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Photo by Lori Ketter

By Melissa Campbell, MultiCare

Hours after his grand entrance into the world, baby Za’Kai James N’Daiye nestled firmly in his father’s arms as mom and dad waved at the crowd two floors down. A group of nearly 30 people — family and friends — held signs welcoming the new addition to the family.

“Welcome to the World Za’Kai.”

“I don’t know who you’ll be, but I know you’ll be our everything!”

“You are my sunshine.”

Za’Kai, the center of all this adoration, snoozed soundly through most of the display. Za’Kai, son of Zaid N’Daiye and Mikayla Duhamel, was born at MultiCare Covington Medical Center in the wee hours of May 6, 2020, after a night of rain and roaring thunder, and in the time of COVID.

Babies in a time of COVID

With the first cases of coronavirus, health care facilities across the land quickly began to tighten access and strengthen screening protocols for anyone who wished to enter. To help keep our patients, visitors, and staff safe and to help stop the spread of COVID-19, MultiCare established that each patient would have only one visitor per day and no visitor under the age of 17. Patients with suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19 may not have any visitors.

In the pre-COVID world, hospitals had few visitor restrictions. Multiple family members wandered in and out of patient rooms throughout the day. In Family Birth Centers, excited siblings, grandparents and others could pop in. They could coo over the little one, get a whiff of new baby smell, and marvel at the cuteness of baby feet!

Post-COVID, siblings and grandparents have to get a little creative.

“This is such a monumental event in one’s life,” said Lori Ketter, a registered nurse at Covington Medical Center’s Family Birth Center. “What we’re finding now is the moms and dads are just holding up the newborns to the window — kind of like Simba in the Lion King — so that families can see the babies. It’s so fun to watch because the patient is so excited to share their new baby.”

Throughout their stay, new parents often make video calls to friends and family, she added.

“And not only are they showing the newborn baby, but they’re panning the room and showing the hospital,” Lori said. “Parents are trying to acclimate them to the scenario. ‘This is our room. This is our awesome bathtub. These are our nurses.’ And we’re like, ‘Hi!’ We’re used to getting to know the entire family.”

Socially Distanced Meet and Greet

Za’Kai’s parents, Zaid and Mikayla, have a strong family network who were eager to ensure mom and baby were well.

The two new grandmas, a grandpa, a great-grandma, and a couple of aunties all spent the better part of the birth night camped in the parking lot at the hospital. This was the night of a thunderstorm.

“They had a little popup tent, with blankets and chairs and everything. A couple of them slept in their truck,” Zaid said. “We didn’t ask them to stay. They were like, ‘We’re not leaving!’”

The campers went home once they got the all-clear from the new parents. They soon returned with reinforcements, armed with homemade signs, a few balloons, and lots of smiles as they tried to catch a glimpse of the snoozing star, held up near a second-floor window.

There was even a short parade in the parking lot.

“It was incredible,” said Lori. “Word got out to the staff and they were able to watch. It was very emotional. There were tears!”

Close and Personal Meet and Greet

Since they’ve been home, the grandmas and other family members have officially met Za’Kai and experienced all the new baby experiences. Still, even with the tight visitor restrictions at the hospital, the family didn’t feel left out, Zaid said.

Those restrictions had one benefit, however.

“In a way, it was a pleasurable time to have a baby, at least in our experience. We didn’t have to have everybody there,” Zaid said. “It was peaceful. It was our time. The hospital gave us the best experience we could have had for our first child. The nurses were smiley and upbeat. This was a big deal for a couple of 20-year-olds. It was awesome!”

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