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My daughter was born in the middle of the pandemic. She is going to get very tired of hearing that story when she’s older.

I can already picture Natalie rolling her eyes when she's 16.

by June 11, 2020

Honestly, Dad, are you telling that story again?

Someday, many years from now, I imagine my daughter, Natalie, will roll her eyes as her old man recounts one more time what it was like to bring her into the world during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic.

It turns out, it wasn’t that bad. The experience was quite different than a normal year, for sure, but the kindness, professionalism and safety practices of the folks at Vanderbilt University Medical Center helped put my wife and me at ease.

In a way, it was easier this time. My wife, Heather, and I welcomed our first child, Peter, at Vanderbilt just two years ago. We didn’t know the first thing about being parents. Heather described it as “bracing for impact.” Forty-two hours of labor later, we were learning how to care for this fragile and amazing creature.

But this time we understood what we were doing. We got this. Right?

A masked dad prepares to meet his daughter.

I will admit to being nervous about the whole pandemic situation. Shortly after midnight on April 21, Heather’s labor began, almost at the exact same time of day as Peter’s had two years before. However, that was the only real similarity. This labor was coming on fast.

By 8:30 a.m., it was time to drive to Vanderbilt. From our home in Donelson at rush hour, the trip can take 45 minutes to an hour. But the pandemic had emptied the roads. We were at the hospital in 20 minutes.

The pandemic drastically changed Vanderbilt’s visitor policy and limited entrances to the Medical Center. Instead of simply heading to the East Garage elevator and hitting the button for the fourth floor, where Labor and Delivery is located, we would have to enter through the Emergency Department. We were both nervous. Despite health authorities advising COVID-19 patients not to come directly to the Emergency Department, we were uncertain if people would heed that advice.

It was time to brace for impact. We put on our cloth masks and headed for the doors of the ED. There, some nice people with masks took our temperatures before we could enter the building. Moments later, a nurse seated Heather in a wheelchair and whisked her through a series of hallways of masked medical professionals to Labor and Delivery.

At the time, visitors weren’t allowed at Vanderbilt University Adult Hospital due to COVID-19, with the exception of one birth partner per delivering mother, e.g., me. I was required to have my temperature checked daily, and I could not leave the hospital and expect to return. Family, friends and even little Peter would not get to meet the baby in the hospital post-delivery.

Heather and Natalie

My nervousness persisted as we arrived at the triage area of Labor and Delivery. And then, slowly, my cloud of worry lifted a little. Heather and I encountered doctors and nurses who were calm, professional and kind. People were wearing masks, but despite that, I felt a sense of almost normalcy. It felt a lot like the last time we were here to have a baby. (I speak only for myself. Heather was deep in the throes of labor.)

Our care team was different than the one we set out to have. Heather had her prenatal visits with the Vanderbilt Nurse Midwives, which I highly recommend. In a normal year, like when we had Peter, a nurse midwife would deliver the baby. But the pandemic had changed the care teams. Midwives, doctors and nurses were separated into different teams with assigned shifts.

Natalie’s gender was a surprise until the very end — when I looked into Heather’s eyes and exclaimed, “It’s a girl!”

So it was that at 3:48 p.m. on April 21, a nice doctor delivered our baby girl, Natalie Margaret Batcheldor, 8 lb. 6 oz and 21 and ¼ inches of love. Like Peter, Natalie’s gender was a surprise until the very end — when I looked into Heather’s eyes and exclaimed, “It’s a girl!”

As the drama of labor quickly subsided, the feeling of ease with the professional team set in a little more. After being cooped up in the house for more than a month, setting out only for groceries or the occasional carryout order, it felt downright exotic to be in any other setting, talking to actual people (though masked) and not images on a computer screen.

Heather ordered food – good food – from Nutrition Services. I walked to the cafeteria with my mask on. We had time to chat without interruption from our 2-year-old, who was enjoying his first sleepover at his grandparents’ house. We recounted the birth experience and talked and talked. All in the oddly comforting cocoon of a hospital room.

Two days after our arrival at Vanderbilt, almost to the hour, we were discharged into the East Garage. We placed our bundle of joy into her car seat and eased onto the empty streets of Nashville. We were reminded that this pandemic thing isn’t over yet, not by a long shot. But Natalie was off to a really good start. There are great things to hope for in the years to come.

Family portrait, with big brother Peter peeking from behind Natalie. All photos courtesy Matt Batcheldor

family, Labor and Delivery, COVID-19, coronavirus, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Baby