What it's like to be separated from a baby because of COVID-19

"My child doesn't know my touch."

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/ Source: TODAY
By Meghan Holohan

After Jennifer Laubach delivered her twins prematurely, doctors whisked them away to the neonatal intensive care unit. One of her newborn boys needed help breathing, and both required feeding tubes to help them gain weight.

Days passed and the babies became stronger. It seemed as if at least one of them might be ready to leave the NICU — but there was a catch. Both Laubach and her husband, Andre, had tested positive for COVID-19. That meant they could video chat with NICU nurses, but they had to remain physically isolated from their babies.

“There is a feeling of, ‘My child doesn’t know my touch yet,’” Andre Laubach told TODAY Parents. “When we take the kids home, are they going to be afraid of my voice?”

Before Michigan issued its stay-at-home order, Jennifer Laubach started working from home because she was pregnant and did not want to contract COVID-19. She and her husband still became sick with the coronavirus.Courtesy the Laubach family

The NICU always has been a world of heartbreak and hope, but amid a global pandemic, moms and dads are facing challenges they never could have anticipated. As hospitals try to prevent the spread of coronavirus, their policies mean that parents are interacting with their children in the NICU very differently — or not at all.

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Unexpected complications

Laubach, 36, panicked when her water broke on April 3. At 32 weeks along, she knew it was too early to deliver the twins — and, on top of that, she and Andre both had symptoms of COVID-19. As they prepared to leave the house, Andre fell into such a severe coughing fit that he could not drive. She urged him to call an ambulance as she drove herself to Troy Beaumont Hospital in Troy, Michigan, 25 minutes away.

“Literally, I didn’t know if I ever was going to see him again because he was coughing and short of breath,” Laubach recalled. “It was heartbreaking. I could just see the look on his face — like, ‘I want to go with you.’”

Paramedics evaluated Andre and said he did not need to be hospitalized, so he stayed at home and waited with the doors unlocked in case he needed emergency medical help again. Meanwhile, at the hospital, doctors stopped Laubach’s labor with the hope that she could deliver at 34 weeks instead. But the next morning they discovered she was 5 centimeters dilated, and she delivered her baby boys Mitchell and Maksim soon after.

“From start to finish it was four hours,” Laubach said. “It was pretty amazing.”

Jennifer and Andre Laubach got to know their newborn sons via video chats and photos. Baby Maksim needed to stay a little longer in the hospital than his twin brother, Mitchell. Courtesy the Laubach family

A few days after Laubach was discharged, though, she developed signs of postpartum preeclampsia, a rarer form of a pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure. She returned to the hospital for care.

“I felt really alone and isolated,” she said. “I couldn’t have any visitors.”

At such a challenging time, having the boys in the NICU felt like a bit of a relief for both ailing parents.

“It was kind of a blessing because we were in no shape to take care of our little newborns,” Andre said.

Still, it hasn’t been easy. Laubach has tried pumping breastmilk, but she doesn’t seem to be producing enough.

“My body is like, ‘Well, there are no babies,’” she explained. “I get like a half an ounce of milk every time I pump, which isn’t very much for two boys.”

Baby Mitchell was able to go home with his parents, Jennifer and Andre Laubach, at the end of April. The first time his parents saw him in real life was 20 days after he was born. Courtesy the Laubach family

Mother's Day apart

On April 2, Stephanie Corbey, 31, gave birth to twins Cora and Timmy after 27 weeks of gestation. Doctors immediately took the babies to the NICU because they needed help breathing.

“I didn’t get to see either baby or hold them,” Corbey told TODAY Parents. “The first time I held the twins together in the same room was on April 18, and my husband wasn’t there.”

Stephanie Corbey delivered her twins at 27 weeks. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, she and her husband have to follow hospital restrictions and only one parent can visit the NICU at a time.Courtesy Corbey family

Unlike the Laubachs, Corbey and her husband, Tim, who live in Columbus, Ohio, have not tested positive for COVID-19 or had any symptoms. But as the hospital altered its policies to prevent the spread of coronavirus, visitation rules changed. Starting on April 6, only one parent could visit per calendar day. So Corbey goes to the NICU four days a week, and her husband goes the other three.

“We feel defeated. There is nothing we can do to change the rules,” Corbey said, stressing that she’s eager to follow any rules that could prevent the twins from getting sick. Still, it’s a challenging situation for the first-time mom.

“I have been preparing myself to not spend our first Mother’s Day as a family,” she added. “My family can’t go. That’s sad.”

Stephanie and Tim Corbey said it's been tough not to be able to be together with their newborn twins as a family of four. Courtesy Corbey family

Doctors said the twins might be able to return home when they reach the 34-week mark, but the Corbeys are preparing themselves mentally for the babies to remain in the NICU until 40 weeks. That way if they come home earlier, it will be a wonderful surprise.

“From my standpoint, I believe the rules are for the betterment of society,” Corbey said. “It is very difficult. I try not to be selfish.”

Stephanie Corbey said her twins have only seen her face behind a mask. They've been in the NICU ever since they were born at 27 weeks. Courtesy Corbey family

Reunited at last

The Laubachs finally were able to meet their sons on April 23, 20 days after their birth. Mitchell went home with them that day; Maksim is still in the NICU.

“It was very emotional. They seemed so tiny and fragile,” Laubach said. “I cried when I thanked the nurses for taking care of them when we were unable.”

After 20 days, the Laubachs finally met their twin sons in person. Courtesy Beaumont Health

The couple are thrilled to be able to hold their sons. They said they hope their story encourages others to do everything they can to avoid becoming sick or transmitting COVID-19 to others.

“People who don’t take this seriously just really upset me,” Laubach said. “It is a serious things and people are dying from it.”

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