Momaha Blog: How becoming a parent during a pandemic has been both a blessing and a curse

By Ashley Strehle Hartman
Posted on Omaha World-Herald’s on Sept. 10, 2020

This morning, I debated whether I should be kissing my infant daughter so much.

My husband was congested and I had the beginnings of a tickle in my throat. It could be ragweed allergies. It was probably just ragweed allergies.

But what if it wasn’t?

It wasn’t the first time COVID-19 had made me question my parenting instincts.

This virus has been hanging over my daughter’s life since before she was even born. My daughter is five months old, so her whole life has taken place in a COVD-19 world, and a good chunk of my pregnancy did, too.

It started with the baby showers. We were supposed to have three baby showers: one with my family, one with my husband’s family and one with our friends and co-workers.

The first shower was held in late February. As we decorated baby onesies and ate themed cupcakes, a television played in the background. It was a press conference. They were talking about the first non-travel-related U.S. cases of COVID-19. “Hmm, that’s worrying,” I thought briefly before I was once again distracted by cupcakes.

But just to be on the safe side (because the safe side is always my favorite side) I dove headfirst into baby prep like it was my job. I started making freezer meals and organizing the nursery with a level of focus that was, well, a bit intense.

I was thankful it kept my mind off things, though, because outside of my safe nesting bubble, things were getting worse. COVID-19 was in Omaha now.

I called my aunt to cancel our family shower scheduled for March. We decided to use a wait-and-see approach for our baby shower in early April. “Surely this will have blown over by then,” we assured ourselves. How optimistic we were back in the spring. It’s almost laughable to think about now, nearly six months later.

Turns out, it didn’t blow over.

In April, my daughter decided to surprise us by coming five weeks early in the middle of the night. I wore a mask into the hospital and stood still during a contraction so they could scan my forehead for a temperature at the front desk.

The hospital didn’t allow visitors — after my daughter’s birth or during the eight days she spent in the NICU.

My husband and I continued the “no-visitor” policy when we took our daughter home. We took care of her for six weeks on our own until exhaustion set in and we asked our mothers to come help for a while. They wore masks and we all washed our hands so often they turned red and raw. The smell of hand sanitizer hung in the air.

And we stayed home. For months now, we’ve only ventured out to go to the doctor, to do grocery pick-up, to walk in the nearby park and to sit in friends’ yards six feet apart. My daughter has only seen a few faces without masks, and she’s been touched by more health care professionals than friends and family.

Still, we are very lucky.

My husband and I are fortunate in that we can provide a level of security that not many can. I’ve always worked from home and my husband has been able to do so since March. We have the means to get the things we need delivered to us. We have health insurance, good health care and emotional support from family and friends who, though they may not be there in person, are always just a video chat away.

But most of all, we’re lucky because we were blessed with the strongest, most beautiful, funniest little girl we could have ever imagined.

So many things about parenting in this pandemic are hard. But one of the hardest things for me has been reckoning with the duality of becoming a first-time parent during this. Collectively, we are living in arguably one of the hardest times in recent memory, but personally, the best thing that has ever happened to me just happened.

It’s an odd feeling to hold this joy and this pain simultaneously.

But I suppose that’s what so much of parenting is. It was always the hardest thing and the best thing all at once.

The only thing you can do is embrace it — all of it — and keep giving your baby kisses.