WEST MICHIGAN. — It's been nearly two years since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold of the world as we know it, impacting nearly every aspect of life. Young families right here in West Michigan say hospital safety protocols against the virus kept them from seeing and holding their babies for days after they were born.
While parents in Spectrum Health facilities who test positive for COVID just prior to giving birth are typically allowed to stay with their children after birth, the current rules seemingly change if your newborn needs to be placed in the NICU.
In those instances, families tell FOX 17 they are being told they must wait 10 days after a positive COVID test before they can physically be with their child.
"It was hard to wrap my head around it, and I just thought that there was no way that it could be true," Kara Bennett told FOX 17 this week.
She tested positive for the virus right before delivering her twins Evelyn and Norah.
“It was kind of like a suffocating feeling, that there were no options," she said.
She says, staff told her and husband Casey that she would have to deliver the babies via c-section, and then quickly say a temporary farewell before they were whisked off to the NICU.
Kara works for Spectrum Health, and understands the impact COVID has had on operations, but was left further frustrated when she received a message while laying in here delivery bed from her employer.
“I could return to work before I could see my children... It seems very backwards to me that that is the priority,” she said.
Spectrum was telling her that she could return to work within their facilities within 5 days, even though she was being told she would have to wait 10 days to hold here babies.
"That seems to contradict the policy that, as an employee, I could be in the hospital.”
It ended up being 8 days after thee girls were born, before she could hold them in her arms.
“There's a lot of research on skin-to-skin, and how important it is," Kerrie Van Weelden explained to FOX 17.
"I think they worry that they really missed out, and the baby is lonely, and scared, and needs them... And that is, it's all true.”
Van Weelden runs Nurtured Path in East Grand Rapids. She helps families experiencing perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. She says she has seen an increase in appointment request as the pandemic has raged on.
“Often things don't go as we expect, especially during a COVID crisis,” she said.
Things certainly did not go as expected for Hudsonville couple Jason Widner and Theresa Sayles, who recently gavee birth to their son Elliott.
While Elliott is their first child together, each of them have 2 children from previous relationships. So, they thought they knew what to expect with this experience.
“We actually took a COVID test because we weren't feeling well Sunday evening, an at-home test, found out that we had COVID as we're going into the hospital,” they told FOX 17.
They were going to the hospital because Theresa's heart race was increasing, and doctors wanted them to come in to check her out.
They say not much happened in the hospital room Sunday night, but on Monday morning, her doctor broke her water.
“They knew I was dilated to a four when he broke my water, and nothing happened after that,” Theresa explained.
They say 2 hours passed, and then a technician arrived to administer her epidural.
Just moments after the tech was done, Jason says, “She lays back on the bed, contraction, and here he comes.”
Elliott, as the couple explains, was delivered right onto the hospital bed.
They knew before the baby arrived, with their positive COVID tests, that they would have to stay away for at least some time. The good news though, the couple was under the impression they would be able to live stream video of their son in the NICU.
After waiting a few hours, the couple was told there would be a delay in getting a camera set up for Elliott— a delay of up to 4 days.
“I cried, I'm not gonna lie," Jason said. "I was very frustrated, I probably said a few words I probably shouldn't have.”
With the assistance of some nurses, they ended up getting a camera on their baby within 24 hours.
Eventually they would be able to hold their son, 6 days after he was born. They worry about they missed out on.
"I kind of feel like we were robbed of our bonding and closure time,” Jason told FOX 17.
In regards to what both of these families went through, Spectrum Health sent the following statement to FOX 17:
"At Spectrum Health, our first priority is the health and safety of our patients. We understand and value the importance of baby and family bonding, and we have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic to help make these connections while complying with CDC guidelines. We are grateful to our skilled team members for the work they do to provide compassionate care for our patients and family members especially under very challenging circumstances."
Van Weelden saays though, when families are willing to put in the work, some of what is lost in chaotic situations like those caused by COVID, can be regained.
“Bonding happens throughout their whole pregnancies. That baby already knows your rhythms, that baby already knows you,” she explained.
"It's important to know that that bonding has already happened, and can't be taken away.”
You can visit Nurtured Path's website for more information about their services, and how they work with families dealing with these kind of potentially traumatic situations.