Rachel and Patrick Daigler had planned to welcome their first child with parents, siblings and in-laws close by. Instead, Rachel Daigler gave birth to her baby girl in a pandemic – and the couple introduced her to friends and family on FaceTime.
Such stories are now a hallmark of the Covid-19 crisis, which prompted a wave of stringent, and often agonizing, new restrictions at hospitals and maternity wards. On March 18, the New York State Department of Health suspended all hospital visitation and limited patients in labor to a single “support person.”
But for the Daiglers, who spent their first Mother’s Day as parents preparing to bring baby Eleanor home, the disruption has been more an unexpected blessing than a misfortune.
“(There was) all this buildup around delivering during this crazy time,” Rachel Daigler said. “But it was a more wonderful experience than I could have imagined. I did not once feel worried or scared or anything … (and) being here in the hospital, just the three of us, has been so relaxing.”
The Daiglers first realized their child would arrive in “crazy times” toward the middle of March, when 28-year-old Rachel, a marketing specialist at WebbMason, and 30-year-old Patrick, an engineer at Moog, began working remotely from their home in Cheektowaga.
At the time, only a handful of Covid-19 cases had been confirmed in Erie County, and it seemed possible the pandemic would pass within the month.
But as Covid-19 case counts climbed statewide – and after the March 18 order went into effect – expectant parents faced a host of difficult questions: Who to allow into labor? What happened if a pregnant mother contracted the disease? Was it better to give birth at home than in a busy hospital? (Doctors at Catholic Health System and Kaleida Health both say hospitals are safer.)
By the time the Daiglers checked into Mercy Hospital on May 8, Patrick was "nervous about coming in," he said.
“But with how seriously the staff took it, all the precautions they took – that made me feel better," he added.
Among other precautions, Rachel Daigler received a rapid Covid-19 test as soon as she arrived at the hospital, and the couple has been confined largely to a private room. All the staff wear masks and gloves. They have not come into contact with other patients.
And since baby Eleanor arrived at 3:56 p.m. on May 8, the three have been “cocooned” alone together, sending photos and FaceTime updates to relatives hungry for news.
“It was hard, really hard, especially the day we found out,” Rachel Daigler said of the separation from their family. “But everyone was so understanding, and everyone realized it’s not about anyone but baby Ellie – making sure she’s safe and healthy.”
Thus far, her parents say, baby Ellie is both: She has "a cute little button nose and a full head of dark hair," said Patrick Daigler, and when she opens her eyes, "they look into your soul." In the coming days and weeks, the new family will have to figure out when and how to introduce her in person to her grandparents, aunts and uncles.
But until then, they're focused on getting home and celebrating their first Mother's Day under happy – if strange – circumstances.
“Everything about this was new to me,” Rachel Daigler said. “But it was such a positive experience.”