Alexa Cunningham of Harvard said she was giving birth to her son Grant about a year ago, days before Mother’s Day in 2020 and months into the COVID-19 pandemic.
A year later, Cunningham said she is planning for her son’s first birthday party this weekend and looking forward to a second Mother’s Day that’s a little less lonely.
“His first year was nothing that I imagined it would be,” Cunningham said.
Newer mothers in northern Illinois who were pregnant and gave birth to their babies at Northwestern Medicine hospitals during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic now are looking forward to celebrating Mother’s Day this weekend.
Cunningham said Mother’s Day 2020 was “isolating” since visits for the baby were kept to a minimum at the hospital and at home. Even while she was giving birth to Grant, she said, she was relieved that her husband could be in the room for support, but it was hard to not have Grant’s grandparents visit at the hospital.
Not having those hospital visitors also “was kind of a blessing, in a way,” Cunningham said.
“It was like the whole world was ours for a time,” Cunningham said. “We didn’t have to share him.”
Cunningham said it also was nice to be welcomed back to a decorated home after Grant was born.
“Even though they couldn’t see him or be there for me, people were still being supportive,” Cunningham said.
Cunningham described her first Mother’s Day last year as isolating because as a mother she went through this experience of being pregnant and “the dramatics of having a baby” only to not have visitors because of the pandemic. She said she was so happy to have a baby but was sad and scared of what the world was going to look like in the subsequent months.
“You always hear that it takes a village to raise a child,” Cunningham said. “And I did not have that, just because you couldn’t.”
Cunningham said she’s looking forward to being able to visit Grant’s grandparents or going on vacation more safely than a year ago.
“This year, I can kind of see that ray of hope coming,” Cunningham said.
Cunningham said she and her husband didn’t start taking Grant to stores with them until about two or three months ago. Whenever they did, however, “it was like a celebration” to Grant, she said.
Cunningham said that whenever visitors came to the house, they mostly were there to see Grant, and he knew it. Now, when the family ventures outside of the house, she said, he thinks the world is there just to see him – so he waves at people and smiles back when he sees masked people smiling with their eyes.
“He just hams it up,” Cunningham said with a chuckle.
Cunningham said she had to go back to work as a social studies teacher at Harvard Junior High School in January, so Grant started going to day care around then. She said it’s also been nice to have that socialization for Grant, although she loved being able to spend so much time with him when she was at home.
Cunningham said she’s hopeful Grant won’t have to wear a mask when he turns 2 years old, but it wouldn’t be a huge deal if he does. No matter what happens in the months ahead, she said she hopes her son’s outlook on the world doesn’t change.
“I want him to never lose that wonder and excitement of something new,” Cunningham said.
Kelsey Villalobos of Plano said her baby girl, Aria, just turned 1 year old April 27. Although her first Mother’s Day was technically in 2020, she said motherhood feels a little more real now.
“It was so new back then,” Villalobos said. “And I was a mom for like a week.”
Like Cunningham, Villalobos said only her husband was allowed in the birthing room and she could not have outside visitors. For a while, she said, her mom was the only one who met Aria in person, although she got creative and had people visit the baby with a glass door separating the two of them.
Villalobos said it’s only recently that the family of three started slowly going to stores and restaurants.
“But for the first 10 months of her life, she really didn’t go anywhere,” Villalobos said.
Villalobos said people who told her parenting was hard were absolutely right.
“But it’s the best thing I’ve ever done,” Villalobos said.
Villalobos said she and her husband are vaccinated, but her daughter is not. She said that’s why she’s remaining cautious about who comes in contact with her, and that’s part of the reason why she elected to have a drive-by first birthday party for Aria this year.
“Some of our family members still haven’t held her,” Villalobos said.
Villalobos said that’s why she didn’t want to put her daughter in day care yet, and that’s why her mom has been watching Aria while she’s at work.
“I’m already probably overprotective as is,” Villalobos said with a laugh. “But with everything, I just didn’t want to put her in day care with that risk.”
Eventually Villalobos wants Aria to be more socialized. However, it’s important to her that her daughter remains healthy and maintains a distance from people who might not be as careful when they venture out into public.
“My daughter comes first, making sure she’s OK at all times and that she’s healthy,” Villalobos said. “That’s No. 1 to me.”
Katie Finlon covers local government and breaking news for DeKalb County in Illinois. She has covered local government news for Shaw Media since 2018 and has had bylines in Daily Chronicle, Kendall County Record newspapers, Northwest Herald and in public radio over the years.
Kelsey Rettke is the editor of the Daily Chronicle, part of Shaw Media and DeKalb County's only daily newspaper devoted to local news, crime and courts, government, business, sports and community coverage. Kelsey also covers breaking news for Shaw Media Local News Network.