A Rotorua mother has been forced to make the heartbreaking decision to leave her premature baby in hospital and stay at home to care for her two other children during lockdown.
Stacey Brell learned on Thursday that she had to choose between staying in Rotorua Hospital to care for 8-week-old baby son Armani-John Selwyn or remain in Covid-19 isolation at home with the rest of her family.
Her partner, an essential worker, is on call and there is no one else besides her to look after their two other children, aged 18 months and 11 years.
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The decision has torn her apart.
"I was heartbroken. I can't wait to just hold him again," Brell told the Rotorua Daily Post.
"It's one of the hardest things, knowing he's going to be in there."
Baby Armani-John was born on January 30. He was 15 weeks early and weighed 952 grams, less than two blocks of butter.
He spent the next two months fighting for his life in Waikato Hospital's Newborn Intensive Care Unit with Brell, her two other children and her mother by his side.
Brell started imagining life returning to normal, the family coming back together, when she was told Armani-John would be transferred to Rotorua Hospital on Monday.
She imagined spending days with him in the hospital while her children were at school, holding him, reading to him and talking to him.
"But it all just changed within a day of being back."
She visited her son on Wednesday evening and was told she would be able to visit him the next evening.
"Then I got a phone call on Thursday morning to say I either had to live with him or stay out."
Within a day of being home, she had to make a decision that would tear those dreams to pieces. She now cannot see him until the level 4 lockdown is over.
"I didn't picture it to be like this. It's been really hard."
Brell is urging New Zealanders to stay at home to help stop the spread so she can see her son again.
In an attempt to get the spread of Covid-19 under control, the Government enforced a nationwide lockdown of everything except essential services, effective Wednesday this week.
Rotorua Hospital has enforced a strict no-visitor policy to protect staff and patients.
The exemptions are that patients who are palliative and receiving end-of-life care can have one consistent visitor or family member, one parent or guardian of any hospitalised child, and one support person to accompany a woman in labour.
While at Waikato Hospital, Brell's other children lived with her mother.
Her mother, Donna Ngamotu, said the situation had left the family "broken".
Plans were being made by the family before Brell returned to Rotorua with an excited family organising how they would take turns at the hospital.
Ngamotu said it had been a difficult few months for everyone, and she saw the impact that being away from their mother had on her grandchildren.
"You're stuck between a rock and a hard place," she said.
But Brell knows that being in the hospital, surrounded by compassionate specialists, is the safest place for her son.
"But they can't sit with him for hours and hold him, read to him, talk to him like I can.
"I just had to leave my other two kids for two months and now I have to leave him in the hospital on his own for a month, provided it doesn't get extended."
And the thought of it getting extended is devastating - precious moments she will miss.
"I don't think anyone expected it to be this serious but it is really serious. Everything can wait a few weeks so just stay home so we can go back to our normal lives.
"The nurses in Specialist Care Baby Unit also hated having to make me make that decision. [They] have been amazing," Brell said
They have promised video calls and photos when they can, something she will be looking forward to through the isolation.