Life as a new grandmother in USA in the times of Covid-19

Corona was an unknown name when my husband and I arrived in Rhode Island from Bangalore; our suitcases loaded with homemade laddoos, sweets and savories for the pregnant daughter. Basking in the déjà vu moment of me becoming a first- time mother, I now the proud grandmother held the bundle of joy in my arms with only fair idea of what the role would demand. While welcoming home the new mom and her baby, however, a bit of dread too clouded over, due partly to the often heard tug of war of ideas in baby care between the two generations, especially in a foreign land.

Considering the forthcoming sleepless nights that the new parents had to face and the possibility of me pitching in, the infant and her mom were stationed in the ground-floor family room till things settled down. The very next day my eighty-two-year old mother made a WhatsApp video call from Bangalore, “Did you give her milk with Haldi? Hope you are not missing giving her the Shunti you took from here. Give her soft cooked vegetables, start the meal with deep fried garlic, alternate it with methi powder. It is important for a new mother’s lactation.” I lowered my tone and said, “Amma, I know you were an excellent grandmother, did everything as per traditions but that was nineteen eighties, India. This is 2019 going on 2020, USA where both your granddaughter and her husband are doctors. Do you think they will listen to everything I say or want to do?”

Anyhow, somewhat peacefully food for the new mom could be executed as per plan but the question of feeding her baby, whether to depend on the breast milk which was not yet in adequate supply , or to give the formula milk still hovered around. A visiting lactation consultant gave rather a frightening picture after measuring the baby’s weight and brought tears in her mom’s eyes. I the mother and the grandmother could not stand it all and in a panicky state texted my neighbour in Bangalore, a young mom asking her expert comments on this after which Formula milk did not appear so bad. “No, I am part of a support group for doctors and they advocate only breast milk, mummy, please. No formula milk for my baby. It tastes bad too.” “But dear, that’s how I fed you when I went back to work at 12th week of your birth.” In your times you could not pump your milk and store it for later use. We have it now, why shouldn’t I do?” “Ok, you do what is best for your baby. I agree we couldn’t pump breast milk in our days.” I reconciled.

A couple of weeks hence, realizing the need to sing English lullabies to my tiny granddaughter, and watching a few on YouTube, I broke into a poem while changing the baby’s diaper to which my younger daughter from Singapore commented, “Mummy, that sounds a bit funny- like a rap.” “Yes, I never knew the joy of becoming a grandmother would awaken the poet in me.” I defended myself. However, soon I went back to singing the Hindi song that I knew and sang years ago to both my daughters as infants. As she hesitatingly took the baby in her arms, I conveyed with my glance, “see, now you understand how we have raised you and Akka (elder sister) from such tiny babies?” 

As the baby-care’s teething problems settled and I could revel in pride of having overcome it, around mid- Jan I went along with my daughter to her close friend Sairah’s baby shower. In a gathering of gorgeous women from Pakistani community, with blue lights signifying the unborn male child, I enjoyed the smorgasbord of cakes and mom-to-be related games, trying in earnest to make up for what I missed of my own daughter’s baby shower. The expectant mother’s mom from Texas and her sister and I sat next to each other and broke into a conversation in Hindi. Later while lining up for snacks when I told her I got mostly all correct in the game about mom to be’s likes and interests, she asked, “Apne cheating to nahi ki”.(Hope you didn’t do cheating)” Nahi to, aap to itni paas nahi baithi thi na.” (No, I could not since you were sitting not so close) I said amidst roars of laughter. Later when we sat with a special mango cake brought by her sister in New York, she was keen to know of my experiences as a grandmother. We were pleasantly surprised to know we both as young mothers used to sing the old  Hindi number, “Dhire Dhire nindiya aja re aja dhire dhire …” to put our daughters to sleep.I told her I was singing the same now to my granddaughter, and on my persistent request she sang it in her beautiful voice. We looked forward to meeting again in April when she would be here for her daughter’s delivery.

Fast forward to April, Corona virus had made its entry in almost every part of the world including the USA with highest number of cases. Lockdowns, social distancing and use of masks became the norms. Domestic and international flights were cancelled and borders between states were sealed and internal travels made impossible. The hospitals in New York city having overwhelming numbers of Covid-19 cases., with permission of state governments, young expectant mothers chose to drive down two hours and deliver in Rhode Island with relatively less Covid-19 cases.

Sairah delivered in strict isolation with none by her side except her husband Farhan. Her mom – my new friend apparently is doing e- baby care through video calls. My daughter and son-in law helped the couple in little ways such as grocery shopping. They left a card and home-baked oatmeal cookies with home cooked food at their door to welcome home the newborn.

Our flights for May 4th cancelled, our stay has got extended with hope of taking repatriation flight to travel back home. NDTV gives live updates on Covid happenings in India. By video calls everyday with parents we know about their welfare. Social media and WhatsApp groups buzz with Covid news of home and around the world. There are cancelled, postponed, or virtual weddings and virtual funerals due to travel restrictions or cancelled flights. Universities shut after lockdown and students who flew back to home countries are taking online classes with looming uncertainty about resuming normal classes. My younger daughter in Singapore, now facing lockdown, must defer by a year to enter her Master studies in the US.

The global pandemic continues to wreak havoc, causing a dread like never seen before. I for now feel happy that Corona is at least allowing me to take short walks in the neighbourhood and occasional short drives around the beautiful state of Rhode Island. Every moment feels worth cherishing as I continue to sing to my now 5- month old cutie pie. Every day as I hold her in my arms, I remind both her young parents to go whatever length they can to keep themselves safe in their respective hospitals.

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