“Spending the majority of your day with fragmented attention can permanently affect your ability to sustain concentration.”
This is something that Cal Newport, Associate Professor at Georgetown University, said in a Ted Talk about why he has never had a social media account and why he turns off his notifications while he’s working on a project.
He talks and writes about the impact that social media and multiple sources of information have on our work habits, productivity and ability to concentrate. His premise is that jumping from email to Facebook to Slack feed, whether at work or at home, impairs our ability to actually do what we need to do in an efficient way as well as affecting our overall ability to sustain attention.
He calls shifting from doing a task at work to looking at an email a “context shift”. And in an interview in the New York Times Magazine last Sunday (1/29/23), he said that “even minor context shifts are poison” – by which he meant, that if you are writing a report at work and you stop to check a message, there will be a cost to your productivity. You will have to exert a large amount of mental energy to go from that message back to the report you were writing. And if you do this multiple times while writing the report, you will take longer and have to work harder to finish it.
Cal Newport advocates turning off your notifications and doing one thing at a time.
but also, according to him, more efficient and more productive.
So what does that have to do with parenting?
Well, I would be remiss if I advised you to try to get your children to turn off THEIR notifications or if I suggested that you could actually get them to stop looking at their phones all the time. They won’t listen, they will argue, they will get angry – and we all know this.
BUT – there are a couple of things you CAN do.
First, you can start to adopt some of these habits yourself. And then you can talk about having done so IN FRONT OF YOUR CHILDREN. You can talk about whether or not this has helped you.
There are numerous benefits to you here – you may actually find that you ARE more productive, and you may find that you feel less stressed. Constantly trying to pay attention to several sources of communication and information all day long is stressful and anxiety provoking.
Second, while your children are young, you can insist that they put their cell phones (if they have them) in a basket while they do homework and at family meal time. You can probably get away with this through junior high – or, if you are really good, through high school. It will be hard, but if you persist, your children just might develop some good work habits that are more productive and less stressful for them.
We humans are social beings. We need others, not just to thrive, but to survive. Whether we are older people, living alone, or single parents living with our children, whether our spouses travel a great deal or whether we ourselves travel for work and spend time alone in hotel rooms, whether we feel alone, lying in a hospital bed, or actually are alone after a separation or divorce, we all suffer when we lack community, support and human touch.
Below is a beautiful article on this subject which appeared in the New York Times this past Sunday:
I’ll Get By With a Little Help From My Herd
A single mother, alone with a toddler in a foreign country, finds community during Covid — and then creates one for others.
Photo by Brian Rea
By Betsy Cornwell | Jan. 20, 2023
My ex was a bad husband but a good horse trainer. When we met, he had just bought a pony for 50 euros that the seller swore was unbreakable. Three months later, he sold it for 10 times that price as a child’s Christmas present.
He was kinder to horses than he was to me. He had better luck training them, too. His attempts to break me were easy to brush off at first, but they grew more forceful after our son was born. On our baby’s first birthday, he told me that if I didn’t obey him, he would have me deported back to America and keep our son in Ireland.
I reacted the way any threatened animal mother would: I took my baby and ran.
After a brief brush with homelessness, we moved to a rural cottage I could barely afford even with multiple jobs. In a field across the road was a skinny dun mare, her mane falling out and her hide raw where she had bitten off her own fur. You could always see the whites of her eyes.
One of the many things my ex taught me about horses is that a horse kept alone in a field will never thrive. It won’t sleep, will go off its feed, will even start pulling out its own hair. But if you put any other herd animal in with it (doesn’t have to be another horse — could be a sheep, goat or donkey), they’ll get on fine.
That’s because in a herd, animals take turns being the lookout. One animal keeps watch while the others rest and eat. A herd animal by itself, or alone with its baby, is always watching for danger; it won’t lower its head long enough to eat much or feel safe enough to sleep deeply.
I felt for that horse. I felt like her, too.
I didn’t know my neighbors — and after learning to fear my spouse, I had become afraid of everyone else, too. I kept my door locked and curtains drawn. Even after the long days of working single parenthood were done and my child was in bed, I watched the windows for unexpected shadows, predator eyes.
I had a safety order, the Irish version of a restraining order, but my animal brain knew that wasn’t the same as real safety. I barely ate and I slept fitfully, half my brain alert for danger. Congratulations on my weight loss made me want to scream.
By then it was April 2020, and Ireland was enduring the longest lockdown in Europe. I might have been alone with a toddler, but everyone else was alone in their fields, too. Logging on for Zoom reunions with family and friends I hadn’t caught up with in years, I felt less isolated than I had before lockdown. Apart from the creeping sense of Covid doom, I kind of didn’t want it to end.
It was in that disembodied space that I felt safe enough to start opening up to people again. Online I talked about my grief over my divorce, the hardships of single parenting, my financial struggles. I lived in fear of eviction and of separation from my child if my ex were to succeed in having me deported. Online, I didn’t have to explain my weight loss or the way I kept flinching at unexpected touch.
I connected with people who had been through similar things, but more important, I learned how many people are willing to reach out in kindness just for the sake of it. Collegefriends from the States crowd-funded my rent and grocery money one month when I couldn’t make it; they paid for my parental visa application, too.
Old friends from every era of my life — as well as people I had never met — reached out to help me survive. Their generosity revived my faith in myself and in others and helped me imagine a better future — one where I might be able to offer that same help to other single parents who felt alone in their fields.
At night, when my baby or my anxiety woke me, I soothed myself to sleep by reading real estate listings, dreaming of a home not just for us but for other single parents, a childcare-inclusive residency space where we could take turns being the lookout. I longed to give other single parents the thing I most needed myself: a respite from the hyper vigilance of loneliness.
One sleepless night, I found a place that I thought could work, an old knitting factory on Ireland’s west coast, priced low because it had been on the market for years. The seller agreed to a rent-to-own scheme but said I needed to give him a whole year’s rent up front.
I barely had one month’s worth. I got ready for bed that night full of longing that was close to despair. But I told my online communities about my idea and did something they had with their love taught me to do — I asked for help. Then I went to sleep.
When I woke, I found that a herd of friends and strangers had kept watch over my son and me while we slept. There was several months’ rent funded already, and within days the whole year was covered.
After my baby and I moved in, I spent the next two years crowdfunding the knitting factory’s purchase and renovating it to receive guests. I hacked through brambles, erected fencing, scrubbed musty old walls, cleared away cobwebs. And every day I talked online about my dream of a family home that could care for other families, and more strangers and friends joined in support.
I finally closed on the building in spring 2022, having raised the entire purchase price. My herd had kept my baby and me safe, and it was time for me to offer that safety to someone else.
Last summer, I hosted my first single mother resident, a remarkable woman named Tawasul who came to Ireland as a refugee from Sudan with her two young children. In the knitting factory’s sunny kitchen, we shared strong Irish tea and cardamom-spiced Sudanese coffee while we talked about domestic abuse and immigration and the strange sadness of watching your children grow up in a different culture.
To fund the residencies, I also began to offer the space on Airbnb. A few years ago, locking the door every night against my ex-husband and neighbors alike, I never could have fathomed being brave enough to share my home with strangers.
But the funny thing is, those strangers have made me feel safer. The backpackers who stay up late keep a vigil without even knowing it. The retirees who wake up early for the ferry take the morning shift. I barely talk with most of them, but their presence helps me breathe easier because I know there would be witnesses if my ex did show, especially now that my safety order has expired. But really, the feeling of safety I get is more primal.
I used to fantasize about putting a sheep or donkey in the field across from my rented cottage to keep that dun mare company. I settled for visiting her myself when I could, picking long grass for her, letting my baby pet her rough velvet nose. Often, she would nod off while we sat there.
A few weeks before we left for the knitting factory, I saw another horse with her. They didn’t bond right away, mostly remaining in their field’s opposite corners. But by moving day, the mare’s fur was already growing back in.
It’s not like every person who stays at the knitting factory is a kindred spirit either. But their presence soothes my animal body in a more profound way than I ever expected.
Since we bought the house, I have started getting to know my neighbors, too. It took me those two years to get brave enough, but the rewards of that bravery are many: My son runs to greet his classmates at the playground, and I share custody of a sweet gray cat with the couple across the road.
And last week, an elderly neighbor brought us an unexpected gift: a goat.
I thanked him but thought, “Oh god, what am I going to do with her?” Or rather, them: I knew that I would have to get her a friend.
Until our goat’s companion came, my son and I stayed outside with her for hours, feeding her porridge oats, stroking her while she regarded us with her mild letterbox eyes. “I’m sorry we’re not goats,” I wanted to say. “But I promise — we’re herd animals too.”
Here’s a round up of the top five best parenting books that were released in 2022. Happy reading!
Best New Books:
1) Brain-Body Parenting: How to Stop Managing Behavior and Start Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids by Mona Delahooke
“Based on years of clinical experience, this book offers a new approach to parenting that considers and centers the essential role of the entire nervous system, which controls children’s feelings and behaviors, in how to raise children.”
2) Peaceful Discipline: Story Teaching, Brain Science & Better Behavior by Sarah R. Moore
“A reflection on the body-brain connection in behavior and why our concept of “consequences don’t work for children, and what to do, within a positive framework, instead.”
3) Raising Antiracist Children: A Practical Parenting Guide by Britt Hawthorne
“An essential guide to raising inclusive, antiracist children from educator and advocate, Britt Hawthorne.”
4) LGBTQ Family Building: A Guide for Prospective Parents by Abbie E. Goldberg
“This easy to read guide offers a comprehensive overview of parenting with regard to the specific complexities, joys, and nuances of being an LGBTQ+ person and parent.”
5) Good Inside: A Guide to Becoming the Parent You Want to Be by Dr. Becky Kennedy
“A comprehensive resource offering new techniques for modern parenting and how to raise kids to feel confident and resilient.”
And a few oldies but goodies:
(These are a few recommendations but this series continues all the way up to adolescence!)
In an interesting opinion piece in the New York Times (see link below) Emily Oster suggested that starting now, we can all begin to make more conscious decisions about what we want on our schedules and those of our children.
But can we?
Having our schedules empty out during the quarantine was a revealing experience for many of us – and for our children. What could we do with our time when we didn’t have to go to a million activities? We had to draw on resources we didn’t know we had to figure this out.
Even though most families found the quarantine experience extremely difficult, I heard a lot of comments from parents and partners about the benefits in spending more time together. While family life could get claustrophobic at times, at others, parents found they were getting to know their children and partners better and many people appreciated the slower pace of life.
So now – the question is – do we have the courage to turn down some of the activities that are becoming available again? Are we willing to give thought to whether we want all that busy-ness back? Can we get ourselves to consciously go through each of our prior activities and decide if we really want that back in our life – or in the life of our children?
Emily Oster has some ideas about this – and so do I. The thing that she does not mention explicitly in her article is the importance of communication. Are we able to talk together as a family to make our priorities clear before accepting all the sports and lessons and activities into our lives again? Are we able to have discussions about whether we want to be as busy as we were before?
I have a few suggestions and then you can read what Emily has to say as well:
1. Sit down with your partner, if you have one, before autumn starts and talk about how busy you want to be. Talk about what your family priorities are. Talk about what you want back in your life and what you do not. And if you do not have a partner, you can think about this for yourself and perhaps even write down what you do and do not want back in your life. The purpose of all this is to make these decisions consciously rather than just deciding on the spur of the moment as each activity presents itself.
2. Sit down with each of your children and have this discussion with them. You now know what your priorities are for the family. Within the confines of those, ask your child what his or her or their priorities are and what activities he or she or they want back.
3. Don’t be afraid to set limits. For example, if you have decided you want one day of the weekend – or even the entire weekend – for family times, stick to that. Try to help your children understand your priorities for the family and to make decisions keeping those in mind.
Life is getting more back to “normal” – but we all have to decide whether we want it to be the old normal or a new normal, informed by our experiences during this past year and a half.
Recently, the New York Times Parenting Blog posted on the topic of how to be a better aunt (see link below). What an interesting topic! And I have a few ideas of my own for aunts, uncles, grandparents and friends of young children.
Some people are naturals when it comes to forming relationships with young children – and some people are not. Some people know how to engage a child easily – and some people feel hurt when they ask a young child, “how was school today?” and the child just stares blankly at them or runs away.
Here are a few tips for those who want to be closer to their nieces, nephews, grandchildren or children of friends and just can’t seem to bridge the age gap:
1. Visit. Visit often. Do not rely on the phone or video chats to make a relationship work with a child.
2. When you visit, get down on the floor with the child. Whatever they are doing, join them. Make observations about what they’re doing. Compliment them in some way – for example, you can say “Wow! That is a BIG lego car you’re building!” Children, especially those six and under, live in the moment. Questions about something they are NOT doing at the moment (school, sports teams, etc.) won’t go anywhere, but discussion of what they are doing right now may.
3. Time with the child is a good investment. Each time you visit, spend at least 10 or 15 minutes focused just on the child, Just this small amount of time will start to build the relationship you have been wanting with the child.
4. When you visit you can sometimes bring a project or an idea for a project. Find out from the parents what the child’s interests are and clear the project with the parents first. Do you want to make cupcakes? Would you like to build this lego spaceship with me? Do you want to do a puzzle together? Doing something together on a regular basis will build your relationship with the child and your feeling of closeness with them.
5. If you know that a parent is not feeling well or is extra busy at the moment, offer to step in for an hour or two. This will build your relationship with the child and the parent will be eternally grateful!
6. Gifts are good – but they are not the best way to actually deepen a relationship. All children love gifts – but many aunts and uncles and grandparents have felt disappointment when a child does not thank them or seem grateful for a gift. Moreover, as thoughtful as the gift may be, outside of the context of an already established relationship, they will probably not work to make a relationship happen.
7. Take the child on adventures. Once you feel you have a relationship with the child, after having done some projects together, with the permission of the parents, take the child on some adventures. For young children, keep it simple: a visit to a particularly fun park, lunch in a restaurant, tea at a hotel or a trip to the zoo for a few hours is a good way to start. If you have multiple nieces, nephews, grandchildren or young friends, try to take each child, one at a time, for an outing, The parents will love you, and the child, if they feel comfortable with you, will feel special. For an older child, a movie or a play is fun, but even better is doing something where the two of you can talk and experience something together.
Relationships are precious and the more children in your life, the better! If relating to young children is not your forte, try some of these ideas and read more below:
The hardest part of the pandemic for me has been tolerating the deep sorrow that accompanies illness and mortality while simultaneously protecting my children from this very feeling within myself.
Although I am one of the lucky parents – I did not contract COVID and was vaccinated in early 2020 – there was illness and death all around me. The first months of the pandemic were hard — my uncle, who I grew up adoring (and feeling adored by) died suddenly from COVID. I remember one day in early April 2020 my mother called to tell me that he was feeling ill. Three days later he died in a nearby hospital. Luckily, his doctor was a family friend and allowed my aunt (his wife of fifty-five years) to be by his side as he took his last labored breath.
My heart felt broken.
Days later my family gathered on Zoom for his funeral and shiva. I sat in my own home, on our family couch. I was surrounded by my husband and my two boys, my youngest, sitting on my lap, wrapping his little fingers inside my palm. And, even though there were familiar faces and voices on my screen – my cousins, aunts, parents, and sibling – I felt very alone in my grief. So many parts of these rituals were missing – hugs with my family, communal vibrations of song that soothe when many voices join together in a single space, and of course, the presence of my family elders ushering us (the younger generation) through loss.
All of a sudden everything and everyone around me felt fragile and I could no longer take anything for granted. I stayed awake at night wondering how I would raise our two young boys if my husband (a physician who treated COVID patients) became ill and died? And what would happen to my dear boys if I died?
Without a government that took the pandemic seriously, how would I keep my boys safe even if I did manage to survive? And, in my most terrifying moments, the only thing I could think about was how George Floyd’s last words spoke every boy’s deepest source of security – “mama.”
It is misleading to say that the pandemic is solely responsible for the slow tear that pervaded my veil of security. In the months prior to the emergence of COVID in the US, my life had already been uprooted by illness. In fact, I spent most of the fall of 2019 caring for important people in my life who were ill. In October of 2019, I stayed with a close friend and helped with her two daughters as she endured treatment for stage IV lung cancer. And then, in the final days of 2019, my father was diagnosed with Leukemia and I underwent surgery, donating my bone marrow to him to increase his chances of survival.
By the time the pandemic hit, I was exhausted and needed time for reflection. In a normal year I would have used the spring to sort out the feelings that came with the previous fall. On my hours off from work and while my kids were at school, I would have enjoyed visits with my dad and taken long runs by the river. I would have met friends for tea and shared my experience, emerging from the interaction feeling grounded and full. Now, my whole world shrunk down to the few rooms of my home – with my kids at home for school and my husband working at the hospital I could no longer leave the house to hold my dad’s hand nor to go running by myself. Suddenly, it was no longer safe to meet friends in person and as a therapist I often did not want to set up one more Zoom session even if it was for the purpose of talking to friends. I found myself crying in the shower so that no one would hear me, especially my children.
As a daughter of a severely depressed mother, I have worked hard to hide my sorrow from my children. I don’t mean I never let them see me sad or upset. Rather, I’ve tried hard to protect them from the deep sorrow many daughters of depressed mothers inherit – the feeling that we are undeserving of goodness and are responsible to make our mothers better so that we may have the goodness we see others enjoy. Over the years, I’ve buoyed myself with my professional work and beautiful experiences that remind me I am worthy of joy (such as fun family vacations). And, I’ve healed the broken part of me through many deep relationships – my therapist, mentors, friends, and especially my husband who understand this part of me and support my many endeavors to live fully, with strength and joy. Together, we have been able to give our boys the things that my mother could not give me – a deep sense of hope, agency in the world, and freedom to be children. Now, without my traditional ways of recuperating – usually out of my children’s sight – how would I manage not to slip into my own depression? How would I protect them from my own fears and sorrow – stirred by so much illness and death (not to mention protect them from very real threat of COVID)?
I wish I could say that over the last 15 months I rallied by establishing a daily practice of yoga, baking bread, and used the extra time at home to “Marie Kondo” my closets (as I witnessed so many others do in the many articles I read online at 3 am). But, I did not. My children are still home for remote school and they are unvaccinated. I had to find ways to allow myself to feel what I was feeling. And I did. I found a way to stay close to the rhythms of my sorrow and move through them, this time along side my children rather than outside their view.
Over this pandemic time of sadness, I have come to realize that I do not have to hide my sorrow from my children in order to protect them. In fact, I have recognized that in order to prepare them for life as it really is, I have to allow them to know about sorrow and sadness. And I have decided that we can now talk, as a family, about how some parts of life are naturally hard and sad and that giving ourselves care and comfort in these hard times is essential.
Before it was safe to have a babysitter, I would run around the baseball field, tracking my miles, while my boys played catch and cheered me on to run one more lap. Now, both of my boys look forward to beginning the week when they have “extra movie time,” while I meet with my therapist online. They know that I often need to cry when I learn that their grandpa was re-admitted to the hospital and they see me moving through the pain by baking him his favorite date-nut bread for when he returns home. Additionally, they accompany me on visits with my friends in the park, developing their own loving relationships with them.
I am still tired. I still look forward to the time when my kids can return to school. I need more time to myself and they need to feel independent and have time with their teachers and friends. In the meantime, I am doing the unthinkable – I am healing myself along side my children. Without burdening them with my sorrow, I have let them see how I find my resiliency in the face of hardship. I am hopeful we will all emerge stronger and my boys, if they ever lose their own sense of inner strength, will know they can always find their way back.
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.
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.
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.