Pandemic Pregnancies: Expectant mothers learn to accommodate to COVID-19 restrictions

Denise Sluck holds her one-month-old son Ryan Jr. Aug. 13 in the nursery room at their home in Harlingen. Sluck gave birth to Ryan Jr. on July 11, and experienced how COVID-19 has changed how expectant families navigate the new reality.(Denise Cathey/ The Brownsville Herald)

HARLINGEN — First time mothers usually hope to have their husbands at every doctor’s appointment and have a baby shower with every family member.

But during a pandemic, it is almost not feasible.

Denise Sluck, 29, and Ryan Sluck, 33, are first time parents.

Denise said she would have liked for her first pregnancy to have been different, but she has remained positive.

Their baby Ryan Franklin Sluck Jr. is now 1 month old.

The couple owns Iron Core Gym in Downtown Harlingen and has dealt with several changes in their life. They were forced to close their business during the lockdown period while preparing for their new baby to come at the same time.

Denise remembers her husband was not allowed to attend her appointments anymore in the beginning of March. The couple had rescheduled their ultrasound appointment many times but was finally able to have one in Brownsville.

Denise said her husband was allowed to go in to that last appointment but not to any of the others.

Because of how strict the rules were, Denise was afraid he would not be allowed to go inside with her during labor. Luckily, he was allowed to go in, but Ryan still got a hard time, Denise said.

“They initially stopped us and we went through the emergency entrance and that was a little scary. It was full of people in there,” Denise said.

She delivered baby Ryan at Valley Baptist Medical Center on July 11. Her doctor told her they could go in together, but at the stop area security told her husband he was not allowed to go in with her until she was finally in labor.

“He turned around and went to the car, and I went to the waiting room by myself. I would have preferred to have him there and I was kind of upset. Shortly after we saw a wife and husband come in and they let them in and I guess they switched nurses and security,” she said.

“I felt nervous and I definitely wanted him there given this was my first,” Denise said.

Though people are opting to have baby shower parades now, Denise still had a baby shower.

“I thought about doing a virtual one, but we decided to have an outdoor one. We tried to space all the tables apart and it was a very small gathering. I definitely wanted to invite a lot more friends and family,” she said.

So far, the only other person who has met baby Ryan is Denise’s mom. The majority of her family live in East Texas and Denise was advised to limit contact with people.

“It’s really sad but my doctor said because he is so small and especially because of the coronavirus, we should keep him away from people and stay home with him,” she said.

One-month-old Ryan Sluck Jr. dozes in his slowly rotating bassinet Aug. 13 while father, Ryan, keeps an eye on him at their home in Harlingen.(Denise Cathey/ The Brownsville Herald)

The couple is hoping by the end of the year more family members can meet baby Ryan.

“It’s so sad you don’t get to share the newborn stage with your family,” Denise said.

Having their first baby during a pandemic had the couple with new worries besides what to expect from the pregnancy, they said.

“You just don’t know what to believe. You hear and see things from different people but we are taking our precautions and not trying to be careless either,” Ryan said.

For him, not being able to do the full experience with Denise was not easy.

“It was challenging. And I think because I really wanted to be involved, and we planned out our pregnancy. We wanted to experience it all but it was one of those things we couldn’t do anything about it. I had heard of a friend who would go to appointments with his wife but would sit in the car, so I decided to just go to work and let her handle it,” he said.

Denise wishes she could have friends over or take Ryan Jr. shopping, but she knows it’s better to stay home.

“I definitely wish we weren’t going through this, and I would have experienced it a little bit differently,” she said.

Luckily, Ryan was able to get time off with the Family and Medical Leave Act.

“It’s been nice having him because he has to stay up all night with me,” she said.

“We would have expected it to be different but we did make the best of it. He couldn’t be at my appointments but I recorded when I could,” Denise said.

“We don’t really like to call it the new normal, hopefully it goes back to what it was,” Ryan said.

The couple agreed a big positive was being able to spend time at home together.

“It’s really nice to be here. It is our first one, and we are really involved. I guess the nice thing about COVID is it is forced to be there, be home and take care of the child. What we are supposed to be doing,” he said.

Expectant mother Leal Hernandez sits in her living room Aug. 13 at her home in Harlingen. Pregnant with her third child, Hernandez has had to change how she hoped to approach having her baby due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Denise Cathey/ The Brownsville Herald)

In a different household, an expectant mother gets ready for her third child.

Irma Leal Hernandez, 41, mother of a 22-year-old son and a 20-year-old daughter, will give her children a baby brother soon.

Irma found out she was pregnant in February, but she thought she was experiencing menopause. She took a pregnancy test and did a blood test after because she could not believe her eyes, she said.

“No it can’t be, even my boyfriend couldn’t believe it. After 20 years, it is a really big difference,” Irma said.

She took three tests, and they all came out positive. Irma has been dating her boyfriend for almost four years and said they had been trying to conceive. Finally, without trying Irma got pregnant.

“I’m very thankful God gave me another chance to even have a baby, you know?” she said.

Her boyfriend is a first time father, which is exciting for the couple, she said.

Sadly for them, he was not allowed to any other appointments except Irma’s first sonogram.

Leal Hernandez holds up an ultrasound photo of her baby Aug. 13 at her home in Harlingen. While her partner, a first time parent, hoped to be a part of Hernandez’s appointments Hernandez has gone alone due to COVID-19 restrictions.(Denise Cathey/ The Brownsville Herald)

“After that he wasn’t allowed and I would send him pictures, but it wasn’t the same when you see it in person. He wanted to go through that experience since it is his first time having a child,” Irma said.

“He is a truck driver, and he was going to make the effort to come to every appointment. Then I was let go from my job three or four weeks ago,” she said.

Since this is her third pregnancy, celebrating it has been different for Irma, but she said her family has tried to make her feel as normal as possible.

However, she wishes it were different.

“We had a gender reveal party, but we couldn’t have a party. It was something small, we couldn’t have our family and friends,” Irma said.

Back in April outside her house, they had an 18-wheeler with the blue powder inside. For a baby shower, she opted to have a parade instead of a get-together.

“I wish I could have had it inside somewhere but you know,” she said.

“We will have all the safety precautions, but I keep hearing about people getting the corona and its scary,” she said.

For the baby’s delivery, her boyfriend will be allowed to go inside with her but no other family members.

“I would have wanted everyone to be there. Who doesn’t want to celebrate?” Irma said.

Because of her age, she has two appointments a week to make sure everything is OK with the baby.

“Back then with my other pregnancies everyone could see my baby, and now he will be one year old before anyone gets to interact with him. My son lives in Florida, and my daughter is in Dallas. And it is hard for them. I think this has affected a lot of people,” Irma said.

Attending her appointments has not been scary for her, but she is scared of going to get groceries.

“I feel OK as long as I do my duties, washing my hands, but it is still worrying because you never know,” she said.

Irma added she is glad to be pregnant, though it was a shock for her. The couple decided to name the baby Faustino Joe Carrasco.

However, she wishes it had been under different circumstances.

“That’s the weird thing. Out of all the years it had to be the year with the corona, the crazy year. I do feel worried for him and his future. It’s going to be different for him but I am glad he is coming,” she said.