Parents Talk Back by Aisha Sultan

Pregnant in a Pandemic

When she was about to give birth, Melissa Andrzejewski was reminded of death.

She found out she was pregnant last summer, shortly before her father learned his pancreatic cancer had spread, and that he only had a few months to live.

He died in October. Andrzejewski told her family and friends she would need them more than ever during her labor and delivery.

“I can get through this as long as all of you are with me in the hospital,” she said. That’s what her family does: There were 15 people in the waiting room a year and a half ago when her first baby, Holly, was born. Her sister ordered pizza for everyone while they waited.

Back then, her father was in the hospital with complications of his chemotherapy. He met his granddaughter after he was released, when Holly was 2 weeks old.

Andrzejewski, 28, is an operating room nurse in Troy, Missouri. She kept working at the hospital through her second pregnancy. In mid-March, when she was 37 weeks, a nurse friend from the hospital where she was scheduled to deliver texted her a screenshot of the revised visitation policy due to the coronavirus pandemic.

No visitors would be allowed when she gave birth.

The fact that the waiting room would be empty hit her hard. Andrzejewski broke down, then called her husband and her mom. At her next doctor’s appointment, she asked if it was possible that her husband might even be restricted from attending the birth; her doctor told her it was a very real possibility.

She had already been fearful about being exposed to COVID-19 at her job and possibly being separated from her baby, so Andrzejewski stopped working. She looked into a birthing center, which assured her that her husband could still be present for the birth. But it was too close to her due date for her to feel comfortable about making such a drastic change, and her obstetrician was not keen on the idea.

When she went into labor, she and her husband entered through the ER, wearing face masks, and had their temperatures taken. Andrzejewski’s mother had self-quarantined for two weeks so she could watch Holly.

Hayden was born on April 1, and she met her big sister and grandma through FaceTime.

“(Holly) called herself ‘sissy,’” Andrzejewski said. It made her emotional to think that her father would never get to know Hayden. But the moment Hayden was born, Andrzejewski said she experienced an overwhelming feeling that her dad had met Hayden before and was there with her.

“I had an image in my head that he had kissed her and handed her over to me,” she said.

They came home 24 hours after the birth, and waited a month before any relatives met Hayden. Andrzejewski has barely left the house, except to go to the backyard with the babies.

“I don’t have plans on taking either one of the girls out for months,” she said, even though her county has reopened. She’s nervous about the expected second wave of infections, and isn’t sure when she might return to work.

She’s taken some comfort in how much Hayden resembles her father, Steve.

“My dad was Italian, and Hayden looks exactly like him,” she said. She said he would have been screaming it from the mountaintops that he has a grandchild that looks like him.

Recently, she did venture out for an outing she felt compelled to do: She took her daughters to visit her father’s gravesite.

“Here are your two grandbabies,” she said. “I wish you were here to see how much she looks like you.”

Once in a while, her mom will call the baby “Stevie.”

It’s a reminder that a little piece of her father is still with her.