Charlene Wee and Albert Ting thought they had a good chance of bringing their twin daughters into the world without surgery. After all, both babies were in the optimal head-down position when Charlene’s labor started.
Ting’s mom and sister live near the couple’s Bellevue home and so they counted on family involvement in navigating early parenthood with twins. Charlene’s sister planned to eventually come out from Texas to help as well. And friends eagerly signed up spots on a postpartum "meal train." On top of that, they hired two postpartum doulas to help them get the hang of raising two newborns at the same time, provide breastfeeding support and give them at least some nighttime respite.
All of those supports became much more important when their birth plan went south when Charlene had a serious medical complication. She lost a dangerous amount of blood and woke up intubated in the ICU.
“It was pretty scary,” Wee says.
The family got home just days before the city next door (Kirkland) became America’s first coronavirus epicenter. Wee was in pain and weak and both of the new parents were exhausted. Now they not only looked forward to, but needed the support system they’d set up. In some ways, Ting says, they were ahead of the curve — they already expected to be nestled at home and not going out for several weeks.
But the increasing number of coronavirus cases in the region as well as the state’s eventual shelter-in-place order has wreaked havoc on the couple’s supply and support chain. One of their doulas had to stop helping because of a health condition that would make getting the virus potentially catastrophic. Friends have been less and less able to deliver meals.
“We were definitely expecting a lot more visitors and being able to kind of get the girls to meet friends and family and that really hasn't happened,” says Wee. “A lot of them are older so they're just not leaving their houses.
“The virus has meant that help is pretty much drying up,” says Wee.
On the good side, Ting’s mother has quarantined herself for several weeks “so once everything is OK and people can leave their houses, we’ll have at least one person in the family who can stop by,” he says. On the bad side, Wee’s sister has had to postpone her trip due not only due to fears of getting or spreading the virus, but because of financial concerns brought by the outbreak. Ting, a former Microsoft employee, says his new family is financially fine at this point but he, too, is facing some unknowns.
“Right now, I'm basically taking some time off and I'm doing some part-time stuff on my own,” he says. “But part-time stuff is impacted, like any other work. It’s a little troublesome when you're going one direction and suddenly things start to dry up, which is the experience that a lot of people are having right now. We’re all asking, ‘Do we need to be more conservative?’”
Wee and Ting say the pandemic has left them pondering what new parenthood will be like in a post-pandemic era.
“We’ve all become very much aware of people around us getting sick either with this virus or any illness,” says Ting. “As parents I think we are going to have to really think more about how much contact we want to have with other people, you know in terms of going to schools or going to daycare or going to playdates, things like that. Before this, I’d be like, oh, yeah, of course we’ll do all that, but now … I’m not sure.”
“I feel like we have to be a lot more cognizant in the short term,” says Ting about exposing their daughters to the world. “In some ways you can't even plan for the long term, there’s so much unknown. But thank goodness they're small. Right now it's not like we're needing to bring them out to play and all that stuff.”
The next big decision on the horizon is whether to attend their babies’ immunization appointment in April.
Says Ting: “We’re trying to figure out, do we go, or do we delay? What’s the right thing to do there?"
Wee inquired whether a nurse might come to their home rather than the four of them venturing out into a COVID-19 world.
“So far they are saying no,” says Wee.
In spite of it all, Wee and Ting count themselves incredibly blessed by their daughters’ timing.
“We were so very lucky,” says Ting. “Charlene got out of the hospital right before this hit. I mean, she had to be on a ventilator. At that point the hospital was pretty quiet. But if it had been just a month later, the ventilator may not have been available.”
And while by this point they might have been out and about at least occasionally with Runa and Elin, Ting and Wee say the virus keeping them at home has some silver linings.
“It's hard to draw a comparison, because we’ve never had kids but it has been nice, you know, that this has forced us to be together so much,” says Ting. “Most of the time, it's really nice.”
Smiling into the Zoom camera on their computer for this interview, Charlene laughs in agreement:
“Yes, nice, but there are other times when we get cranky! I think this is making us all slow down, and that is a good thing.”
Cheryl Murfin, CD, is a longtime writer, a certified doula and mother of two grownup humans, including a King County Public Health nurse. She owns Nesting Instincts Seattle.
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