Raising baby in a pandemic

Author Hilary Clauson, with pandemic baby Mackenzie, has found ways to connect with other new moms and like-minded Glebe neighbours in spite of the lockdown.   Photo credit: Jessica Angel Photography

By Hilary Clauson

I got a shout-out in my dear friend Alisenne Boxall’s April 17 Glebe Report article, “When baby and pandemic arrive together.” My baby was due that day. No, he had not yet arrived, despite me consuming copious amounts of Stella Luna’s “induction ice cream” (chili chocolate, free to soon-to-be-mamas).

Ten days later, baby Mackenzie Andrew Clark was induced in less delicious, more medical ways. I guess he was reluctant to depart my cosy womb into our COVID world. My partner James and I were ecstatic he eventually joined us, growing our social bubble by 50 per cent.

Newborn care and a global pandemic have some striking similarities. Both encourage staying close to home. Both do strange things with time, where hours stretch to days and months compress to the blink of an eye. Both bring to mind speaking moistly.

The pandemic restricted my parental leave to Ottawa. My partner and I had planned to share leave during the autumn months, alternating French lessons and childcare in the balmy south of France. I optimistically applied for Mackenzie’s passport in May. I mailed his only birth certificate to Passport Canada, not realizing the processing centre was open only for emergency cases. To Passport Canada’s credit, both passport and birth certificate came back just in time for the September anticipated departure date – for a trip long since kyboshed.

All four grandparents are in British Columbia. My in-laws drove a camper van from Salt Spring Island to Ottawa to meet their grandson. Because we hesitate to give air travel a go, my parents have sadly not met him yet. They make do for now with Zoom calls; my dad takes photos of his screen and endearingly calls them screenshots.

We have enjoyed a number of physically distanced visits with friends. Luckily, Mackenzie’s cheeks are so chubby they can be spotted and admired from the respectable distance of at least six feet.

I had heard that days caring for a newborn can feel long, potentially more so since many mom-and-baby activities were untenable under COVID lockdown. Fortunately, Ontario’s stage 1 reopening on May 19 allowed my favourite neighbourhood coffee shop to resume business. It is part of the Where I Thrive gym I went to throughout my pregnancy. Mackenzie and I frequently enjoy a stroller walk followed by a drink or a snack and a chat with a member of the Where I Thrive community. Stage 2 allowed the gym itself to reopen, giving me the periodic chance to move and stretch my body without an infant in my arms or underfoot.

Since mommy groups were largely moved online, Glebe moms and I established a weekly park meet-up. It started as an informal Facebook message thread for friends, friends of friends and members of the Glebe Buy Nothing Group whom I noticed were expressing interest in baby gear. It has grown into 20 moms and their babies. Instead of the isolation that can come with parental leave, especially during a pandemic, I have gained many neighbourhood friends with whom I am tackling the challenges of new parenthood. I cannot wait until we can cuddle each other’s babies post-COVID.

Some days may feel long, but suddenly I no longer have a newborn but a cooing, grasping, rolling baby and pandemic life is at stage 3. I am grateful that I do not have the difficult decision of parents with older children on whether or not to send their children to day care or school. But in a few short months, my parental leave will be over. A new set of challenges will arise in balancing motherhood, employment and COVID precautions.

In the meantime, I remind Mackenzie, drooling milk and blowing spit bubbles, that our prime minister asks us to avoid speaking moistly to stop the spread.

Newborn care and a global pandemic have one more thing in common. As Alisenne’s article reminded us, it takes a village to raise a child. It also takes a village to pull through a pandemic. The Glebe is an Ottawa village capable of both.

Hilary Clauson is Mackenzie’s mom, a public servant on parental leave and writer of growth-spurt.ca, a blog on gender equality and parenthood. If you would like to join the Glebe moms group please let her know (hilary.clauson@gmail.com).

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