Covid 19 coronavirus: New year, new life for the Kiwi babies of 2020

With a vaccine rollout and travel bubbles looming, there are signs 2021 is looking up.

These eight Kiwi babies have arrived just in time to see a new year which also brings new hope for their families.

Conceived as the world faced an unprecedented crisis and New Zealand headed into its first lockdown, their anxious parents were also plagued by lost jobs, repatriation flights and separation from relatives overseas.

Their mums share their hopes and dreams for the little ones.

Jennilene Tan-To and Jaesen

Lockdown didn’t begin on March 25 for Jennilene Tan-To and her husband, James To.

The couple and their young daughter had just landed in the Philippines on March 13 for a holiday and family wedding when Tan-To turned her phone on to discover extensive lockdowns had been announced while they were in the air.

“My sister was ringing saying,’you have to change your plans, you have to come home’. It was chaotic but my sister managed to get us a flight to my hometown.”

Still she thought the crisis would “blow over in a month”.

But it took two months before the family of three could return to New Zealand on a repatriation flight.

By then, they were a family of four-to-be.

Tan-To, a nurse at Auckland City Hospital’s emergency department, and To, a loan officer at ASB, had been trying for a second baby in the months before becoming stranded in the Philippines.

But away from the usual pressures of work and home life son Jaesen, who was born on December 13, was conceived, Tan-To says.

“I was rested, eating enough, sleeping enough … I think I just became very healthy. When we found out, I was very happy, but at the same time I did think, ‘Why am I bringing a baby into this world?’

“Because at this time it was really chaotic.”

The couple anxiously tried to find a way to get back to New Zealand, eventually paying $9000 for seats on the repatriation flight and spending two weeks in managed isolation before emerging into a country which had eliminated the virus.

She hopes her son will be like everyone who followed advice to stop the spread of Covid-19.

“I hope he grows up to be a very good citizen who listens to the rules.”

Hinemoa Brown-Shelford and Jashae

He’s the “miracle baby” born during a difficult year for his parents.

Papakura couple Hinemoa Brown-Shelford and partner Steven Saxton struggled with fertility issues for eight years. But a week before New Zealand went into level 4, they found out she was pregnant.

The couple were ecstatic but lockdown meant midwife appointments had to be done over Zoom. In level 3, only Brown-Shelford was allowed to attend them as well as scans.

“It’s Steven’s first child so it was hard for him. It definitely put a damper on things for him.

“The hardest thing for him was trying to buy things for my cravings because everything was closed. Every trimester they changed, first it was McDonald’s ice-cream, then brownies from Dominos.”

She also missed the support of her extended family.

“It was hard for me not having the family support, a bit of a struggle, but I was talking to my mum almost every day on the phone.”

Over lockdown, the probation officer continued working from home while Saxton went into work as a logistics manager.

Jashae Saxton was born happy and healthy on November 13.

But he had a dramatic entrance into the world and Brown-Shelford lost 1.8 litres of blood. She was rushed to surgery, leaving Saxton with Jashae.

“He was a first-time dad all by himself, our mums weren’t allowed in, so he was trying to learn how to feed him, but the nurses at Middlemore were absolutely amazing. They answered questions and gave advice on trying to settle him.”

That night, she wasn’t allowed to have anyone stay in her room because of Covid restrictions, which she said was tough, but she was able to go home the next day. Saxton and Brown-Shelford’s other son, Desharne Takawe-Shelford, 14, have been “amazing” with the new addition to the family.

She has documented everything and hopes one day Jashae will laugh at the dramatic year he was born into.

Maddie Janiga-Warren and Frankie

Thought your March was a roller coaster ride? Try Maddie Janiga-Warren’s.

On March 17, St Patrick’s Day, the Aucklander found out she was expecting her first child with partner Paul Hollard.

Two days later, she was made redundant from her job as a restaurant manager at Villa Maria in Mangere.

Four days after that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the country was going into level 4 lockdown.

“It was a bit of a high and low week,” Janiga-Warren says of one of the most daunting weeks in modern New Zealand history.

“And being pregnant I was worried if I was going to be eligible for maternity pay, because I was eight weeks short of qualifying. And after lockdown I was worried about how far along I was and who was going to employ me?”

Fortunately, she managed to get a job at Karaka Chocolate House and, just, managed to work eight more weeks before losing her job a second time when community transmission of the virus sparked a three week level 3 lockdown in Auckland.

That was a huge relief, Janiga-Warren says.

“My partner is a teacher and was like, ‘we’ll be fine for six months on one income’, but I was like, ‘no, we need it’.”

The 24-year-old is originally from the United Kingdom and, without Covid-19, would’ve been expecting her parents and nan to visit after baby Frankie was born on November 14.

“That’s really sad, but I just call my mum every day.”

Wee Frankie wasn’t planned, but is wanted – unlike the year of her birth, Janiga-Warren says.

“This year wasn’t planned and it wasn’t wanted. But she was very much wanted. She’s made a crappy year amazing.”

Stefanine Ward and Mackenzie

Stefanine Ward found out she was pregnant with her first child on March 20, the first day New Zealand’s borders were closed to foreigners and non-residents.

She was able to attend all her medical appointments in person, but partner Juan Kotze couldn’t attend any of the first three scans.

That was hard, Ward says.

“He didn’t feel a connection to the baby. For him it was more surreal … I think it was like that for a lot of the guys.”

The 31-year was finally allowed to see his baby on the ultrasound screen at 20 weeks, she says.

“That made everything good for him.”

The couple were also only able to attend virtual ante-natal classes and, as a result, weren’t able to make friendships with other expectant parents.

“You’re all going through the same journey, and you want to connect more than you can on a screen. I don’t have an ante-natal coffee group because of that.”

Auckland’s August lockdown and later scares, including the Defence Force cluster which led to a day-long quasi-lockdown of downtown Auckland, were unnerving.

“You wonder, will I be giving birth under level 4 and who would be allowed to be there?”, Ward, who eventually laboured with Kotze, her mum, sister and best friend at her side.

On November 21, after an emergency caesarean section, all the couple’s worries came to an end when daughter Mackenzie was born.

One day, she’ll give Mackenzie the diary she kept of the year she came into the world.

“I’ll be making sure she knows she’s definitely not a Covid baby, even though she was born during a pandemic.

“It’s been a crazy year, a tough year, but she’s the bright spot.”

Amy Singh and Jasmine

There were precautions to be taken this pandemic year. But there were also limits, and for Amy Singh, that was letting her husband do the grocery shopping during lockdown.

The Hastings resident found out in early March she and husband Kuldeep Singh were expecting their second child, and her third, and she wanted to be careful not to catch Covid-19 and potentially affect her unborn baby.

But, with precautions, Singh decided to stick with her usual routine of doing the family grocery shop.

“I suppose my husband could’ve done it,” she says, before laughing.

“I only get him to do the shop if I really need to.”

Carrying her third child during a pandemic wasn’t too bad – the most unpleasant part was wearing a face mask to medical appointments.

“You’re already out of breath as it is.”

Baby Jasmine arrived healthy, but almost two weeks early, on October 30.

“She was nine pounds, so thank God I didn’t go all the way with her.”

She’s not sure what she’ll tell her youngest child about the memorable year of her birth, Singh says.

But she’s sure of what she hopes the years ahead bring for wee Jasmine.

“I hope she grows up healthy, gets a good job, gets a home. I wish the best for her.”

Hannah Dawson and Spencer

Hannah and Tony Dawson always wanted to have a third child. They just didn’t think it would happen in 2020.

“We were waiting because of some work opportunities for me”, Hannah Dawson, who is a physio, says.

“But that all kind of fell over with Covid.”

The Hillcrest couple learned they were expecting three weeks into the level 4 lockdown, a stressful time as they wondered what impact any ongoing restrictions might have on their business, Auto Garage.

There was also the pressure of home-schooling and morning sickness and, as the country later moved to level 2, the death of her grandfather, Hannah Dawson says.

“But we got there, we got through.”

And on December 13 their little boy, Spencer, arrived.

She was especially excited for her grandmother, with the newborn a happy addition to Christmas Day festivities after a hard year.

“It’s quite a crazy world he’s been born into. You can’t travel and you get quizzed on your health everywhere you go.

“It was a crazy, unexpected year and, for us, he’s kind of a light at the end of it.”

Megan Lloyd and Noah

When Megan Lloyd found out she was pregnant with her first child, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had a day earlier told Kiwis the country would stay in level 4 lockdown an extra five days.

That was okay by her – the stay at home rules fell during a time the bank call centre worker was battling morning sickness and worries about catching Covid-19.

“It was really stressful, especially since we didn’t know then if you were at [higher] risk if you were pregnant.”

But nine months later, happiness – Lloyd and partner Kayne Cuttance are the proud parents of son Noah, born on December 14, and New Zealand has eliminated – more than once – community outbreaks of Covid-19.

“I think the biggest thing [I’ll tell Noah] about 2020 is how lucky we were compared to other countries, and how everyone was united.

“And that they’ll be known as pandemic babies, without a doubt.”

Fran Munden Monro and Baxter

Kiwis were in their first, shaky weeks of level 4 lockdown when Fran and Sean Munden Monro found out they were expecting their second child.

There was a mixture of emotions for the Te Atatū couple, who are also parents to two-year-old Lola.

Both feared losing their jobs as the country closed shop for at least a month – and Munden Monro, who suffered sickness at the start of her pregnancy, had to navigate doctor’s appointments remotely.

They kept their jobs, and the country escaped the worst of the horrors inflicted by the pandemic overseas.

“We felt very fortunate to be in New Zealand, where it didn’t run rampant.”

Then, on December 6, Baxter arrived.

A few weeks into his life, their baby is a chilled-out soul, and her hope for Baxter is that he stays happy, is kind and “just enjoys his life”, Munden Monro says.

One day she’ll tell him about the memorable year of his birth, when normal life flipped upside down almost overnight.

“I think [when I tell him] it will be mostly how it was completely unexpected. It seems surreal, even reflecting on it now.”

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