Tell us a little about your pregnancy. What was hard, happy, or special about that time?
I was blessed to have a wonderful pregnancy and thanked God each day as I journeyed through my pregnancy! My husband, Fr. Andrew, and I experienced a miscarriage prior, and we were overjoyed and thrilled when we found out we were pregnant and were due in the beginning of June. We serve the community of St. George Greek Orthodox Church in New Port Richey, FL, and it would be the first “PK” (Priest’s Kid) born into the community!
I had an amazing pregnancy, drank lots of water, ate healthy and exercised and rested when I could, especially with being a Pre-K teacher running after my students all day! Speaking of which, I absolutely love children to begin with and love caring for them as a teacher, and finding out I was pregnant and sharing the news with my students and coworkers only made me more excited for the journey of parenthood. I found out I was expecting right after attending a women’s retreat lead by Sylvia Leontaritis (founder and blogger of Orthodox Mom and author of Songs of Praise) and felt a zeal of excitement rush through me as I had just spent a weekend learning how to read, reflect and finding comfort in the Psalms. Aside from feeling absolutely exhausted, having swollen feet and a constant craving for Italian ices, and mourning the fact that I couldn’t have a glass of Prosecco or eat sushi, I loved feeling my baby move and kick inside of me and watching my belly grow. I had so much fun dressing up “the bump,” and I will never forget the first sonogram appointment when I saw a tiny little bean and how that little bean grew at each week and at each appointment. Fr. Andrew and I even decided to wait and find out the gender at birth and be surprised. It was so much fun not knowing and we’re so glad we decided to wait, even if it meant having lots of green, yellow, and orange colors in the nursery and clothing.
When COVID-19 hit and we were all on lockdown in quarantine, I spent the remainder of my pregnancy teaching my students virtually from my kitchen table, and the hardest part was being isolated and distant from everybody, so it was really hard to try and be happy during that time as my pregnancy continued and I grew bigger. Still, I continued to pray, exercise, and prepare for my baby’s arrival, but I couldn’t see my friends or family to share the joy and happiness that comes with being pregnant. My baby shower had to get cancelled, we couldn’t have visitors, and I never left the house, only to go on my daily walk or to doctor appointments. Thank God for FaceTime, that we were still able to feel like we were with our family and friends going through my pregnancy.
What is your most vivid memory of your baby’s birth?
One memorable experience from my pregnancy was on the feast day of the Annunciation, when I listened to the Gospel reading passage where Mary went to tell Elizabeth about Archangel Gabriel’s message about conceiving Christ and the baby leaped in her womb. My baby was moving and kicking when that passage was read! I was so excited, I texted my soon-to-be Koumbara and we prayed together for a continued healthy pregnancy. I also texted my cousin, who was due that week with her baby. I read the book Fertile Ground by Laura Janson to really fully understand and reflect on the sacredness of pregnancy and how amazing it was that I was growing a child inside of me and that God was with us on this pilgrimage.
How was your baby’s birth different than you imagined? How was it the same?
We were thankful that doctors appointments had all gone wonderfully and our baby was growing and developing nicely; however, at our 39 week appointment, I was admitted to the hospital and delivered our beautiful baby boy, Kosta that same night. That morning at the doctor appointment, we found that the baby was breached and was not able to grow anymore inside the womb, so my doctor recommended to come in for a C-section the next morning. Fr. Andrew, and I left to go home and prepare any last tasks, including packing the car, folding the last loads of laundry and even made plans to have our last dinner as a family of two from our favorite Italian restaurant. We were not even halfway home when we received a phone call from the doctor to come to the hospital that night for monitoring. Andrew and I were excited, but knew something was not quite right, so we still packed the car, had dinner and drove to the hospital where I was wheeled to our room and we prayed for healthy and safe delivery. Yes, he brought his prayer book, holy water and epitrachelion and we had our icon right next to the bed as the nurses took my vitals.
It was then more nurses and doctors rushed into the room and had me turn onto my knees, as the baby’s heart rate dropped and my liver enzyme levels were rising extremely high, my blood platelets were extremely low and my blood pressure was just above normal, but was elevating. “How could all of this be happening?” we thought and with COVID-19 still active, it was even more scary with all the unknown. Thank God Andrew was allowed to be there with me, as only one person was allowed to stay with the expectant parent. My doctor entered the room and said I was developing the highest level of pre-eclampsia called HELLP syndrome and that we needed to move quickly because the only way to save me and the baby was through delivery and that I required a blood transfusion. My heart began to race as everybody prepped for surgery, including my husband who read the prayers of delivery before leaving for the operating room. IV needles and Magnesium, including other medications were injected into me, and I was crying and saying “I am scared!”
I still couldn’t quite process what was going on, but the next thing I knew I was wheeled to surgery and was praying to God to keep me and baby safe as I was put under general anesthesia while Andrew waited outside the operating room and had my family from back home in Brooklyn on FaceTime with updates. We prayed for Christ to extend his right hand down on the doctors and nurses as they worked to deliver our baby.
Baby Kosta came into the world that night, and I will never forget Andrew walking in with a tiny bundle right as I woke up and said “You made a beautiful baby boy” as I finally got to hold him and said his name, “Konstantinos Markos”, after both of our fathers and my grandfather. He weighed 5lbs and 4oz. The night our baby boy came into the world still is the most picturesque memory and experience so vivid that I will never forget and still can feel all the feels as I reflect on that night.
We had intended and prayed for a healthy, safe and natural birth delivery, with a short hospital stay and get home within days. However, as noted from my birth story above this was a totally different experience than we had thought. After Kosta was born and we were in our recovery room, we met our nurses and were informed that our baby boy was having trouble regulating his blood glucose levels and had to be sent to the NICU. My doctor had come to visit us the next morning and told us exactly what we had all gone through in the last 24 hours and in the simplest terms said “You were quite ill” after explaining HELLP syndrome. We broke down crying and thought how it was truly divine intervention that Kosta and I were able to live and God heard our prayers to give the doctors the strength for a quick and safe delivery. We also didn’t quite understand at first how serious it was and looking back, it’s a reminder for myself to never take anything for granted and to have God on your side.
The same day, we learned that only one parent was allowed in the NICU due to the COVID-19 restrictions, and Fr. Andrew and I took turns going for feedings and holding our baby. The first three days, Andrew went to the NICU while I was still hooked up to the IVs and Magnesium. I reflected how I now had a new identity; I was a mother! I looked at my icon of the Theotokos holding Christ, him looking up at her touching her face, and thanked God I had a son of my own to care for and love. Each day that passed, Kosta grew stronger and was able to come home when he was one week old and has thrived and is growing fast. We’ll never forget those first few weeks! Today, he is smiley and loves to look around at everything, especially now that he has found his voice and is super active! He also loves his favorite toy, Mr. Stingray!
What wisdom could you share with a new mama before she gives birth?
Before giving birth, pray regularly with your spouse for a healthy and safe delivery. Fr. Andrew and I enjoyed reading from scripture a little bit each night and reflecting on the passages read as we prepared to become parents. Perhaps also calling or visiting with your parish priest or Spiritual Father for prayer and receiving communion before you know when the baby might decide to arrive. Spending time with your spouse doing the activities you enjoy is also key and for us, it was cooking together, watching our favorite movies, taking a walk, and Fr. Andrew trying to teach me to play Monopoly. Remember, we were in quarantine!
Yes, you might also be in the nesting phase and want to clean and organize everything (I totally did), but also having a few meals prepped in the freezer ready to eat helps as well, especially during the first month of having a new baby. One of our best friends even arranged a meal train for us where our friends either cooked a meal or ordered us food from our favorite restaurants! A new mother has probably taken birthing classes and read What To Expect When You’re Expecting, and talking with other mothers, which baby gear to purchase, how to feed and soothe them when crying, and how to get their baby to sleep through the night. While those are all important and talking with those you trust, the most important thing is to love your baby and to have faith, hope and love. 1 Corinthians 13:13 says “And now these three remain, Faith Hope and Love, but the greatest of these is love.” There is no better mother for your baby than you, and your baby needs all the love you can give it! As you prepare for the birth of your baby, remember that God has called us all to love and has called you to be your baby’s mother, as He called upon Mary to birth and raise Christ. An angel from God comes down from heaven and has called on you to be your baby’s mother! One more thing: put your feet up and relax! Don’t forget to take care of yourself! Try to find something to do for yourself every day to take care of you.
Tell us about your baby’s baptism. What was it like to arrive at that moment in your baby’s life and in yours?
Kosta has not yet been baptized, but we look forward to his baptism in the winter. We were able to have his 40 day blessing over the summer and asked two of our dearest friends to be his godparents on the same day. The 40 day blessing is also welcoming the mother back into the church as she recovers from childbirth, and I felt so excited to be back in church, this time with my brand new baby. We are all looking forward to Kosta’s walk of Orthodox Christian life and how he will grow to love and serve God.