LEONARDTOWN, MARYLAND(January 4, 2021) –Despite all that is happening in the world today, there are still moments of great joy to be savored and celebrated. Just ask Hannah and Tom Matthews proud parents of Eli Patrick Matthews, MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital’s first baby born during 2021.

Baby Eli entered the world at 1:44 a.m. weighing 7 pounds 5 ounces.

Although the parents joked they would have preferred a 2020 tax deduction, “It’s exciting to have a New Year’s birthday and we have a significantly cooler story to tell,” Tom said.

Their story is one of happiness and hope after both parents had been diagnosed with COVID-19 about a month before Eli’s arrival. Uncertain how they contracted the virus, only Hannah had symptoms, but there was understandably heightened concern for the 8-month pregnant, 28-year-old. Additionally, the couple wanted to ensure their 21-month-old son, Thomas Matthews III, did not get the virus.

Hannah and Tom Matthews of Mechanicsville hold Eli Patrick Matthews born Jan. 1, 2021, at MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital. Eli was the first baby born at MedStar St. Mary’s in 2021.

“I felt pretty miserable for a few days,” said Hannah. “We talked to the doctor about it and they told me to treat it like a cold, to take it easy, and not to panic. They wanted me to recuperate for the delivery.”

Luckily, Hannah recovered by the time she went into active labor New Year’s Eve, 10 days past her due date.

“Being in the hospital has been different,” said Hannah. “We can’t have family visit and we can’t move around the hallways, but it has also been quieter—it has its pros and cons.”

Delivering babies during a pandemic has not just been different for the parents, it has also been an adjustment for the nurses and medical staff of MedStar St. Mary’s Hospitals’ Women’s Health & Family Birthing Center (WH&FBC).

“A pandemic is something that never entered my mind when I started nursing 28 years ago,” said Kathleen Sullivan, MSN RN-C, who has worked in WH&FBC since 1992. “Ebola and H1N1 brought some changes to our jobs, but nothing like COVID has. In March, I was terrified; I went home worried I would somehow infect my family. As the months have passed, we remain vigilant, but the worry has lessened.”

Not even a year into her career, Kristen Phetteplace, BSN, RN was faced with the challenges of delivering care to new mothers and families in a socially distant, COVID-19 world. But for Kristen, the experience has brought even greater reward.

“Before COVID, this was a time when our patients are surrounded by loved ones in the postpartum rooms, we would have grandparents and siblings waiting to get onto the unit, but that isn’t the case with COVID,” Kristen said. “I have felt so much joy knowing at times I may be that patient’s only support system in the moment, and I am getting them through whatever they are facing at the moment.”

For so many families, limited hospital visitation has been difficult, but the majority have been understanding and often appreciative of the extra safety precautions put in place.

“We know it’s important to keep our moms and babies safe, however, a new baby is usually a very joyous celebration involving families and loved ones,” Mary Sullivan, MS, BSN, RN, CEN, interim director of the WH&FBC. “Ironically, it has also been a silver lining because it gives time for the moms to relax and bond with their babies.”

Just as the public has had to adjust to new requirements—wearing masks and social distancing—hospital staff have also had to adopt the same measures during their working hours to protect each other.

“Our unit functions as a team and we feel like our staff members are family. It’s hard not to give a coworker a hug after a difficult day, or eat lunch as a group,” said Kathleen. “It’s also been hard not to get together with your coworkers to celebrate holidays, baby showers, and weddings.”

“I certainly miss the ability to work without a mask,” said Lauren Ervin, DNP, CNMI, a midwife with MedStar Medical Group Women’s Health at Leonardtown. “I have also missed how much easier it was to provide a relaxed and nurturing environment for the families we serve without COVID testing, PPE, and limited visitation. We have to work much harder to maintain a ‘normal’ birth space during these times.”

“We strive to ensure our families are comfortable and feel supported,” said Mary. “Our new beautiful renovated birthing suites were unveiled right as the pandemic was beginning to unfold and they have been a wonderful retreat for our new moms and dads.”

“COVID has brought new fear into pregnancy and childbirth,” said Lauren. “I hope that I have helped my patients feel more at ease during appointments, labor, and birth by providing calm, compassionate, and evidence-based care. I’m so lucky to work with so many wonderful nurses who share this goal.”

The arrival of vaccinations has brought a new hope to front-line healthcare workers, including those working in the WH&FBC.

“I have several high-risk family members, some that are in my household and COVID has changed all of our lives,” said Kristen. “I am proud to say I got the vaccine and am helping protect not only my family, but also all of my patients.”

“I am thrilled to be in the early waves of health care providers receiving this historic and important vaccine,” said Lauren. “I see it as my contribution to public health and the greater good to do my part to stop the spread of COVID and to protect the vulnerable.”

Families preparing to deliver in the new year should be expect all the changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, but they can also be reassured that their experience can be still safe and filled with joy.

“At MedStar St. Mary’s, we continue to provide the same high-quality care despite the pandemic,” said Kathleen.  “While we may be masked, there is still a welcoming smile underneath.”

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