Flint family navigated giving birth and seeking out protections from COVID-19 during pandemic

FLINT, Michigan -- The COVID-19 pandemic brought massive amounts of fear and uncertainty to people all over the world. For the Shepps family of Flint, they had an added stress: in November of 2019, just before lockdowns and quarantines started en masse nationwide, they found out they were expecting their first child.

“Once the pandemic kind of hit, I never thought it would really impact my pregnancy, but we were worried,” said Katie Shepps. 

“We were worried, but initially we didn't realize how much it would impact us until it really became serious,” added her husband Jeremy Shepps.

The Shepps are also Deaf and, seeking out services related to both Katie’s pregnancy and navigating through the pandemic, were definite challenges.

“As we approached that March timeframe, we started to become more worried about it (COVID-19) affecting us personally, especially me as a pregnant mother,” Katie said. “Will it affect my baby who I'm carrying? Jeremy was concerned he couldn't be in the room with me [during the delivery].”

Jeremy was ultimately able to be present for their son Kyle’s birth, and Hurley Medical Center provides ASL interpreters at any time of the day, which also helped with their care. The Shepps were able to meet their interpreter at an ultrasound appointment prior to the delivery. The interpreter shared the moment with them during their delivery in the hospital and even stayed with the family overnight. 

“We were so focused on that moment itself and having the baby when they handed us our son, we didn't mind that, you know, the interpreter was present,” Katie said. “I guess when we sit back and think about it, you know, it's a little bit interesting that you kind of just have someone present there, but during that time we didn't think anything about it, you know?” 

Because of the pandemic and social distancing restrictions, the Shepps were not able to participate in birthing or breastfeeding classes prior to their delivery. 

“We're lucky he's still young,” Jeremy said. “So we're very fortunate in that regard, but you know, there are some missed opportunities that have happened because of COVID.”

The family has also been able to obtain their COVID-19 vaccines due to vaccine accessibility for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing facilitated through the Genesee County Health Department. The GCHD has been working with the Communication Access Center to ensure that the Deaf and Hard of Hearing have decreased barriers preventing any members from not getting the vaccine. The GCHD has been providing ASL interpreters at vaccine clinics at Bishop Airport while coordinating other logistics as well.

“We did get the vaccine,” Katie said. “The Communication Access Center is an interpreting agency. They kind of took it into their hands to inform the Deaf community about vaccines becoming available for them and were able to host a clinic for that. So we were able to get it. I felt like we were updated with a lot of the information, a lot of things because we were very involved in Facebook, involved with the news, and involved with the Deaf communities. So we felt pretty up to date on information.” 

Kyle is now almost a year old. The Shepps were able to start a beautiful family during a time that was filled with fear for so many.

“I just want people to know and understand that we're just two regular people who have jobs,” Jeremy said. “We have an income, we have a house that we pay for. We have a child that we're raising and we're the same as you. The only thing that's different is that we can't hear well. And that's really it. Everything else is the same.”

Special thank you to Myles Hudkins for providing ASL interpreting for this interview and story.

Read more articles by Jenifer Veloso.