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    Monday, August 15, 2022

    Pregnant in a pandemic: Mothers find unique challenges giving birth and raising babies

    Lori and Chris Uscinski sit on the sofa with their daughter Brinkley, who was born on Dec. 8, at their home in Mystic on Tuesday, January 26, 2021. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

    Mid-March was already unusual, with society shutting down. On top of that, Laura West was in labor.

    The Norwich resident got food at Ruby Tuesday on March 16 — while in labor — just before the restaurant closed due to the pandemic. The next day, she gave birth at Backus Hospital. Masks weren't yet required but only her husband, and not her mother, was allowed in her room.

    The family later canceled a trip to West's native Florida because of the pandemic, meaning baby Jayden hasn't met a lot of his family, though his grandparents live in Lisbon and Bozrah.

    "He gets very overstimulated very easily, and I'm pretty sure that's because he's used to only being around two people," West said.

    The Day spoke with 12 mothers who gave birth between Jan. 21, 2020, and Jan. 10, 2021, about their experiences being pregnant, giving birth and raising a baby in a pandemic.

    Like others who have given birth since March, New London resident Melina Rosa had to go to the last appointments of her pregnancy alone. When she went to Lawrence + Memorial Hospital in July to give birth, she had her temperature taken, got a COVID-19 test and had to wear a mask.

    "Being that pregnant, it's already hard to breathe," Rosa said. She was induced and had a healthy baby girl, Nova. In the months since, the family's days are "pretty much the same." Rosa's boyfriend works from home, and when Rosa goes to work at Coldstone Creamery, her mother watches Nova.

    She doesn't know how the pandemic will affect Nova in the long run but thinks "this generation of babies is going to be really tough."

    When Meaghann Cathers of Groton was pregnant, she was relieved to be able to take leave from her job at Target, "because at that point we didn't know exactly how dangerous it could be or exactly how it could affect pregnancies and birth and the children."

    Mary was born May 21, and since child care is difficult to find, Cathers is now only working weekends, when her husband — who is in the Navy — isn't working.

    "If the weather's nice and it's not too cold, we'll go for a walk. Usually, we just stay home and kind of hang out, play with the dogs, learn some stuff," Cathers said. Since Mary hasn't been around kids her age, Cathers is afraid for her daughter's social development.

    But Julia DeLapp, director of the Center for Early Childhood Education at Eastern Connecticut State University, said, "babies don't need to interact with other babies." She encourages parents of young children not to worry about what the children are missing out on.

    "The most important thing for infant development is the relationship with their primary caregiver," DeLapp said, and it's not unusual for infants to be home with their mother in their first year of life. She said the pandemic impacts babies "if it is causing undue stress on their parents, so that can get in the way of attachment."

    'It was pretty much all I knew'

    DeLapp noted that very young children don't know anything different — which is similar to how some new mothers feel about their experience child-rearing in a pandemic.

    "Being a first-time mom, it was pretty much all I knew, which was a positive," said Lori Uscinski. She and Chris Uscinski, who live in Mystic, had a baby on Dec. 8. The Uscinskis' friends have only met baby Brinkley over Zoom, and when Brinkley's grandparents are around, they're wearing masks.

    "She only really gets to see our smiles, our full faces," Lori said of herself and her husband.

    West, Rosa and Cathers are first-time moms, as is Niantic resident Shaina Noyes, who had Jax in June.

    "It's tough, because you have this idea in your head of what it's going to be like when you have children," Noyes said. She added, "I had a whole Pinterest board going of what I wanted to do at my baby shower, and how I wanted to decorate, and ideas for my maternity shoot, and it didn't happen."

    As a new mom, Brittany Kahl also hoped to have a big baby shower, and that didn't happen. Going to appointments alone while pregnant, she tried her best to remember everything to tell her husband, "because it was his experience, too."

    Olivia was born July 4, and Kahl recently went back to work. She and her husband are both working from home as designers at Electric Boat, and Kahl is grateful for the bonding time with her baby. They try to go out for walks but otherwise stay home.

    Five days after Olivia was born, East Hartford resident Kaysee Amado, a Ledyard native, had her first child, Max. Since then, there's a bunch of things she'd love to do with her son but isn't yet because of the pandemic, such as having friends meet her baby.

    "He doesn't know the difference," Amado said of Max, but "it just seems like everybody else is getting short-changed."

    During her pregnancy, an added stressor was going to work in a nursing home. She'd be on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website multiple times a day looking up precautions for pregnant women, but because the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 was so new, there weren't resources available. Worried about the health of her baby, she also felt she couldn't be there for the residents as much as she wanted to.

    For some, the second or third child has been a much different experience

    Yulissa Lopez-Mongaya gave birth to Axel in January of last year. Unlike with her 5-year-old, Sophia, Lopez-Mongaya finds it strange that Axel has spent more of his life in a pandemic than not.

    When Sophia was a baby, more family could come and help out, but the pandemic has kept them out of Lopez-Mongaya's Groton home for Axel's first year, and she thinks Axel is shy as a result. Since her family mainly resides in Texas and her husband has a lot of family in New Jersey, a lot of family members haven't met Axel yet, including some grandparents.

    Waterford resident Amy Plungis also gave birth to her second child last January.

    "Right as I was getting ready to enter society, the entire world shut down," she said. When her 6-year-old, Everly, was a baby, "we went everywhere" — to Target and other stores, the aquarium, the zoo, and the library, and to see family in South Carolina.

    "We just were constantly out, where with Lola we were constantly in," she said. But Plungis feels fortunate that her parents, who are retired and live nearby, were able to join their "pod" and watch the kids while she and her husband work from home.

    Joy Mikulski, who recently moved from Griswold to Wallingford with her husband and two kids, had Greyson on Feb. 28. Having both worked as bartenders at Mohegan Sun, she and her husband knew things were serious when the casinos closed. Greyson fell behind in his pediatrician visits, not by Mikulski's choice, and she said Greyson seems shy whereas her 7-year-old, Mason, "was extremely social as a baby."

    One positive she has seen is that Greyson has "never had so much as a cough," whereas Mason caught a few colds "and it was nerve-wracking."

    "Homeschooling my 7-year-old at the time, and my infant baby, with no lactation consultant or doctors or babysitters, it really gave me the understanding that I'm a lot tougher than I gave myself credit for prior to this," she said.

    Mikulski decided to pursue a career in law enforcement, while her spouse went to dealer school through Mohegan Sun and became a blackjack dealer.

    For Ledyard resident Stephanie Poole, the stressors of this pregnancy were different than those of her first two kids. Working in retail, she was in a high-risk environment and would "now have to argue with grown adults to put their masks on."

    William was born Jan. 10 of this year. Poole isn't worried about his socialization, between having two older siblings, living in a condo complex, and having William's grandparents regularly watch the kids.

    Poole and Stephanie LaSota, who lives in Stonington, both noted that even without a pandemic, postpartum is already an isolating time.

    But LaSota felt fortunate with the timing of her pregnancy. She had her first child at 32 and wanted to have a second before turning 36, and she found out she was pregnant in April — on her 35th birthday.

    "The whole first trimester I was able to stay home a lot in my pajamas," LaSota said, noting that not having to go anywhere was convenient when she was nauseated and tired. Juliet was born Dec. 29 — 11 days after her due date.

    "I feel that 2020 was a big blessing to our family because we had a second child; that's what we wanted," LaSota said. "Not everyone gets to plan a family and it turns out how they wanted. We were able to have two healthy babies."

    The other day, she was playing with her 3-year-old, Levi, and he told her that he wanted to make family friends out of blocks, to play with them.

    "We literally made our friends out of blocks and were pretending they were here with us, and it made me really sad, because he's longing for that interaction, too," she said. LaSota rarely takes her kids out, and when she went out to pick up a grocery order and ate chocolate in her car, "it was like a vacation."

    e.moser@theday.com

    Laura and Justin West watch while their son, Jayden, 10 months, places colorful shapes in a bucket Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021, at their home in Norwich. Jayden was born March 17, 2020, at the time when everything started to shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
    Laura and Justin West with their son, Jayden, 10 months, on Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021, at their home in Norwich. Jayden was born March 17, 2020, at the time when everything started to shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
    Brittany and Ryan Kahl hold their daughter Olivia, 7 months, on Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021, at their home in East Lyme. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
    William Poole, born Jan. 10, 2021. (Courtesy of Stephanie Poole)
    Stephanie Poole and her baby, William, born Jan. 10, 2021. (Courtesy of Stephanie Poole)
    Joy Mikulski looks on Feb. 28, 2020, as her newborn baby, Greyson Botchis, sleeps peacefully. Greyson was two hours old. (Courtesy of Joy Mikulski)
    Greyson Botchis, born Feb. 28, 2020. (Courtesy of Joy Mikulski)
    Kaysee Amado works at Saint Mary Home in West Hartford and brought her son, Max, for window visits with residents on Dec. 5, 2020. (Courtesy of Kaysee Amado)
    Joy Mikulski holds Greyson Botchis, age 10 months, at a "catch-up" doctor's appointment in November 2020. (Courtesy of Joy Mikulski)
    Joy Mikulski holds her son Mason Signore, 6, while introducing him to his little brother, Greyson Botchis, for the first time Feb. 28, 2020, in the hospital. Greyson was an hour old. (Courtesy of Joy Mikulski)
    Kaysee and Kevin Amado did a family photo shoot with their baby, Max, on Nov. 15, 2020, as a gift for the grandmothers. (Ashley Abel Photography)

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