PEI·First Person

Gen COVID: I worry for my child who has known nothing but the pandemic

They say it takes a village to raise a child, writes Omar Imtiaz as he reflects on his daughter's second birthday. But that has not been the case for children born in the pandemic.

If it takes a village to raise a child, the pandemic made us miss out on that one

Khadija McPeak takes in the scenery from a hotel in Charlottetown. Like many young children, her early experiences have been shaped by COVID-19. (Submitted by Omair Imtiaz)

This is a First Person column by Omair Imtiaz, a father in Prince Edward Island. For more information about CBC's First Person stories, please see the FAQ.

The last two years have truly been one for the books.

Not only did we have to endure the trials and tribulations of raising our first child while battling postpartum depression but we also made a whole new career change, moved from the city to the country, and navigated a global health crisis — all at the same time.

Our reflections from these experiences have led me to believe that raising a child in these past two COVID-filled years was an exhausting and often isolating experience.

Looking back, I can understand how several factors led to my wife's postpartum depression in an intense and unforgiving way. Kara has always had a history of depression but it was easily managed.

However, after a long and traumatizing labour experience, suddenly she was filled with a life-changing amount of responsibility.

We had Khadija Omair McPeak on Nov. 30, 2019, during the first snowstorm of the year as winter blues were starting to set in.

During this exact timeframe, COVID-19 was starting to spread in China, although we wouldn't be personally affected for a little while.

By March 2020, stores were suddenly down to one parent for shopping.

They often had long lines because of reduced capacities and many times essential items, such as food, were out of stock. My wife remembers many times how she had to hold a newborn all bundled up in a line of 50 people at the Walmart in Charlottetown during the infamous "toilet paper hoarding" period.

A stressful time

Kara also remembers having to buy three or four packages of Khadija's special formula at a time because she was so nervous that she would be unable to get it later. Her fears were not unwarranted; some weeks, the aisles lay bare.

I'll never forget Khadija's cries and how helpless I felt.

At the same time, essential health services like child vaccines only allowed a single parent to be present, leaving that family member to struggle with an infant during a highly stressful situation.

Since my wife had postpartum, that task was left up to me.

I'll never forget Khadija's cries and how helpless I felt.

It was even hard to track her growth because these visits did not include weight and height statistics and I was left wondering if Khadija was getting the proper nutrition and growing well.

Just turning two, Khadija McPeak has known nothing but pandemic life so far. (Submitted by Omair Imtiaz )

Local services such as CHANCES, a resource centre where Charlotttown-area parents can meet other new parents and create lasting relationships, were cancelled or postponed and required registration.

The transition to parenthood is hard enough without also having your only options to meet new people taken away from you or reduced.

Fear surrounding COVID also prevented new interactions, as everyone was especially afraid of letting their children meet strangers, so interactions were down for both us and Khadija.

Once restrictions eased a bit and we were able to take Khadija outside and meet people but she felt apprehensive about being around kids and adults alike.

She was more comfortable meeting someone new on a screen as that had replaced face-to-face interaction for most of her early months. It even took her time to warm up to her own maternal grandparents here in Charlottetown, because she didn't meet them in person until restrictions eased up and we were allowed to expand our bubbles.

The return of the play date

When play dates were finally a thing again, we found ourselves trying to compensate for lost time by handing her out to everyone in our bubble and gently reassuring her that it was OK to interact.

Khadija McPeak and her cousin at a play date in Belfast, P.E.I. The return of play dates was a milestone for many parents and children. (Submitted by Omair Imtiaz)

International travel has also been a write off and she has yet to meet her paternal grandparents in either Dubai or Ohio. Even though they are fully vaccinated, it is a huge risk given their age and the frequent emerging COVID variants, including the new omicron variant. Khadija has only ever interacted with them on video using social media apps, which in my opinion have created more technological dependence at such an early age.

But the pandemic has also been good for our Generation COVID kid (as I like to think of it sometimes). We have had a lot of time to grow as a family unit with lots — and I mean lots — of undivided time with each other.

Even though Khadija has had to contend with the circumstances surrounding COVID-19, she has been able to surprise us everyday with her imagination and her newfound vocabulary.

They say it takes a village to raise a child. Well, I guess the pandemic made us miss out on that one.

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Omair Imtiaz was born and raised in Dubai. He moved to the Maritimes in 2007 to further his education in biology and health care. He volunteers with various outreach programs to fundraise for cancer research and the Heart and Stroke Foundation. His interests include bringing people together, social justice and inclusion. His hobbies include cycling, kayaking, photography, travelling and exploring the Island.

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