In ordinary times, motherhood is a cacophony of emotions, as exhausting as it is exhilarating.
But these times are far from ordinary.
For Mother’s Day, LNP | LancasterOnline spoke to five new mothers — some first-timers, some seasoned pros — from diverse backgrounds about pregnancy fears and the historic challenges of delivering their bundle of joy in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Every pregnancy is different.
But what these moms described — from missed milestones to bonding — reveal that the pregnancy experience is as rich as it is shared.
Here are their stories:
‘It was definitely scary with all the unknowns’
After roughly an hour of active labor, pushing through painful contractions, Karly Musser became a first-time mother. The new mom from Elizabethtown gave birth to a 6-pound, 10-ounce baby boy named Warren on Jan. 12 at Lancaster General Health Women & Babies Hospital.
Nearly three months later, Musser’s son still hadn’t seen what her parents — Nona and Grampy — look like without face masks.
“We did it because she’s a nervous mother,” Kathleen Kosek, Musser’s mother, said of the masks.
Now that Kosek is fully vaccinated, the first-time grandmother was able to “to kiss him all up and feel that baby skin on my lips” for the first time last week.
The face masks are to protect the baby, but Kosek said she worried Warren wouldn’t recognize her when they finally got to see him without the face coverings.
Studies have long shown that the exchange of facial expression is the underpinning for secure attachment for infants.
“He should be seeing us as us,” said Kosek, who quarantined in the weeks leading up to Musser’s due date to ensure she could see Warren.
When Musser found out she was pregnant last May, she felt certain then that the pandemic would be over before her water broke. But their new-parent experience was significantly altered by COVID-19.
Hospital visitation restrictions kept Musser’s husband, Jeb, from being part of the baby’s first ultrasound. He listened in on the appointment from a speakerphone in the car.
“It’s kind of the sense of worry and dread that if this is how the ultrasound’s going to be, how’s the birth going to go with the COVID restrictions?” Jeb Musser, 28, said.
The couple attended newborn classes virtually, something Musser said robbed her of meeting other new moms.
“If I would’ve had to deliver without my husband there, that would have been super scary,” said Karly Musser, 29. “It’s definitely a moment that you want to share with your significant other.
“It was definitely scary with all the unknowns.”
‘It was pretty frustrating’
Tanna White’s mother was at her side throughout the labor and delivery of each of her children, until White gave birth in the pandemic.
Because of hospital restrictions, only the dad and the doula were present when White gave birth at Women & Babies on Feb. 28 to Ta'Lula, a healthy 8-pound, 9-ounce baby girl.
“It was just really lonely not being able to bring more people,” said White, 29, of Lancaster.
White also would forego the familiar milestones of a modern pregnancy and end up re-learning sixth-grade math. During the economic shutdown, while her two oldest children were out of school, White and her husband essentially “became their teachers.”
“It was like a mini vacation that nobody actually wanted,” White said. “I’m not going to lie it was pretty frustrating.”
When she and her husband, Brandon, first learned they were expecting their fifth child last summer, she thought little of the pandemic. (The White’s kids range from infant to 12 years old.)
Reality quickly set in. The COVID-19 virus has hurt all communities, but not equally. Some minority communities have been disproportionately impacted by the novel coronavirus, a fact not lost on White, who is Black.
“It’s upsetting and just heightens our fears and anxiety even more when it comes to this pandemic,” she said. “I was super-scared of it.”
A parking enforcement officer with the Lancaster Parking Authority, White worked during her entire pregnancy, as did her husband, who deliveries grocery for a supermarket chain.
To mitigate exposure after every shift, Brandon White, 29, would shower and change clothes in the basement of their home before going upstairs.
“Every week, I was getting alerts that someone was getting COVID,” he said.
Still — despite the stresses and fears — Tanna White said she did discover a silver lining in the pandemic.
“We just really got to spend that extra time together that we never really get to spend,” she said.
‘We got to get to know each other’
Samantha Colon had just gone back to work when Gov. Tom Wolf shuttered all nonessential businesses last year.
On Jan. 12, 2020, she delivered Aesir, a 7-pound, 6-ounce baby boy at UPMC Lititz Women’s Place.
As a single mother and sole provider to her son, the 25-year-old was eager to return to the dental office where she works as a patient concierge, despite transmission concerns over the virus. (Early in the pandemic, Wolf had prohibited non-emergency dental procedures.)
“I guess the hardest part was having to do it alone,” Colon, of Lancaster, said. “I had to work even harder because I’m pretty much working for my family.”
Colon’s mother, Liz Sanchez, said she was grateful her grandson came when he did, that he wasn’t born after hospitals began banning visitors.
“Thankfully, we just missed the restrictions,” Sanchez said. “So, I was actually in the delivery room with her.”
But when the baby required surgery three months later to correct a minor head injury suffered in childbirth, Colon went alone to Milton S. Hershey Medical Center in Dauphin County.
For a close-knit Puerto Rican family, quick to exchange hugs and kisses on the cheek, the video calls on FaceTime were no substitute in the isolation.
That’s when Colon found out what she was made of, her mother said, and how strong she really is.
Still, Sanchez said she could hear the stress in her daughter’s voice.
“I’ve seen a lot of people fall apart in the pandemic,” Sanchez said. “Sam pushed through it. Sam was resilient getting through the pandemic as a single mother.”
The way Colon sees it, she said, the pandemic did give her something she might not have experienced otherwise.
“The pandemic was kind of like a blessing in disguise for me,” Colon said. “It gave me more of a reason to stay home and enjoy my baby.
“We got to get to know each other.”
‘Having a toddler at home — that was the adjustment’
Danielle Madeja, a human resources representative for a national software company, has worked remotely.
But not like this.
Three months pregnant with her second child and a toddler at home (because day cares were not considered essential businesses), Madeja found herself for the first time having to simultaneously juggle family and work in her Lancaster home.
“I was always 100% remote, so it was not too much of an adjustment,” said Madeja, 33. “Having a toddler at home — that was the adjustment.”
She worked in fits around her toddler, her days frequently stretching to midnight.
Madeja quickly ran out of things to do with her 2½-year-old son, Truman. She turned to Pinterest, an image-sharing social media platform, for ideas.
“I didn’t want to just plop him in front of the television,” Madeja said.
She learned how to do kids crafts.
Lots and lots of kids crafts.
Mom and son made music shakers with paper plates and rice, a kid-size rocket ship out of a cardboard delivery box and Popsicle-stick puppets.
Madeja captured these moments on her cellphone in a photo album she called “COVID Crafts” and shared it with friends and family.
Madeja echoed the sentiments of all the pandemic moms with whom LNP | LancasterOnline spoke: that while the economic shutdown brought unwelcomed challenges, it also gave her precious moments.
“Generally, I’m an optimist,” Madeja said. “I felt really lucky to have my 2½-year-old son home. I found out I’m really good at doing kids’ crafts.
“While it was difficult, it was sort of nice, too,” she added.
After Truman returned to day care, Ellis “Sonny” Madeja was born at Women & Babies on Aug. 29, 2020.
“I feel like we have come out of this very lucky,” Madeja said. “I know a lot of people did not fare as well.”
‘She’s changed our life for the better’
Leeanna Krushinski had tried for eight months to get pregnant before a pink line on a home pregnancy test confirmed her hopes.
The 27-year-old wrapped the stick in tissue paper and put it in a gold jewelry box as an early Christmas gift to her husband, Steven.
This was December 2019.
Krushinski said the decision to expand their family could have been placed on hold if they had still been trying to conceive just a few months later.
“I might have just said, ‘Let's wait,’” said Krushinski, who worked remotely from their Lititz home as a graphic artist during her pregnancy.
On Aug. 13, 2020, Krushinski gave birth at Women & Babies to a healthy, 7-pound, 12-ounce baby girl they named Vella Rouje.
“She’s a blessing,” Krushinski said. “She’s changed our life for the better.”
Getting pregnant and giving birth in a pandemic has likewise meant skipping the rites-of-passage so common to the new-parent experience: the adoring attention family and friends shower on the expecting; silly, baby-shower games and the ultrasound scan revealing the baby’s gender.
“When she was first born, I couldn’t even show her off,” Krushinski said.
Krushinski, like so many other moms working from home, had to balance deadlines against the demands of motherhood. With baby on one knee, she’s able to entertain her little one with kids’ music (the “Hello” song is among her daughter’s favorites) while she taps away at the computer.
Krushinski said the virus has roused her long-dormant anxieties.
“I was just thinking my child’s not going to be able to live a normal life, be around other kids or go to school,” said Krushinski, who struggled with postpartum depression. She’s not alone. Roughly one in eight women nationally experience postpartum depression.
While having had limited, in-person contact with family because of transmission concerns, Krushinski said she speaks everyday with her mother using FaceTime.
“It brought us closer as a family,” Krushinski said.