Kelsey and Samantha are my first cousins once removed, the daughters of two of my first cousins. But in a close-knit Italian family like mine, these two are more like my nieces, so that's what I call them.
WLRN is committed to providing South Florida with trusted news and information. In these uncertain times, our mission is more vital than ever. Your support makes it possible. Please donate today. Thank you.
They call me by my family nicknames: "Tina," "Tee-Tee," or just plain "Tee." And that's how I'll introduce myself to their infants, once I get the chance. It might be a long time before I can do that. A REALLY long time.
Kelsey, 22, recently gave birth to her first child, Elliana Rose. Kelsey's husband, Noah, is an air traffic controller for the U.S. Army. They live on the base at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. And under normal circumstances, I would have been on the first flight from Fort Lauderdale to Fayetteville in a flash to see the newest member of our clan. But the coronavirus has, for the foreseeable future, canceled out "normal." For now, I'll have to blow the baby and her parents kisses through an iPhone screen.
Even members of my family lucky enough to hold Elliana right now still have to curtail the displays of affection that come so naturally to my family. Kelsey told me she and Noah have had to lay down some tough rules.
"With our close family who's coming right away, there will be no kissing," she says.
No kissing? In a family like ours, where babies are spoiled rotten, cuddled mercilessly and bounced on every available knee? Unthinkable — until now.
Meanwhile, about 25 miles west of Orlando, Samantha, 28, is hunkered down at home with her boyfriend and 7-year-old daughter. She's expecting a baby boy next month and is on furlough from both of her jobs in the hospitality industry. Until the coronavirus began spreading, getting to the hospital for the birth was practically a non-issue. But now, she's dealing with the reality that hospital beds might be in short supply by her due date, a prospect that terrifies her.
"They told me that they'll figure out that situation when the time comes. And if I need to have an in-home labor, they'll have a doctor — hopefully — come out to me," she says.
Giving birth at home? The last woman in our family who did that was Samantha and Kelsey's great-grandmother. Unthinkable — until now.
My heart breaks for them both, as each tries to balance irrepressible joy with a crushing fear.
"It's crazy knowing I'm bringing a child into this post-coronavirus world," Samantha says."There's so much uncertainty. You never know what's going to be left in the world and WHO is going to be left. We have lots of elders in our family with pre-existing conditions. And are they even going to be here when my baby is born?"
"It almost makes me feel guilty," Kelsey says. "Which isn't really the feeling you want to have when you go into bringing something amazing into this world."
But when I reached out to each of them — Kelsey on Facetime, Samantha via Skype — I was struck by how they refuse to give in to self-pity. There were no tears, no sobs. Just two young women gamely facing the future and — to borrow the words of poet Elinor Wylie — making it impossible for the coronavirus crisis to escape their smiles.
Kelsey left me with a motto much loved by servicemen like her husband: "Adapt and overcome," she says.