Reflections On A Hard Year, Part 4: The Mother Of A College Aged Child Reflects On This Past Year

The hardest thing this year about being a mom was letting go.

I have a college aged son with a chronic disease and having him away at college during a pandemic was not easy.  Of course, I went through the worry of what it meant for him to be apart from me multiple times when he was growing up – when he went on sleepovers to friends’ houses, when he went away to camp and then again when he originally left for college.  

Each time he left, whether it was for a night or a week or a semester, knowing I would not be able to check on him at night was nothing short of panic inducing.  He has Type 1 Diabetes and what most people don’t know – and what I did not know before he was diagnosed – was that night time low blood sugars are a real danger which can result in hospitalization or death if they are not caught immediately. There really IS something called “dead in bed syndrome” and of course once I knew this, I simply could not get it out of my mind.  There is all sorts of new technology which helps to make this MUCH less likely – like alarms on blood glucose monitors  and phone apps that alarm when the child’s blood sugar level goes too low – but of course these things work only if the child or parent wakes up to the alarm.  As a result of the fact that I had a very good sleeper for a son, I often checked his blood glucose levels three or four times a night when he lived at home. 

So when he went away – whether for a night or a semester, and I could not check on him, I had to learn to tame my anxiety. 

Every parent wants to protect their child from danger.  But we have to struggle between fulfilling this wish and allowing the independence and autonomy which are necessary for our children to grow. 

At each stage of development, we learn to allow a little more independence; we hang back a little to see what our child can do on his or her own.  But it’s hard.  We have to be able to tolerate the possibility that they will fall, fail, hurt themselves or feel defeated.

I could not stand that I would not be there to check my son at night – and I considered not allowing sleepovers or overnight camp and having him go to a local college and live at home. I just was so worried that he would not take adequate care of himself.

But again, each time I had to tame my anxiety and allow him to move forward.

And when a pandemic struck and I did not know whether he was at more risk for severe illness due to his disease or whether he would abide by the rules of physical distancing when at college, well, I had to really work on my anxiety.

I had to remind myself that the need for independence for my son trumped my desire to keep him safe or even my wish to KNOW if he was safe.

I also had to restrain myself from too much questioning of his habits.  I struggled with my wish to be in control and my knowledge that I was not. And I think for all of us, this pandemic taught us that thinking we have control over our lives  – and that of our children – is, at least in part, an illusion.  Not only could I not control whether my son went by all the CDC guidelines, but I could not control his three roommates – nor could I even begin to know what their habits were in regard to keeping themselves safe from Coronavirus.

At some point, early in the pandemic, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation issued a statement saying that kids with Type 1 Diabetes were not more at risk for complications and death from Covid than other kids. Whether or not that was actually true, I have no idea, but at the time I found it tremendously reassuring.

I also found it helpful when my engineering-major son would joke that for engineers, this pandemic did not present a tremendous contagion risk as they didn’t socialize all that much to begin with. AND I liked the fact that his college seemed to be doing all it could to ensure safety and to keep parents and students aware of the precautions being taken (including daily analysis of the waste water from all the dorms to identify new cases!) 

I clung to these reassurances and worked on keeping my anxiety at bay. My son needed his autonomy and independence.

Of course, I DID call him and email him and forward him articles about Covid…..

But limiting my anxiety through energetic use of all my defenses – and keeping the NUMBER of calls and emails to a minimum – well, that was the best I could do. I had to learn how to let go on an all new level, even though I had practiced so many times over the years.

Reflections On a Hard Year, Part 3: A Mother of Three Describes Her Year

2,085 Father Hugging Son Illustrations & Clip Art

The last year of Covid was scary for our family.  At the beginning of the pandemic my husband worked on the frontline for three months straight without any break. With the tons of patients he was taking care of, I felt sure he would get Covid. I thought, “He’s not in the best of health and what if he dies?”  It felt inevitable that something terrible would happen.  This freaked me out and I went into survival mode. 

Also, I wanted to protect our kids as much as possible – but I couldn’t stop asking myself what I would do if our kids had to grow up without their father. 

And then there were the day to day deprivations: my husband would come home after a 15+ hour day but the kids and I couldn’t even hug him. Before we got to see him every night he had to perform a routine of entering through the garage, disrobing and taking a shower; it was only then that we could get close to him.  My kids and husband did “bubble hugs” (hugging the air) if we happened to see him outside before he got to do his disinfection process. 

And he and I slept in separate bedrooms for months because God forbid if we both got Covid – who would take care of the kids? 

My husband felt like a hero to me and to my children and I felt so guilty that after serving so selflessly each day, he had to be treated like an alien in his own home. But we knew it was necessary.  He even had his own designated sofa in our family room that we coined the “nether couch” that only he was allowed to lie on. I felt so isolated and lonely.  Both of my parents are physicians and yet they were unable to relate to what we were going through; they generally regard us as superhuman and basically thought we would be fine. Those first couple of months were truly the scariest moments because of the large possibility that I could lose my husband. We did not know the contagion risk and the true mortality numbers amongst health care workers at that point. I have gotten through a lot of adversity with him by my side but what would I do without him?  I often cried myself to sleep.  

I tell my husband everything and we have an honest relationship – but with all that he was going through I couldn’t and didn’t want to add to his burden. I thought that telling him about my fears of his getting Covid and dying would just be too much for him.  We stayed up most nights so that he could unload the days’ events. I listened patiently but I think I cried more than he did as he recounted his stories.  I felt his helplessness during those early days when the treatment for Covid was not standardized yet.  

I also worried about the kids and how my anxiety about my husband getting sick was being projected onto them.  Thank goodness we had a trampoline; they spent a lot of time on that trampoline! I’m also glad that the kids had each other.  But during this year not everything was scary – we got closer as a family, lived life a lot more simply, cooked a lot more and celebrated birthdays at home. Surprisingly, each child remarked that this birthday was their best ever.  

We took things a day at a time and we were able to relax a little more when the incidence of Covid slowed over the summer. Thankfully, the prospect of the vaccine was becoming more real through the Fall My husband was able to get vaccinated the first day the vaccine was offered – December 18th – because of his priority designation. As a physician, I was able to be vaccinated about a month later, and fortunately our parents were able to as well. This enabled us to feel more comfortable gathering and being close with one another.  I’m grateful for our good health and the fact that we made it through this scary time safely. Now we are planning our return to “normal” and we have travel plans to look forward to. Thankfully life in the hospital has improved steadily and the strain has lessened considerably on my husband, myself and my children.  

Reflecting On A Hard Year, Part 2: One New Mother’s Experience

The hardest part of this past year for me was fearing how the virus could affect my pregnancy. I was two months pregnant in March 2020 when we went into lockdown.  Limited information began to trickle out of Wuhan, China about the minor negative impacts seen in babies born to Covid positive mothers. But I knew these were all women who had gotten Covid in their third trimesters. Who was to know if Covid wasn’t the next Zika, the latest in a subset of viruses known to cause significant birth defects, especially early in a pregnancy when the baby is still forming its basic parts? 

I did not want to risk catching this virus. 

As a doctor myself I knew the basics of what happened at routine obstetrical appointments. With that knowledge and the consultation of my friends in the field, I concluded that the benefit of being at the routine appointments in person did not outweigh the risk of exposure to Covid-19. This was before the CDC recommended people wear masks. This was months before my OB office required that many of these appointments be virtual. How nice to be ahead of the curve. 

But I missed the face-to-face interaction and the physical touch from people trained to help me navigate my first pregnancy. I missed childbirth classes. There were only so many zoom interactions I could have in a week. I was so fortunate to be able to move my psychiatric practice online. But it meant spending the entire day interacting with people virtually. Very few of us had done anything like that before Covid.

Breathing heavily behind an N-95, I went to my twenty-week anatomy scan ultrasound. At the end of the appointment, the doctor handed me a napkin and said to use it to turn the doorknob on my way out.  Everyone was scared. That was early May 2020, well before we had clarification on surface transmission not being a great risk.

The birth itself was too big an experience to have been significantly influenced by Covid related precautions. Wearing a mask throughout the labor and the delivery was the least of my discomforts. And thankfully, my husband was allowed to be in the room.

The threat of Covid affected me more in terms of the difficulties of introducing my newborn daughter to my family. My seventy something year old parents were willing to quarantine heavily before meeting the baby, but what if we had gotten infected in the hospital, were asymptomatic and then gave it to them? This was not what we wanted to worry about while getting to know our newborn. 

And then there were my husband’s parents living in a foreign country, also in their seventies. It seemed too risky to have them fly over. So, everyone had to wait until they were vaccinated, about seven months after our baby was born – and that felt like a long time. 

I’m so grateful that the threat of Covid is diminishing now and that I’m able to experience having a young child with less day-to-day fear and more opportunities for healthy social interaction.