Giving birth during a pandemic: New babies bring joy and hope in quiet hospitals

Family medicine doctors — who care for the whole family — brought Deacon Elliot Kronebusch into the world.
April 28th, 2020
mom smiling, holding newborn after giving birth during the pandemic
Amanda and her new son, Deacon. Photo courtesy of Amanda Kronebusch.

At precisely 11:02 a.m. on a peaceful Sunday morning, a handsome little guy made his entrance into the world, giving his folks a lovely surprise and bringing joy amid a disconcerting pandemic.

Amanda and Shawn Kronebusch were both certain that they were having a second girl. But, in an era of gender reveal parties, when most prospective parents learn the sex of their babies months before the birth, Amanda and Shawn gave themselves the gift of not knowing.

And it turned out to be an especially sweet surprise.

“It was the best moment. We were both shocked,” said Amanda of the second when her doctors held up their son, Deacon Elliot Kronebusch, who arrived on April 5, weighing 6.7 pounds and measuring 19.5 inches long.

Deacon is healthy and happy (except when he gets his diapers changed) and the normalcy of his birth during this pandemic provided great comfort to his family and his medical team, both at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital, where he was born, and at UCHealth A.F. Williams Family Medicine Clinic in Denver’s Stapleton neighborhood, where Deacon and the whole family receive their medical care.

“He’s so sweet. We just love him,” Amanda said of her new baby.

Some losses, then a healthy pregnancy

Amanda had endured losses in the past. She had suffered a miscarriage before she and Shawn had welcomed their daughter, Harper, 20 months ago. Harper’s birth hadn’t been easy. Amanda had gone through labor naturally and had pushed for four hours. But, Harper had trouble navigating past Amanda’s pelvic bone, so the team decided to do a last-minute cesarean section.

Birth during a pandemic. Deacon Elliot soon after he was born.
Deacon Elliot Kronebusch arrived on April 5, giving his folks plenty of stories to tell about giving birth during a pandemic. Photo courtesy of Amanda Kronebusch.

Then, last fall, the family had to go through the loss of their beloved dog, a big, friendly, 5-year-old yellow lab named Hudson. Amanda and Shawn had had him since he was a puppy. Hudson unexpectedly died from Lyme disease in November, leaving a hole in Amanda and Shawn’s hearts. Hudson had come from Minnesota, where Amanda and Shawn both grew up. It’s common there for dogs to get Lyme disease, and it can be treated easily if it’s caught early. But, the family’s Colorado veterinarian hadn’t suspected Lyme disease.

Still grieving, Amanda and Shawn got some unexpected good news soon after losing Hudson when they learned that one of Hudson’s littermates needed a new home. The family went to Minnesota and brought back Phoebe, who joined the family in late November, three weeks after Hudson died on Nov. 9.

As 2020 dawned, everything seemed to be returning to normal. Amanda had made it through her first trimester in her new pregnancy and breathed a sigh of relief. She was well past the 7-week mark when she had had her miscarriage years earlier. This time, it looked like smooth sailing ahead. Amanda is a relaxed mom and a real estate agent. Shawn is a project manager for Fiore & Sons, a civil contracting firm. Both were excited to enjoy the final few months before welcoming their second child. Then, March arrived, and so, too, did COVID-19.

Smooth sailing, then a pandemic

As more and more cases of the coronavirus emerged in Colorado, the world around Amanda changed quickly and dramatically.

birth during pandemic - here big sister Harper Kronebusch lays her head on her mom's belly during a checkup
Big sister, Harper, lays on her mom’s belly during a prenatal checkup at A.F. Williams Family Medicine Clinic. Dr. Cristina Rabaza is another family doctor who cared for Amanda during her pregnancy. Photo by Cyrus McCrimmon for UCHealth.

When she went in to see her doctors at A.F. Williams on March 17 for one of her last prenatal checkups, the books and toys in the children’s waiting area had been put away to reduce the spread of infection. The medical providers had shifted as many appointments as possible to Virtual Visits. Amanda’s doctors greeted her wearing masks. Her baby’s heartbeat sounded great. Amanda was in excellent health and little Harper was primed to be a big sister. But, even before Colorado’s governor issued a stay-at-home order, Amanda’s doctors encouraged her to isolate herself so she could stay healthy in advance of the birth during the pandemic.

Amanda Kronebusch cheers during a prenatal visit. Everything was going well, then she had to give birth during a pandemic.
Amanda Kronebusch cheered during one of her last prenatal visits when she heard that she was in great health. Her pregnancy had been smooth until she learned she had to isolate herself in the last month to avoid getting COVID-19. Photo by Cyrus McCrimmon for UCHealth.

Expectant mothers need to be especially careful so they don’t contract COVID-19. If a woman who is infected gives birth, she may have to be separated from her newborn to protect the health of the baby. (Click here to read guidance for pregnant women about COVID-19.)

Amanda immediately took her doctors’ advice and Shawn also started working from home. The last thing Amanda wanted was to be sick and face the possibility of not being able to bond with her new baby. The family hunkered down to stay healthy before the birth.

“She is such a strong woman,” said Dr. Molly Hoss, one of Amanda’s regular family doctors. “When I told her the changes that were going to happen with COVID and her pregnancy, she took the information incredibly well.

“Even though many decisions were uncertain, she kept on going with her phenomenal attitude,” Hoss said.

birth during a pandemic. Dr. Molly Hoss speaks with Amanda Kronebusch about the plans for her birth during one of Amanda's last prenatal visits.
Dr. Molly Hoss, left, discussed plans with Amanda Kronebusch at one of her final prenatal appointments. Hoss is a family doctor with special training in obstetrics. Photo by Cyrus McCrimmon for UCHealth.

Initially, Amanda was set to give birth on April 6. Because of the difficulty she had experienced during Harper’s birth, she was having a planned C-section. Just before the birth, Amanda got a call that the hospital would be especially quiet on a Sunday morning, and she could move up the birth one day if she wished. She happily agreed to meet her baby one day sooner than expected. And, thankfully, Hoss was able to be there. That was a relief since Hoss was a familiar face, and she has special training to do C-sections.

‘Amazing’ birth during uncertainty of pandemic

Family medicine doctors do just what their credentials imply. They care for the entire family from newborns to older adults. And many also provide prenatal care and assist their pregnant patients when they give birth. As further specialization has taken hold in medicine, it’s less common for family medicine doctors to do obstetrics. But, some like Hoss have special training and can also do C-sections.

“I went into family medicine so I could do it all,” Hoss said. “I intentionally trained so I could be a one-stop-shop and help my patients with everything.”

Giving birth in a pandemic. Dr. Hoss holds up Deacon to meet his mom for the first time.
Dr. Molly Hoss holds up Deacon to meet his parents for the first time. Almost immediately after he was born, Deacon got to lay on his mom’s chest and breastfeed for the first time. Photo courtesy of Amanda Kronebusch.

She originally planned to practice internationally or in a rural area, so it was especially important to Hoss to get additional training in obstetrics and C-sections. She did an additional fellowship to learn these skills.

In rural areas, many family medicine doctors regularly deliver babies.

Hoss typically sees patients of all ages at A.F. Williams, but assisting with births is one of the most satisfying parts of her job.

“Bringing a new life into the world is always wonderful,” Hoss said.

She found Amanda’s birth especially beautiful and life affirming.

“It was amazing. It was this huge, positive experience when there’s been so much fear and uncertainty,” Hoss said. “Even though we were all wearing masks, everything felt normal.”

Typically, the hospital doesn’t schedule non-emergency C-sections on Sundays, but hospital managers have created a protective cocoon around the labor and delivery area at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital and other UCHealth hospitals. And the hospital was calm that day.

“It was very quiet,” Hoss said of the Labor and Delivery unit. They are spacing things out a bit. We are taking all these precautions, yet everything was almost the same as it always would have been.”

There was one big difference. Typically, Hoss brings residents — who are training in family medicine — to assist her with births. But, because these other doctors have been caring for patients who could have been exposed to COVID-19, and therefore the doctors themselves could have been exposed, Hoss called on a mentor and childbirth pro to assist her: Dr. Mark Deutchman.

“We didn’t want any risk whatsoever for Amanda,” Hoss said.

A pro who has delivered babies for 43 years

Deutchman has been delivering babies and doing C-sections for 43 years, and now primarily prepares students at the University of Colorado School of Medicine to practice rural medicine. Deutchman is a professor of family medicine and runs the medical school’s rural track.

He said the family medicine model is wonderful for patients.

mom, baby, dad and doctors after giving birth during the pandemic.
Amanda, Shawn and their new son, Deacon, with Dr. Mark Deutchman and Dr. Molly Hoss, the two family medicine doctors who delivered Deacon. Photo courtesy of Amanda Kronebusch.

“It can be much more efficient for a person to have someone help navigate the health care system for them since it’s quite complex,” Deutchman said.

Family medicine doctors can assist their patients with about 90% of their medical needs and, when they need additional help from a specialist, their trusted provider can find them additional help, Deutchman said.

For maternity care, the big benefit is having a provider who knows the whole family.

“Hopefully, you have known the person before the pregnancy. You know them through the pregnancy. Then, you take care of the mother and the baby after the birth. We have much more context for what they are all going through,” Deutchman said.

That interconnectedness fosters bonds for both providers and families.

While Deutchman hadn’t previously met Amanda, he took time to talk with her before the birth and loved being part of the family’s joyous occasion.

Deutchman has a calming demeanor and has been through crises before. Almost exactly 40 years ago, during the spring of 1980, a volcano in Washington State called Mount St. Helens began erupting. Scores of people were killed, and Deutchman happened to be the medical director for a clinic 40 miles away.

Birth in a pandemic. Deacon snuggles with mom, Amanda.
Almost immediately after he was born, Deacon got to snuggle on his mom’s chest. Photo courtesy of Amanda Kronebusch.

“We could see it erupting,” Deutchman said. “The scary thing was trying to plan for what would happen when you didn’t know what would happen.”

Deutchman finds many parallels to the current pandemic.

“It’s natural to be afraid now. But, we’re doing everything we can to protect people.”

For both Hoss and Deutchman, Deacon’s arrival was smooth and wonderful.

Deutchman said it was fun that Amanda and Shawn wanted to be surprised about their baby’s gender. When Hoss pulled Deacon from his mom’s uterus and held him up so Amanda could see him for the first time, Deutchman smiled and let them know that this baby had “outdoor plumbing.”

Deacon also let out a wonderful “lusty cry,” Deutchman said.

That always provides great reassurance that the baby is breathing well, he said.

“It was perfect,” Hoss added. “Everything went smooth like butter.”

Hoss, herself, is now pregnant with her first baby.

To stay healthy and protect her unborn child, Hoss will be seeing family medicine patients via Virtual Visits until she has her own baby. She is due at the end of July and looks forward to returning to obstetric care — and hopefully fewer restrictions for everyone — as soon as possible.

Grace and a positive attitude in uncertain times

Luckily for Amanda, UCHealth hospitals have not had to restrict husbands and partners from attending their babies’ births. One person is allowed to be with each mom who is giving birth during this pandemic. In some parts of the country, where the COVID-19 pandemic has been worse, pregnant women have not been allowed to have anyone with them in person. Some dads have had to witness their babies’ births via iPads.

But, Shawn was given full protective equipment including a mask, gloves and coverings over his clothes and shoes. He supported Amanda as the team prepared her for the C-Section, and was able to witness the exciting moment when the couple learned they had a healthy baby boy.

Hoss said the couple’s positive outlook led to a beautiful birth during this pandemic.

“One of the reasons why Amanda’s delivery went so well is that she was so positive,” Hoss said. “I was incredibly impressed with her ability to face this difficult situation with such grace. She and her husband are wonderful people and their positive energy helped normalize the situation. They are a special family and have won the hearts of all their physicians at A.F. Williams.”

As with the birth, Amanda found the recovery area quiet and peaceful too. She loved all of her nurses.

“Everybody was super nice and super helpful,” Amanda said. “It’s actually a really good time to have a baby. They can give you that one-on-one attention and they’re making sure everything is extra clean. I really enjoyed being in the hospital this time. I felt like got more attention and there were fewer interruptions.”

While Amanda could have stayed for four days, she and Deacon were doing well and she decided to go home after two days.

Now, the family is bonding at home.

Deacon is thriving.

“He’s a big eater and a happy baby,” Amanda said.

Thankfully, Shawn will continue working at home for now.

Birth during a pandemic. The Kronebusch family.
Shawn and Amanda Kronebusch have been bonding at home with their new son, Deacon Elliot. Harper is enjoying being a big sister and Phoebe, the family dog, loves having everyone home. Photo courtesy of Amanda Kronebusch.

Having a new baby has been a wonderful distraction from news about the pandemic, Amanda said.

“Everything is slowed down. Shawn gets to love up the kids and enjoy these moments in the house as a family. We’re not trying to rush off to see someone. In a way, it’s a blessing,” Amanda said.

The one challenge to having a new baby during a pandemic is that Deacon will have to wait a while to meet some of his extended family.

Shawn’s sister lives in Denver. Harper has cousins close to her age. But for the time being, the kids can’t yet play in person.

“We want to see them, but we don’t want Deacon to get sick. That’s a little frustrating. You want to show off your new baby,” Amanda said.

Still, she knows that eventually life will return to normal. Deacon will always have amazing stories to tell about being born in the middle of a pandemic. Meanwhile, his parents forever will be grateful that he arrived safe and sound, just like his older sister.

After having suffered a miscarriage, Amanda and Shawn became more convinced than ever that they wanted to have children.

“When I got pregnant with Harper, I would constantly pray that everything would be OK,” Amanda said.

When Harper was born, Amanda and Shawn gave her a middle name that honored all those prayers: Faith.

They also wanted a religious middle name for their second baby.

“Elliot is short for Elijah and Elijah means prophet of God or miracle worker,” Amanda said.

Now, after a wild final month before Deacon Elliot arrived, Amanda now can relax and count her blessings.

“It all worked out even though our little boy was born during a pandemic,” Amanda said. “We are all healthy, safe and enjoying our time as a family of four in our home.

“Learning what life is like with a newborn and a toddler is complicated enough, so we are thankful to have this time to not deal with the hustle and bustle of life outside our home.

“For all the moms out there who are worried about having a child at this time, just know all the doctors and nurses are looking out for you and wanting nothing more than to bring your child safely into this world,” Amanda said.

“Plus, your child will have a unique birth story!”

About the author

Katie Kerwin McCrimmon is a proud Colorado native. She attended Colorado College, thanks to a merit scholarship from the Boettcher Foundation, and worked as a park ranger in Rocky Mountain National Park during summer breaks from college. She is also a storyteller. She loves getting to know UCHealth patients and providers and sharing their inspiring stories.

Katie spent years working as a journalist at the Rocky Mountain News and was a finalist with a team of reporters for the Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of a deadly wildfire in Glenwood Springs in 1994. Katie was the first reporter in the U.S. to track down and interview survivors of the tragic blaze, which left 14 firefighters dead.

She covered an array of beats over the years, including the environment, politics, education and criminal justice. She also loved covering stories in Congress and at the U.S. Supreme Court during a stint as the Rocky’s reporter in Washington, D.C.

Katie then worked as a reporter for an online health news site before joining the UCHealth team in 2017.

Katie and her husband Cyrus, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, have three children. The family loves traveling together anywhere from Glacier National Park to Cuba.