New Moms Tell All

They were expecting, but they weren’t expecting this: childbirth during a pandemic!


If you’re planning a big gathering and a virus comes along and compels everyone to keep their distance from everyone else, you can always say, “Let’s postpone.” But try telling that to the stork.

On the following pages, five local moms (and one special grandma) share with BERGEN the birth stories of their families’ newest additions—including two sets of multiples—who came into this world during the scariest health crisis of our lifetimes. These heartwarming tales prove that even during a period riddled with uncertainty and fear, there are things to be joyful about—and that life goes on.

Nicole Percelli, Hawthorne

Mom of twins Domenic and Noelle, born February 27

“I was admitted to Valley Hospital at 23 weeks for preterm labor and was on bedrest for seven weeks— six in the hospital, one at home. I delivered my boy/girl twins via C-section at 30 weeks and three days on February 27. They were born at 3.8 pounds and 2.12 pounds and were slated for a six- to-eight-week stay in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).

“At first our experience was normal, but as COVID-19 started becoming more of a concern, the NICU started scaling back—allowing only parents to visit, for example. As social distancing was implemented about two weeks after birth, further measures were put into place; there were no longer in-person support classes for new parents, NICU regulations got stricter and visits were shortened. Masks were worn, temperatures were taken. Before entry we needed to take off all outer layers, no long sleeves, no watches, no phones. As the hours and visits became more restricted, my husband Matthew and I called the NICU each morning and evening to get a progress update on the babies, and were also allowed to see them via NICU cameras.

“The back-and-forth from the hospital added an extra layer of stress. We so desperately wanted to see our babies, but also knew we were walking into a ‘hot zone’ every time. We were going to the hospital during the peak of the virus! There were many unknowns, cases and deaths were doubling each day, and anyone we came across could’ve been infected.

“I cried a lot. It was very difficult to leave the hospital without the babies, and as restrictions were put in place it was tough. However, I generally tried to reassure myself that they were in the best place, getting the best care and tucked away from some of the early chaos. Valley’s NICU provided amazing support and put us at ease.

“The twins came home on April 7, six weeks after they were born (and almost a month before my May 4 due date). Aside from my parents’ initial visits at the NICU, the babies have yet to meet any of our family members other than through our picture window. But our twins are doing well. Ultimately, that’s all that matters.”

Jenny Berberich, Ramsey

Mom of Grayson, born March 8

“When I gave birth to our third son at Valley Hospital, there was some talk about coronavirus, but it was only really in Washington state at that point. Two days later, there was a rumor and major news coverage about potential school/work closures in New Jersey.

“I can still feel the pit in my stomach and my anxiety as we were discharged on March 11—we stayed in the hospital an extra day because Grayson’s bilirubin levels were high. We took the elevator, and I had to wait in the lobby for about 10 minutes while my husband Adam retrieved our car. We were so weary of everyone coming in and out; I waited in a small isolated corner, shielding Grayson in his car seat as I watched people rolling in. I was eyeing people up and down, mentally assessing if they could’ve had COVID-19. I put hand sanitizer on at least five times during the transition from lobby to car and immediately changed clothes when we got home. Once home, we had a sweet nurse come to us and take Grayson’s blood and check his vitals so we could avoid returning to the hospital.

“By March 12, schools were declared closed starting the following Monday. With my nerves around flu and coronavirus, we decided to pull our older two boys out of school immediately. Because of my husband’s great paternity leave at his job, we were excited about being home together, enjoying our new babe during the day, having lunch dates with local family and then having our afternoons with our whole family. But we had only six hours to ourselves and Grayson before having to homeschool the older kids.

“I cried every day for the first two weeks out of fear and ‘mourning’ my maternity leave on top of postpartum hormones. I felt guilty feeling those things, as we were fortunate compared with others, but I am still mourning, angry and counting down the seconds until this is over. I don’t want to fast- forward time because Grayson is our last baby. But at the same time, these days are endlessly long. Only a few family members have met the baby. We have sent mailable hugs to my parents in Massachusetts because my dad hasn’t met or held him yet. It seems pathetic, but it feels good sending him something that could give him a feel of his grandbaby.”

Kristin Norris, River Vale

Mom of Dakota, born March 17

“About a week before the birth of my third child, Holy Name Medical Center, where I was scheduled to deliver via C-section, became the epicenter for coronavirus in Bergen County. My anxiety going into delivery was at an all-time high. Of course, I’d been nervous and scared with my first pregnancy; I hadn’t known what to expect. With my second, I was on bed- rest at 16 weeks due to placenta previa, resulting in an emergency C-section at 33 weeks. Ultimately, I didn’t have time to even think or have anxiety because it all happened so fast. With this birth, though, it was actual fear.

“The thought of entering the hospital, the epicenter, was absolutely terrifying. What if I get COVID? What if my newborn gets it? What if I ended up in the ICU due to my compromised immune system? Luckily, I didn’t have to do it alone because my husband John was allowed in the delivery room with me and could come and go during my stay. But he was screened and questioned each time before entering. Neither of us had to wear masks, as that rule hadn’t been enforced yet, and neither of us was tested for COVID. It was a little bit of a blessing not to have other visitors during my stay, but I was sad that my older kids couldn’t meet their new sister until days later. None of our other family has met Dakota as of yet other than via FaceTime, through a window or from the curb in front of our home. It’s hard, but everyone understands, and it will be an even more special moment when we are all actually together again.”

Elaine Frawley, River Edge

Grandma of Liam, born April 6

“My husband Tom had been at Valley Hospital for a CT scan the second week of March. He had an allergic reaction to the dye and had to return to the hospital for IV Benadryl, prednisone and fluids. After three days, I brought him home with oral medication, but he became extremely fatigued, couldn’t eat and could barely get out of bed. He was back to the hospital a third time for blood work, which we hoped would be a quick visit. But he was admitted for pneumonia, and then doctors determined he had contracted COVID-19. He died in the hospital on April 2.

“Meanwhile, my stepson Pat- rick and daughter-in-law Brittany were scheduled to have their third baby via C-section at the same hospital on April 8. On the morning of the 6th, when my husband was to be entombed, Brittany’s water broke two days ahead of schedule. They did not get to say a final goodbye to Tom. How much more emotion could our family bear?

“The hospital kept everything very clean, but the fear of getting sick and knowing that Tom had passed away on the floor above them was very unnerving for my stepson. He was anxious to get his family out of the hospital. But two hours after Tom was laid to rest, our grandson Liam Thomas Frawley was born. He is a beautiful, healthy baby named for his ‘pop.’

“I have only been able to gaze at Liam from a distance in my driveway, but we have meals together each from our own homes over FaceTime. He looks so much like Tom—and I’m not the only one who thinks so! This is truly the circle of life for our family. I hope that all of the genuine goodness and the love of family that Tom had was passed onto Liam.”

Tira Smid, Ramsey

Mom of triplets—a girl, Haven, and identical twin boys, Blaise and Leo—born April 10

“After waiting for what seemed an eternity, I finally found Joseph, the man I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. We got married in 2016 and, due to my being in my mid-40s, we went through IVF (in vitro fertilization) for two years before discovering in September 2019 that our hope for one beautiful baby magically became three! My pregnancy for the most part went well considering I was high- risk for both multiples and my age. But life became very scary in early March when the reality of the virus hit. It was especially troublesome because not only is my husband a pilot who must travel quite a bit, but my mother came to stay with us to help with the babies and she is auto-immune compromised.

“On Good Friday, at my 34-week prenatal appointment, we were told that our baby boy Blaise was in a bit of distress and it was go time. Luckily, Joseph was allowed at the birth with me, and my C- section went well. I was originally scheduled to leave two days after my C-section, but since I had three preemies, I was allowed to stay for a third day. But Blaise stayed behind in the NICU for two-and-a-half weeks because he was a few ounces smaller than our other two; Haven stayed in the NICU for a total of two weeks, and Leo came home one day later. The NICU was packed. I recall holding my babies and listening to a nurse phoning different hospitals looking for additional isolettes and monitors. I think there may have been several premature births due to the anxiety brought on by this crazy pandemic—not good for a mom’s mental health.

“Even so, it was eerily quiet being in the hospital. I felt like I was being hospitalized during a zombie apocalypse; there was no wandering outside your room, and I had to wear a mask when staff came into the room. Every once in a while I heard a baby cry, though, and that would bring a smile to my face. Now we have all three babies home and the real fun begins. Thank goodness our neighbors have been absolutely incredible, generous and supportive, and my mom is helping—and exhausted. Our triplets are a blessing, but quite a bit of work!”

Cayla Carapezza, Oakland

Mom of Lucy, born May 2

“My third child’s birth had been very fast and traumatic—he was born only an hour after my water broke. So, this time, with my fourth, my doctor and I picked a day she was on call for me to have the baby. Because of the pandemic, doctors at Valley Hospital were working shifts to reduce their exposure—so one doctor would deliver all the babies for eight hours until the next doctor came in—and she wanted to admit me and break my water so labor could be controlled. This allowed me enough time to get childcare for my older three children, and I was able to get an epidural as I had wanted. I also avoided delivering in the car on the way to the hospital, which I was very much afraid of doing since my previous labor had been so fast.

“I work at the hospital as a nurse in diagnostic imaging, so I was familiar with its protocols. When we arrived for my delivery, neither my husband Ben nor I was tested for COVID, but the staff asked us some questions, such as if we had traveled or had symptoms, and they took our temperatures before letting us upstairs. I went through labor, pushed and did skin-to-skin with my daughter with a mask on. But honestly, I was so wrapped up in the moment and emotions of everything going on, I forgot I was wearing it.

“Although this hospital stay was a bit different than my previous ones—we had no visitors and no hospital photographers and were not able to place an order for meals—at times I forgot there was a pandemic happening. The only reminder was the masks that everyone who entered our room wore. So far, the only person outside of our household who has met Lucy is my mom, who came to take care of our three older kids. Obviously, protecting our health and our family’s health is most important, but it’s hard not to get upset thinking about all the time [relatives and friends] are missing out on while my kids are so young.”

As told to Haley Longman

Categories: Bergen Health & Life