Being a first-time mom is exhilarating and exhausting. Throw in the uncertainties of a pandemic and a husband working in COVID-19 intensive care units, and it’s easy to understand why Dr. Julie Schultz finds herself on an emotional rollercoaster.
“Overall, we feel really good,” says Julie, 31, a family medicine physician. “We are grateful Henry is healthy, and each moment together is meaningful. He’s so beautiful. Over these last few weeks, we have gotten more time together as a family than we expected.
“But I cry every night knowing Ben is going back to work in the ICU, and we aren’t going to be together,” she says. “Even if just at night, Ben, in a normal situation, would be home with us.”
On Mar. 30, Julie and her husband, Dr. Benjamin Schultz, became first-time parents when they welcomed Henry Taylor Schultz into the world. Julie gave birth at Sinai Hospital, the same hospital where she and Ben were born.
“Henry is 12th-generation Baltimore, and the idea of him being born at the same hospital as us felt good,” says Julie. “But it was not the plan. Being in Baltimore for the delivery and post-partum care was outside anything we ever anticipated.”
The Schultzes currently live in New York City. When they learned Julie was pregnant last July, they planned to deliver at Lenox Hill Hospital on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
But with the coronavirus pandemic, their birth plans quickly changed.
“During the second and third week in March, our obstetrician in New York still thought it would be fine to deliver there,” says Ben, 32, a fifth-year plastic surgery resident at Northwell Health, New York City’s largest health care system. “At that point, we didn’t know if spouses would be allowed in the delivery room, but we did know spouses definitely wouldn’t be allowed in the mother/baby unit. It was also during those weeks our routine OB appointments got cancelled and we were being told we would have to come to the hospital when Julie was about eight centimeters dilated, have the baby and leave.”
So on Mar. 22, Ben and Julie, at nearly 39 weeks pregnant, packed their belongings and drove from New York to Baltimore.
“At that point, both [sets] of our parents called us and said they thought we needed to come home,” Ben recalls. “New York was getting pretty scary, and at Sinai Hospital there hadn’t been any COVID-19 cases yet. So we decided to come home and stay with Julie’s parents.”
A Time to Bond
On their drive down, Julie called her former OB/GYN, Dr. Julie M. Jacobstein of Sinai OB/GYN Associates. That week, she went in for her first visit to establish OB care. Her second visit was the day she gave birth.
“In hospitals, you’re used to seeing doctors wear masks. But when we showed up to Sinai, we had to wear the masks,” says Ben. “They were limiting people’s exposure to one another, so the residents weren’t around us too much. When it was time to deliver, Dr. Jacobstein asked if I wanted to assist her. I helped deliver Henry and cut the umbilical cord.”
Sinai only allowed one support person at the hospital with a patient, and that individual could not come and go. That meant no family members were allowed to visit during the Schultzes’ two-day hospital stay.
“It was really special being just the three of us,” Julie says of her first 48 hours of motherhood. “It gave us time to focus on Henry and his needs without any interruptions. We could just bond.”
It was also on Henry’s birthday that Julie and Ben decided they weren’t comfortable having a mohel at their home for the bris.
“We didn’t want any extra exposure for us or Henry,” Julie says. “We decided to have the circumcision in the hospital with a modified ceremony on the eighth day. Not having a full bris ceremony was hard for me because at first, I really wanted the bris done by the books. But we had to be flexible. We realized having a mohel in the house increased risk of exposure since we didn’t know where else he had been.”
Instead of a bris originally planned for 60 guests at the Schultzes’ apartment, Henry underwent the Jewish covenant of circumcision at the Baltimore residence of Julie’s parents with a Zoom ceremony conducted by Rabbi Steven Schwartz of Pikesville’s Beth El Congregation.
“Rabbi Schwartz taught us about Hatafat Dam Brit, a procedure where you draw a drop of blood and enter the child into the covenant with that drop,” says Ben, a longtime Beth El member. “It’s done when a traditional bris can’t be performed. Rabbi Schwartz also taught us that traditionally, the father is supposed to perform the bris. So what we resolved on was that I would take the needle and draw the blood.”
For almost two weeks, Julie, Ben and Henry had time to bond as a family of three. Because of the pandemic, Ben’s parents have only met their first grandson through glass or from more than six feet away, wearing masks. Meanwhile, none of Henry’s aunts or uncles have gotten to see him in person yet.
“It’s really hard since we are in Baltimore just a few miles away from most of our family,” says Julie. “I can’t wait for Ben’s parents and all our siblings and friends to get to hold Henry. Right now, we are just making sure he gets to know everyone’s voices.”
The Schultzes say family support has helped make this experience manageable, especially now that Ben is back in New York working one week on, one week off in COVID-19 ICUs. Julie and Henry are staying here in Baltimore with her parents.
“My co-residents were wonderful and put me on the last possible rotation so I could stay in Baltimore for as long as possible,” Ben says. “I’m not sure when I’m going to get to see Julie and Henry again, which is devastating. That being said, we are just taking it day by day. We are thankful for the days we have had together.
“Had Julie delivered in New York City and COVID-19 never existed, I would have gone right back to working 12-hour shifts, six days a week,” he says. “So the fact we had nearly two weeks together is remarkable and special.”
The Meaning of Life
Despite so much uncertainty and an unexpected delivery, one constant never wavered for the Schultzes during this period — Henry’s name.
“I’ve loved the name Henry ever since reading the book ‘Atlas Shrugged’ in college,” says Ben. “The character in the book is known for his diligence, virtue and productivity. When I met Julie, I told her if I had a son I would want to name him Henry. She loved the name, too, so we never even thought of another boy’s name. And Taylor was easy because it’s Julie’s maiden name.”
Adds Julie: “Henry is named after my great-grandfather, H. Mortimer Kremer, whose Hebrew name was Chaim, my grandfather, Irving Taylor, and Ben’s great-grandfather, Yisroel Schultz. We used Chaim because he is the meaning of life during COVID-19. Everything about his name just fits.”
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