In Johns Hopkins Maternity Wards, Joy – and Anxiety – Amid COVID-19

Published in Dome - Coronavirus (COVID-19) Articles March — June 2020 and Dome - Coronavirus (COVID-19) Articles

A lot has changed since Anita Arthur was admitted to Howard County General Hospital on Feb. 20, sick with a seasonal flu that was taking a dangerous toll on her and her unborn baby.

She wasn’t yet a mother, and the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 still seemed far away, with just a few diagnosed cases in the United States and none in Maryland.

Five weeks later, Arthur and husband Bright Lamptey drove home to Laurel with their healthy daughter, Brielle Ivory Naa Koshie Lamptey. Their baby, nicknamed Naa, weighed just 4 pounds, 14 ounces when she was born at 36 weeks.

“She’s a tough lady,” says her mother, noting that, in her native Ghana, Naa Koshie means the first girl child of the family and Naa means queen.

Thrilled as they are to welcome their firstborn child, the couple’s happiness is tinged with worry.

Their little girl was born into a world defined by a global pandemic that is changing the way people live and die. On Naa’s birthday, March 18, Maryland recorded its first COVID-19 death. Schools, bars, restaurants and other public spaces had closed, and residents were getting used to staying at least 6 feet away from each other.

“I’m excited, and at the same time I’m scared,” says Arthur, 39, a research nurse with the National Institutes of Health.

“You want your loved ones to come around,” she says. But because of physical distancing rules to slow infection rates, family and friends can’t visit. “It breaks your heart to restrict people from sharing in your joy.”

Naa and her fellow babies don’t care about COVID-19. They just keep being born, at the same rates as always.

The week little Naa came into the world, 55 other babies were delivered at Howard County General Hospital. About 40 were born at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, 70 at Sibley Memorial Hospital and 25 in the maternity ward of the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.

“Literally, life is going on despite all of this,” says Nickie Matters, nurse manager for labor and delivery at Howard County General Hospital. To celebrate the birth of Naa, the nurses surprised Arthur with a cookie cake and balloons — just as they always do for patients who stay for several weeks.

New Rules in the Happiest of Hospital Wards

Across Johns Hopkins, the virus is bringing changes to this happiest of hospital wards.

“It’s adding a lot of anxiety for women who are pregnant,” says Cynthia Argani, director of labor and delivery at Johns Hopkins Bayview.

As the first cases of pregnant women with COVID-19 trickle in, Johns Hopkins is ready.

All Johns Hopkins patients are now screened for fever, cough and other signs they may be infected. Plans are in place to isolate pregnant women who are suspected of, or have, COVID-19 and need hospitalization either because of the virus or to deliver their babies.

It’s not yet known if babies can acquire the coronavirus in utero, Argani says. Protocol calls for separating a newborn from an infected mother after delivery. A mother with COVID-19 may pump breast milk for her new baby, although nursing is not allowed.

Healthy mothers-to-be are also seeing change.

A new rule limits Johns Hopkins hospital patients to a single visitor, even during labor and delivery, which can take hours or even days.

Normal pregnancy checkups are now spaced further apart, and conducted by telemedicine when appropriate.

“In general, pregnant women don’t want to come to the hospital because of the virus, and we support them in that,” says Argani. “If you’re early in your pregnancy and we normally see you every four weeks, we’ll space you at six to eight weeks.”

As for Arthur, she is adhering to physical distancing rules that were enacted while she was in the hospital. But after five weeks of bedrest, she is enjoying more freedom now that she is home with her husband and baby.

“It was a challenge to stay in bed the whole time,” she says of her hospital stay. “But you have to make the best of the situation and stay positive.”

She’s bringing that attitude to her new role as a mother in a frightening time.