Born in a pandemic: Aspen’s Coronavirus babies | AspenTimes.com
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Born in a pandemic: Aspen’s Coronavirus babies

Childbirth and infant care during the public health crisis

Photos by Kelsey Brunner
Betty Rivera, 33, picks up her 3-month-old daughter, Antonella Valentino, after changing her diaper after she woke up in their home in Aspen on Friday, April 24, 2020. “Hola, buenos dias,” whispers Betty as Antonella wakes up. Betty explained that at night it takes her and her husband, Ross Valentino, an hour or two to get Antonella to fall asleep, however, nothing wakes her up in the morning and she sleeps 12-13 hours each night. Betty has been “sleep feeding” Antonella. She explained around five a.m., or seven hours into her sleep, she wakes her up to eat. Betty said it’s nice, because Antonella continues sleeping which gives her time to shower, eat breakfast and have her coffee. Ross and Betty have been married nearly 5 years and met in Aspen. Ross works in operations at the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport and Betty does marketing for Hotel Jerome. “I went back to work after 6 weeks and it’s been hard, because even though I’m here I can’t focus on her because I also have to focus on work. It’s rough doing it alone.”
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Betty Rivera told me that I’m one of the only other people her 3-month-old daughter, Antonella, has ever met.

Due to COVID-19, grandparents have been unable to meet their grandchildren, some women will have their babies before their peers even knew they were pregnant, and parenting is being done in isolation. Although many child-rearing challenges arose during this period of quarantine and adjustment, new parents are getting to spend more precious moments with their newborns. Many mothers said that being at home full-time was unexpected, but they know that they’ll look back on this phase and be grateful for the extra time with their children. 

Aspen Valley Hospital has delivered 43 babies from March 15 through April 30. There have been as many as six born in a day. And although spring is always a busy time for birth centers, the pandemic brings a different level of difficulty. Our local hospital has been taking precautions to keep the mother and child safe during delivery and prenatal appointments. AVH is only allowing one person into the delivery room, while obstetricians and pediatricians are seeing mothers and children on video calls unless in-person care is necessary. 

If nothing else, this pandemic has given us more time and the ability to slow down and try to enjoy the every day. Parents are able to watch their children grow up, slowly, and be a part of it. They can create worlds of fun inside spaces that they’re mandated to be in. Every moment seems to move a little slower, but it seems that makes it a little sweeter. So in a time when connecting with other people looks and feels a little different, I wanted to document how families are finding normalcy. 

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Kate Spencer holds newborn Anna, while James Spencer, right, helps their eldest daughter, Violet, 3, put her shoes on in the park next to their home in Aspen Village on Tuesday, April 28, 2020. James and Kate met in school about twenty years ago and got married in 2011. “James is working 4 days a week and I’m home with the girls. Violet would typically be at Aspen Mountain Tots two days a week, so that is the biggest difference for us. We’re spending a lot of time together and there are good days and bad…it definitely has its challenges, but it’s probably good in the long run to have more time with both girls together.” James took 6 weeks of PTO to spend with his girls, but is now back to work as a physical therapist. He said he’s been “bending ears” to anyone who will listen about implementing paternity leave for new fathers. With the pandemic, James explained that although he has to go to work now he’s had less work with only essential patients so he can go in a little later than normal and come home a little earlier, which gives him more time at home. “It’s just a weird time and then you throw a newborn in on top of that,” said James. “It’s all contradictions: like work’s light, but it’s super stressful.” Kate is also a physical therapist and said that although it’s odd to not be going into work every day, she was mentally prepared to do that since she was having Anna. “With Violet, I was out hiking from the beginning. Maybe four weeks after she was born, we were hiking Smuggler all the time and going out for walks with friends. I think emotionally and mentally if this was my first [baby] it would be more difficult, because I would feel totally lost. I think when I first had a child, the support of friends was really helpful. Right now, I have to focus all of my energy into the routine we’ve set for Violet, so it’s actually probably easier, but I don’t feel like that a lot of days,” said Kate. “I wasn’t planning on working, but I wasn’t planning on full-time momming. It’s weird for me to complain about it, because I feel like people do this for their lives. Ever since I had kids I had a career. So when I had Violet, I wanted to be with her all the time. And now to be with them all the time, then having those stressful days, I almost feel guilty. People do this, and they’re moms full-time, and now I don’t know how. Or maybe it’s the virus stuff on top of it, because I can’t have the neighbor girl come over and watch one of them for an hour while I take the other one for a hike. It can be rough, but it’s probably all the other external stuff coming through.”
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Maile Spung watches her 2-year-old daughter Tanner build blocks in the living room of their home in Aspen on Wednesday, April 29, 2020. “Silver linings, you know, is that we never would have had this time before, especially with my husband,” said Maile. “Things have been hard, but we took the time to potty train Tanner because we were home. So the days are exhausting, you know, but it’s so fun. She’s at a really funny age. Like she can be super volatile and crazy, but for the most part it’s really fun. I’m sure we’ll look back and think that was awesome more than we’ll think that was so hard.”
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Tanner Spung looks out the window while playing behind the couch in her home in Aspen on Thursday, April 30, 2020. Before the quarantine, Tanner was going to Aspen Mountain Tots three days a week. The family believes that they all got COVID-19 at the beginning of the shut down, so they quarantined for two weeks. Maile wasn’t sure, but she’s wondering if Wade may have had it too and it manifested into a kidney infection. Although she’s unsure if her newborn son had it, she was feeding him while wearing a mask to keep him safe. The Spung’s pediatrician contracted COVID-19 and was hospitalized. When Wade got sick, her pediatrician really helped him get diagnosed by insisting on tests to the hospital. She said it was stressful bringing a newborn to the hospital, but she is so grateful that Wade got help. “I would say the biggest difference from having her to having him was just the emotional stress of trying to figure out if we were doing the wrong thing or the right thing…” explained Maile.
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Maile Spung holds her 2-month-old son Wade as her daughter, Tanner, 2, puts his pacifier back into her brother’s mouth in their home in Aspen on Thursday, April 30, 2020. Baby Wade, as his big sister Tanner calls him, was born three weeks early on March 1. He was born at Aspen Valley Hospital right before Aspen was shut down and quarantined. Maile grew up in Aspen and met her husband Carson while the two were ski patrollers 10 years ago. Carson is still a ski patroller at Snowmass and does irrigation work in the town during the summer.
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Maile Spung carries son Wade, 2 mo., and hugs her daughter Tanner, 2, after she fell off her scooter outside of their home in Aspen on Wednesday, April 29, 2020. Maile and her father own Ute Mountaineer. Her dad was trying to retire, but after the shut down he stepped back in so that Maile could focus on her newborn and her family. She explained that she was so grateful, because he knew what loans to apply for and how to keep things running. Maile’s family lives in the Roaring Fork Valley, so after the group quarantined they started seeing their family again. However, Maile’s husband Carson has family out of state and they haven’t had a chance to meet Wade. Maile said she had only had two friends meet Wade before the shutdown.
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Caiden Carder, 3, kisses the belly of his mom Kelsey Carder leaving behind stickiness from his ring pop outside of their home in Burlingame Ranch in Aspen on Friday, May 1, 2020. “Where’s the baby, Caiden?” Kelsey asked her son. “He’s been really sweet. In the beginning he wanted nothing to do with it and now he’ll sit with it and ask to see the baby. So I lift up my shirt and he gives it kisses, so he kind of just wants to love it which is sweet.” Kelsey and her husband Louie ask Caiden if he thinks the baby will be a boy or a girl, but Kelsey said it changes every time. The family just hopes for a healthy baby, although they’d be happy having a girl for one of each or a little boy for Caiden to play trucks with. “I was super sick in the beginning. Like my mood was really off and I was nauseous. I was pretty nauseous with Caiden, so I don’t feel like the nausea was any different, but my mood was much lower. It was such a dark, dreary winter that made it even harder,” said Kelsey. “This hit me on a more emotional level. People feel like pregnancy is so easy, and for some people it is, but we also have to acknowledge that it’s not always easy. I was not super excited…like I really just wanted to be in my bed in the beginning. I was super depressed and feeling sick and I don’t know, it’s normal. Like your hormones do crazy shit and you kind of lose that control over yourself. For some people, yeah, it’s a breeze, but for others it’s a real struggle…my hormones are in charge right now, so I may not be feeling what I want to feel right now.”
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Kelsey Carder holds her 3-year-old son Caiden Carder outside of their home in Burlingame Ranch in Aspen on Friday, May 1, 2020. Kelsey is due either July 20th or July 16th. She has to have a c-section, because Caiden was a cesarian section, as well. Kelsey’s 38th birthday is on July 18th, so she’s not sure she wants to spend the day in the hospital after having a baby. Kelsey and her husband Louie aren’t finding out the sex of the baby and thus far don’t have any names picked out. The two plan to set up a bassinet in their room for a couple months before moving the new baby in Caiden’s room. They’re also hoping to move to a bigger place for their growing family. Louie and Kelsey got married in 2014 and met in Aspen in 2009 through mutual friends. Kelsey explained that she’s kept in touch through video calls with friends and other new and expecting mothers have been swapping maternity clothes, however, it can still feel isolating being quarantined during this pregnancy. “It’ll be funny come July, because people will be like ‘oh I had no idea you were pregnant,’” Kelsey laughed.
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Betty Rivera, 33, nurses her first born child Antonella Valentino, 3 mo., after Antonella woke up on Friday, April 24, 2020. Betty explained that it’s been nice to be home with her daughter for longer than she expected. She has a setup to work from home in her living room. “I get to see her more, which is nice. I’m an optimist so I’m seeing the glass half-full and not half-empty in this case. So, I mean it’s rough because I feel like as a new mom you really want to show off your new baby to the world and see how cute she is to everyone, but we didn’t really have the chance. We’ve been pretty much just the two of us here. My husband is the one that does the grocery shopping and does everything so that the two of us can just hang at home,” said Betty. Betty explained that it’s been really rewarding getting to see her all the time, but not having the physical support of other people in her life, besides her baby and her husband, has been really challenging. “When this all started, she was 7 weeks old. Her two month check-up was coming up, which includes vaccines and I was nervous about that,” explained Betty. “It’s been a ride, because my family was supposed to come and help us. I’m from Mexico City, my parents live there, so with the travel ban it has only been the three of us, which has made it tough.” Betty said that she had the first grandchild in her family and that formula was really popular when she was born. Her mom didn’t breast feed her, but she’s been really proud that Betty has accomplished it with her baby. “For ten years, I’ve been babysitting and learning a lot about kids,” said Betty. “I didn’t read much about delivery, recovery or breastfeeding, because I didn’t want to set myself up to really want to do something and for whatever reason not be able to accomplish it and then be really let down and sad and upset about something. But everything has been working out, like breastfeeding has been great. A friend told me that breast feeding was like a super power and it’s so true. I feel like she has so many more antibodies now because of it. She could be able to fight off a lot of things, maybe not this virus, but a lot of things.”
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Heather Knott, R.N., holds a Zoom call with new mom, Abigail, in her office at Aspen Valley Hospital on Friday, May 1, 2020. Abigail has two children, her daughter was born at AVH on March 27th. Abigail has had two interesting birth experiences. Her first child was born during the fires last year and her second child was born during a pandemic. Abigail has been communicating with the AVH staff through Zoom for all consultations that don’t require her to come in in person. “For me it’s been awesome, because I get to stay home with a newborn and a toddler and don’t have to move. I can get all the advice I need from home. Especially in a time like this with the virus, you don’t have to expose a newborn,” explained Abigail. “Trying to get an hour to go do breastfeeding is a little tougher, but with the video calls I feel like we’ve been able to get through the issues I’ve been having pretty well.” Heather has been at AVH for over 20 years and is a international board certified lactation consultant. Heather feels like a lot of the virtual sessions that the hospital has implemented for COVID-19 safety precautions will stay long after the pandemic. The hospital is now having Zoom consultations with new moms and a weekly group called the Bossom Buddies is meeting online, too.
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Liz and Patrick Tierney were married last summer and found out they were expecting the first week of November. “It was fun for a few weeks, but then I started to feel horrible. I felt horrible until the 15-week mark. I was nauseous, like so sick, and I cried a lot. I was not a very productive person in society,” explained Liz. “Both of our families came at some point during the month of December, so we were able to tell them in person, but that was the last time we’ve seen any of our family. That’s the most bizarre part of it is that we will not have seen any family or friends in person throughout this entire thing. Like I feel like I’m going to come out of this and be like ‘I swear I grew this human.’”
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Liz Tierney holds up an ultrasound from the end of February in a park in Basalt on Friday, May 1, 2020. Liz is due July 16th and said she’s been trying to find the silver linings in this situation. Even though they haven’t been able to meet their siblings new children, take the baby moon they planned, or have a baby shower, they feel grateful that they at least don’t have to buy any maternity clothes since they’re not leaving the house. “Most of it has gone by really slowly, like when I felt horrible for 15 weeks,” said Liz. “And then we got only like 5 weeks of a happy, enjoyable experience and then all this started.”
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