the number of COVID-19 cases in New York City — and the anxiety surrounding the then-unfamiliar virus — was quickly mounting. “It all seemed impossible,” Quinaya says. One year later, “I still think about how small he was and all the scares at the time. But that experience also pushed me to surpass my limits. We both got through that. What can’t we do together?”
After 143 days in the NICU at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center and later NewYork-Presbyterian Alexandra Cohen Hospital for Women and Newborns, Jamie finally went home. By October, the duo had celebrated two more milestones: Quinaya earned her degree in medical assisting, and Jamie got his feeding tube removed. “I was doing online classes while he was in the NICU,” she says. On graduation day, “I cried because it all seemed impossible last March. Now I feel like everything was worth it.”
Born April 8, 2020
NewYork-Presbyterian Hudson Valley Hospital
“She has had a big personality from the day she was born,” says proud mom Prashanti Lee of her daughter Gayatri, or “Gaya” for short. “And that personality continues to keep us on our toes.” Before Gaya could crawl, she was climbing onto the couch. “She eventually found her legs and is now cruising from room to room at Mach speed chasing after her two 60-pound dogs,” Prashanti says.
Her can-do spirit clearly came from her mama. As Prashanti approached the final weeks of her pregnancy, the coronavirus outbreak was starting to peak in New York City. “Having a baby during the COVID-19 pandemic was brutal,” she admits. “The last six weeks of being pregnant was stressful in a way that I hadn’t been prepared for.” But in the end, Prashanti credits her team at NewYork-Presbyterian Hudson Valley Hospital with helping her rise to the challenge. “They did everything they could to make sure I was OK,” says Prashanti. “Even though I was nervous and exhausted, I knew everything would be all right.” Back at home, Prashanti says, she finds the same comfort and support in her parents: “Having Gaya spend time with her grandparents has been really special for everyone.”
Born January 23, 2021
NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center
Living with lupus and pulmonary hypertension, Maridel Plaza was always cautioned against getting pregnant. Since receiving her diagnosis in 2015, “I had two or three maternal-fetal consults,” says Maridel, who is a nurse. “They flat-out told me, ‘If you were my sister, I would tell you, what were you thinking, trying to get pregnant? It’s 25 to 50 percent mortality risk.’ Most of my doctors strongly advised against pregnancy.” But in 2020, at a time when doctors had tentatively agreed to wean her off one medication in preparation to try and conceive, Maridel discovered she was pregnant: “It was unexpected but welcome.”
When Maridel consulted with Dr. Jennifer Haythe, a cardiologist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center who specializes in caring for pregnant women with cardiovascular diseases, she got a very different response to her news. “She was very compassionate,” recalls Maridel. “I did a heart catheterization, and she was happy with the results and said I could manage to get through this better than others with a similar condition. That was our sign we could pursue the pregnancy.” Maridel regularly visited the Mothers Center at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia to check in with Dr. Haythe and her obstetrician, Dr. Stephanie Purisch. Together, her care team helped Maridel beat the odds, closely monitoring her until she safely gave birth to baby Theia at 37 weeks. Now 2 months old, Theia is already a girl who knows what she wants: “She loves bath time and car rides,” says Maridel, “and dislikes tummy time.”
Vimbayi, Thandiwe, and Anesu
Born March 25, 2020
NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center
What’s in a name? For Annibel Tejada, her daughters’ names — which originate from Zimbabwe, where her husband, Tendayi Kapfidze, grew up — represent the affirmations that kept her strong as she managed a high-risk pregnancy during the pandemic. “Vimbayi means ‘to have faith.’ Thandiwe means ‘she is beloved.’ And Anesu means ‘God is with us,’” says Annibel.
Her resolve was tested on March 25, when she underwent a C-section just three days after New York City went into lockdown. “The most difficult part of being pregnant and giving birth during the pandemic was losing physical support from your family and friends,” says Annibel. Thankfully, she found cheerleaders all around her at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. “When I went into the OR, people were excited about my triplets,” says Annibel. “And when Vimbayi [the oldest] came out and cried, the whole NICU team started clapping.” The girls were then kept in the NICU for 21 days to monitor their breathing and feeding. In the hours Annibel and Tendayi couldn’t be at the hospital, “the NICU nurses became the girls’ moms,” says Annibel. “I’ll always be thankful for everything they did.”
Now, one year later, “they each have their own little personality,” says Annibel of her girls. “Vimbayi is calm and quiet. Thandi wants more hugs and likes to be carried. Anesu is independent and very goal-oriented. If she sees her sisters playing with a toy she wants, she goes across the room and takes the toy away.” Luckily for Mom, they all have one thing in common: “They started sleeping through the night at 5 months old,” says Annibel. “That’s when I started saying ‘oh, they’re so cute!’”
Born May 3, 2020
NewYork-Presbyterian Lower Manhattan Hospital
In the final weeks of her pregnancy, Jennifer Ng would call her 83-year-old grandfather, Cheung Tsang Shaw, every day at 6 a.m. to check in. Even in the wee hours of May 3, as she experienced the early signs of labor and checked into NewYork-Presbyterian Lower Manhattan Hospital, Jennifer reached out to let him know his great-granddaughter was coming — but this time there was no answer. At 6:30 a.m., as Jennifer’s contractions grew more intense, she received a call with devastating news: Her beloved grandfather had died. While her husband, Wylie Luo, was still en route to the hospital, Jennifer’s care team stepped up to help her cope with the physical pain of giving birth and the emotional grief that comes with losing a loved one. “They made me feel less alone,” says Jennifer. One nurse, Allison Filomeno, even printed out and put up a photo of her grandfather in the delivery room as a tribute. “That was so thoughtful,” says Jennifer. “I found a really strong support from NYP.”
She also found strength in her newborn daughter. “When Vera came, all I could do was smile and laugh because she was so perfect,” says the new mom. “She made everything a lot more bearable.” Jennifer continues to find joy in her daughter every day. At 10 months, Vera is on the move, pulling herself up, cruising, and eagerly reaching for food. “She is obsessed with mangoes, and tofu is a new favorite,” says Jennifer. Vera is also channeling her great-grandfather. “Her first real words are ‘moo’ and ‘bread.’ This makes me smile because my grandpa was born in the Year of the Ox, and he was always baking bread.”
Born July 25, 2020
NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center
Sarah Bleviss and Katherine Nilson started 2020 feeling euphoric: Sarah’s fertility treatments at the Weill Cornell Medicine Ronald O. Perelman and Claudia Cohen Center for Reproductive Medicine were a success, and the couple was expecting a baby boy in August. By March, however, joy quickly gave way to anxiety as they adapted to the new normal. “We followed all the guidelines,” says Sarah. “We were trying to remain as optimistic but as cautious as possible.” On July 25, Sarah gave birth to Abraham at 37 weeks via C-section at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. Within the first 24 hours, nurses quickly recognized that Abraham, who weighed 5 pounds, 7 ounces, was shaky, and he was brought to the NICU, where they monitored his glucose levels and heart rate. Through it all “we learned so much from the NICU nurses,” says Sarah. “We left the hospital feeling confident. We’re both forever indebted to them.”
Over the last eight months, “We have really appreciated the community we live in and the public spaces we have at our fingertips,” says Katherine. Sarah even started a new parents’ group in their neighborhood. “We meet in the park and sit 6 feet apart with masks on or go for walks, so we have support from one another,” she says. Abraham can also count on one of the family cats, Otto, for attention. “Otto is always checking on him,” says Sarah, who notes that not only is Abraham sitting up and laughing, “he has better motor skills, so he’s able to pet cats,” she says. “That’s just beautiful.”
Born April 2, 2020
NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital
The Gyimah family were excited to welcome a new sibling for their 5-year-old daughter, Skylar. But when the pandemic hit, “it was terrifying,” says Chadine Connor-Gyimah. “We didn’t know what this thing was. We didn’t know what it did to adults or the unborn.” There was an added layer of anxiety because her husband, Eric, is a nurse on the front lines.
Just one week before her scheduled C-section, Eric came down with severe COVID-19-related symptoms, so to be safe Chadine and Sklyar moved in with family nearby. When Chadine was admitted to NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital, any stress around her birthing process was erased with the help of Roseanne Seminara, the hospital’s director of midwifery. “She was rubbing my back, giving me massages. She was so sweet,” says Chadine. “I never had a C-section before, but [the care team] coached me through it.”
After giving birth, Chadine discovered that, though she was asymptomatic, she tested positive for COVID-19 and had to be moved into an isolated room. “I felt lonely and scared,” says Chadine, until a night nurse came by to check in. “Her name was Marina [Byshovets], and she was so kind. She spoke to me about her life and made me feel human again,” recalls Chadine. “She was that sunshine during a rough time.” Now Scarlett (who tested negative for COVID-19) is the ray of hope getting Chadine through the pandemic. “Scarlett is a happy, healthy baby who loves to giggle,” she says. While Scarlett’s first year is not going as expected, Chadine isn’t worried about her little girl. “She’s a go-getter,” she says. “I’m not fearful at all about her future.”
Born September 28, 2020
Having experienced a stillbirth six years ago and hypertension more recently, Jessica Alonzo knew her pregnancy would be high-risk. But as she sat in the waiting room before a routine sonogram at NewYork-Presbyterian Queens, nothing could have prepared her for what happened next. She felt some cramping, stood up, and suddenly realized she was bleeding. Jessica was experiencing a placental abruption, when the placenta separates from the inner wall of the uterus, depriving the baby of oxygen and nutrients. Jessica was immediately admitted into the hospital, where neonatal-perinatal medicine specialist Dr. Elise Lavery performed an emergency C-section at 28 weeks.
When Maximus was born, he had difficulty breathing and was immediately moved to the NICU, where Jessica’s little “warrior” spent the next 99 days fighting off infections and learning to breathe on his own. When the moment finally came for Maximus to go home, the Child Life team held a surprise NICU graduation ceremony for Max and Jessica, complete with a little cap and gown, a diploma, and “Pomp and Circumstance” playing in the background. “I was overwhelmed to see they were having this little ceremony for him,” says Jessica. “It was very touching.” Now Maximus is breathing on his own, and his lungs seem to be doing much better. “He’s very demanding,” says Mom. “He lets you know when he’s hungry or he doesn’t like something!”
Connor and Emma
Born August 2, 2020
NewYork-Presbyterian Alexandra Cohen Hospital for Women and Newborns
“The moment the nurse placed Connor and Emma in our arms was transformative,” says Julianne Kanter. “We knew that life would never be the same, and that we were on the start of an amazing new journey.” Seven months since becoming the first patients born at NewYork-Presbyterian Alexandra Cohen Hospital for Women and Newborns, Connor and Emma are thriving. “They love saying ‘mama’ and ‘dada,’” reports their father, Jason. “Both are starting to eat solids and absolutely love avocados.” Their personalities are also beginning to show: Emma is inquisitive and loves to explore; Connor is a happy baby who finds everything hilarious.
Immediately following the birth of their twins, Jason and Julianne were fortunate to have some assistance from family. But for most of the pandemic, the new parents have not had any outside help with the kids, which has been challenging. “But it has also been a blessing,” says Jason. “We have been present for many of Emma’s and Connor’s firsts, including their first smiles, first laughs, and first efforts to crawl toward each other.” Adds Julianne: “Raising Connor and Emma has forced us to adapt and problem-solve rapidly. But it has also made us realize that we can overcome any obstacles together as a team.”
To learn more about women’s health services at NewYork-Presbyterian, visit nyp.org/womens.