Written by Emilia’s mother, Felicia Sears.
Our daughter, Emilia Quinn Sears, was born prematurely on March 15, 2020. As this was the beginning of America’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, our family’s experience was unlike anything we could have imagined. I arrived to the hospital on a Sunday afternoon in pain, but unaware that I was in labor. My husband and I were ushered into an empty emergency room. The next few hours were a blur as we unexpectedly welcomed our tiny angel into this world at 23 weeks gestation. With my family traveling in from out-of-state, my mother-in-law and father-in-law, who live locally, were put on a list of “exceptions.” Special permission had to be given to allow anyone else into the labor and delivery floor. We would find out later that even that exception was given only because there was a high chance of death.
My husband and I spent four panic-stricken hours in Labor & Delivery, alone, and unprepared as we had expected to still have four more months of pregnancy remaining. Emilia’s grandparents arrived minutes after she was born. After Emilia was intubated, we were all able to see her for a quick second as she was being wheeled off to the NICU. That was the first and last time Emilia’s grandparents would be able to see her alive.
For the first two days of Emilia’s life, my husband Chris, Emilia, and I were able to be together as a family. While I was still an in-patient at the hospital, Chris and I were allowed to visit Emilia together. We knew as soon as I was discharged, the hospital’s heartbreaking one-parent-policy (in response to the pandemic) would be enforced. Since Emilia was born so early, I began physically recovering quickly and I was discharged less than 48 hours after giving birth. We lost our ability to be together as a family of three.
The day after I was discharged, Emilia was transferred to the nearby Children’s Hospital, with a Level 4 NICU. Upon arrival, we realized that these new COVID-19 one-parent-policy visitation restrictions were common. Throughout the duration of Emilia’s 37 days in the NICU, only one parent was allowed to be at her side at any given time.
My husband and I spent our days splitting shifts and going back and forth between the hospital. An already terrifying NICU experience, which included a battle with necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), was made exponentially more difficult because of the restrictions prohibiting us from being together as a family. We couldn’t witness each other nurture Emilia in our new role as her parents. We couldn’t look into each other’s eyes for comfort as we cried in the NICU. We were forced to walk this completely overwhelming experience without the physical presence of the person we needed most.
We are so grateful for all of our NICU nurses, who not only cared for our daughter during her time on this earth but also did their best to support us as her parents. The nurses recognized the pain caused by the “one-parent-policy” and tried to provide support wherever they could.
After developing NEC, our tiny miracle Emilia endured multiple surgeries and then tragically passed away from this devastating disease. Our hearts are shattered because we lost our precious daughter and also because we only had the opportunity to spend the first two days and last four days of Emilia’s short life together as a family.
We understand the risks posed by COVID-19 and the need to protect the health of patients, providers, and other families. There must be a way to mitigate the risks while also allowing families to stay together. Our daughter is gone from this earth. Our time together is over. While these “one-parent-policies” may seem reasonable on paper, hospital administrators need to understand the profound anguish they cause families. It’s traumatic enough to be in the NICU during a pandemic. The pain of walking the NICU halls alone and then losing your child to NEC is simply unbearable. For Emilia and babies just like her, we can and must do better.