A Melbourne mother has written an honest open letter about the realities of being a mum to a one-year-old during the coronavirus lockdown, and it has struck a chord with parents around the world.
Michelle Daga, her partner Jahmin, both 32, and baby Jahlee, 1, live in an apartment without a backyard, and they are three of thousands who are subject to the strictest restrictions Australia has ever seen.
‘My baby is turning one this week, and he has spent half of his life in lockdown,’ nutritionist and childbirth educator Michelle wrote in the letter.
‘Isolated at home with mum and dad, for six months now and counting. He has never played with another child, patted a dog, or had a chance to dig in the dirt.
‘He is yet to meet most of his family, visit a shopping centre, or spend a day in the playground.’
Melbourne has been in stage 4 lockdown since Sunday 2 August and this will continue until at least Sunday 13 September.
During this period, residents can only travel 5km from their house, there is a curfew between 8pm and 5am, and people can only leave their homes for one hour each day.
While Michelle acknowledged that she knows their situation is ‘not unique’, she also said that doesn’t mean it isn’t difficult.
‘The only other faces Jahlee sees are hidden behind masks,’ she said.
” He has no idea food grows on trees or sprouts from the earth, just that it arrives in bags and boxes, left by a man in a mask at the front door”
‘And he has no idea food grows on trees or sprouts from the earth, just that it arrives in bags and boxes, left by a man in a mask at the front door.’
Michelle and Jahmin recently celebrated Jahlee’s first birthday with a party for the three of them, and all 20 of their extended family joined from across the country on Zoom.
‘To look at him, you wouldn’t know of his sheltered little life,’ Michelle said.
‘He was a baby when lockdown began, not even able to crawl. Now, he’s a walking, talking toddler, with a whole lot of personality and a toothy smile.’
What are the stage 4 restrictions in Melbourne?
* From 6pm on Sunday 2 August, if you live in metropolitan Melbourne, Stage 4 restrictions have applied.
* A curfew is in place between the hours of 8pm until 5am. This means you must be at your home during these hours. The only reasons to leave home between 8pm and 5am will be work, medical care and caregiving.
* The four reasons that you can leave home remain, but further limitations are now in place for: shopping for food or other essential items, exercise (applies to outdoor exercise, and with only one other person), and permitted work.
* Caregiving, for compassionate reasons or to seek medical treatment also remains a permitted reason to leave home.
* As much as you can, you must stay at home. When you leave home, you must use a face covering, unless you have a lawful reason for not doing so.
Source: DHHS Victoria
In Michelle’s open letter, she said while Jahlee is ‘happy, healthy, vibrant’ and ‘full of curiosity and laughter’, she has a sense that he is ‘longing for more’ and that even he knows something ‘isn’t right’.
‘That was confirmed just last week, when he hurriedly crawled across the floor, pointing to the window, squealing, laughing, shrieking with delight,’ she said.
‘I turned to see two pigeons, perched high on the roof of the building next door. A look on his face of pure joy, and then I realised, these are the first birds my one-year-old has ever seen.’
Michelle said she sat with Jahlee for a while watching the birds who were ‘so peaceful, so free’, before they flew away and left ‘us alone again, in these four walls’.
‘There is nothing normal about living half your life in quarantine,’ Michelle said.
‘There is nothing normal about parenting in a pandemic. And although I’m well aware things could be worse, this is far from easy.
‘Millions of others are sharing this strange new reality with us every day. And I’m here to remind you, you’re not alone.
‘Here’s hoping we can all spread our wings, and teach our young ones to fly very soon. Happy birthday, my baby.’
The mum-of-one’s post struck a huge chord on Facebook, where over 1,000 people reacted to it and shared their own stories during lockdown.
‘In Melbourne too with 3.5 years old, 18 months old and baby born in stage 4 last week… I feel you. This Is madness,’ one mother posted.
‘Sending strength! Here in WA we are sheltered from the madness happening over where you are right now but I had a newborn in lockdown over here and I can already see the difference between my older son and my younger one,’ another woman added.
‘My youngest is clingy and won’t go to anyone … why would he when he spent 10 weeks at home with just me.’
Others said they were drawing huge moral support from the mother’s post during an ‘impossible’ time.
What are Michelle’s practical tips for surviving lockdown?
* STAY NOURISHED: Use the extra time at home to prepare healthy meals using fresh ingredients. It’s tempting to turn to takeaway and comfort foods during tough times, but having these too often can make us feel worse. Remember good nutrition is key to supporting a healthy immune system, and fresh food makes us feel good.
* MAKE COOKING FUN FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY: Older children can help in the kitchen with prep work and cooking, while younger ones can help with stirring and setting the table, and babies enjoy mimicking what they see by playing with pots and pans on the floor.
* MOVE YOUR BODY AT YOUR PACE: You might be heavily pregnant, a few months postpartum, or juggling toddlers, home schooling and working from home. It’s a challenge, but making time to move your body at your pace and fitness level, whether it’s a short walk (within your local regulations) or gentle yoga at home, can help break up the monotony of lockdown, and re-energise you for the rest of the day.
* GET SOME SUNSHINE: When our skin is exposed to sunlight, it makes Vitamin D. This vitamin is crucial for a healthy pregnancy and infancy, as well as bone health, hormonal balance and mood regulation. So make the most of your time outdoors, as permitted by your local lockdown laws. If you feel tired or unwell, consider getting nutrient levels checked and supplementing deficiencies with the support of a nutritionist.
* BE KIND TO YOURSELF: At the beginning of lockdown, a lot of people made grand plans to learn a new language, lose weight, or renovate their homes. The reality is, it can be hard to find energy, motivation and time to achieve all these things while juggling parenting and working from home in these uncertain times. Take each day as it comes, and give yourself permission to just do nothing sometimes, without feeling guilty. Using meditation and mindfulness is a great way to quieten the mind, and children can join in too.
* CONNECT WITH OTHERS ONLINE: We might be isolated at home, but so many others are sharing a similar experience. You can use video calls to stay in touch with friends and family, but it’s also a great time to meet new like-minded people by connecting in online groups, like my free support group on Facebook called Healthy and Happy Pregnancy and Parenting in a Pandemic.
Michelle told FEMAIL that due to ‘rolling lockdowns’ throughout the majority of this year, Jahlee has only met his uncle who lives in Melbourne and his two parents.
‘He hasn’t had a chance to meet other babies or make friends,’ she told Daily Mail Australia.
‘I’ve received hundreds of messages from other parents saying their little ones in that 0-18 month age group are in the same situation.’
Michelle added that it is also ‘incredibly isolating’ for new mothers, who would usually gather at parenting groups, women’s circles and playgroups.
‘It’s also hard for grandparents, who have to watch their grandchildren grow up on FaceTime and Zoom calls, knowing they can’t get this time back,’ she said.
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