I'm pretty sure my baby thinks his grandmother lives in my iPad. Every day since he was born, we find a moment every day to sit in front of it to call his Gaga on FaceTime. He reaches for the screen and coos while my mother responds lovingly, taking screenshot after screenshot. Each day she adds new screenshots to our shared album called "Grandma Time." The album now has over 200 photos.
This was not how we imagined she would spend time with her first grandchild, but this is our new normal.
Back in February, my husband and I moved to a bigger apartment so our mothers, who both live out of state, could come and stay comfortably with us once the baby arrived. We weren't sure how long they would want to stay—2 weeks? 1 month? 3 months?—but we welcomed the help for as long as they wanted to stay. Both eagerly awaited the birth of their first grandchild.
But as my due date approached, the COVID-19 pandemic got worse. We were told guests wouldn't be allowed at the hospital. We weren't even sure my husband would be allowed. When I realized our mothers would have to stay home, it brought me to tears.
I remember calling my mom from the hospital bed three weeks ahead of my due date to say it wasn't a false alarm; I was in pre-labor. Her disbelief turned into excitement and then turned to sadness. While my husband would keep her updated during the birth via text message, she wasn't going to grab the bag she had packed weeks earlier and head to the airport like we had originally planned.
I became a mom without my mom by my side—something I wasn't prepared for and something I will never get back.
And as our little one grew bigger and bigger, the dates of his grandparents' first visits got pushed back further and further. My mom is over 70, and my husband's mom has diabetes. As first-time parents, our plans of having their love and support in person were put on hold for the foreseeable future. We had to overcome our fears of taking care of a newborn on our own without any help, relying heavily on the amazing nurses at the hospital and panicked phone calls to the pediatrician's office to teach us all the things our mothers already knew.
At each visit to the pediatrician, we ask if it is a good time to have them visit. We hold onto this little bit of hope that she will give us the green light. But there is always uncertainty in her answer, so we are left on our own to make the difficult decision. The thought of our newborn getting sick with a virus we know so little about is unnerving, and the risk of his grandmothers getting fatally sick is just as horrible an outcome. Every time the news brings us a little hope, like learning about new airline regulations that make air travel a bit safer, we talk ourselves out of a plan again and again.
I often feel like even though we all want to be together, we don't need to be together. In our minds, it isn't worth the risk.
I struggle the most when I see on Instagram or Facebook that friends with newborns are visiting with their grandparents. No one is wearing masks or gloves, and the baby is smiling in their arms. It makes me feel paranoid. Am I being too strict about keeping them apart? Am I losing precious time that they can be together?
While often I want to drown in self-pity, I'm reminded that we are all in good health and can connect in ways unimaginable when I was growing up. Our daily FaceTimes have become something everyone looks forward to, and the toy Grandma shows us on a call shows up in the mail a few days later. Who knows if we would have felt as connected every day, or cherished every conversation if it wasn't for Coronavirus? So while we may be overly cautious, we are still trying to enjoy these unusual circumstances as much as we can.
Just last week, my mom booked a ticket for next month. We are optimistic but prepared to change the flight if we get cold feet. My baby will be almost 8 months old when he meets one of his grandmas for the first time in person and my mother will have waited eight months to hold her first grandchild. While it will be an incredibly special moment, it will also be heartbreaking thinking about how much time they had to spend apart.