I’m an Immune-Compromised Mother, Not Your Pandemic Collateral Damage
By Karen Habashi
Photo © Hanni/Twenty20
Oct 28, 2020
One of the conflicts I felt when they announced school would resume in September was: should I send my kids to school to help with their mental health or should I keep them home to protect myself.
As an immune-compromised mom, it was a difficult question.
It’s an almost impossible choice. How could I choose between my health and letting my kids get the education they need?
I still wanted them to have their friends and peers around them, which stimulates their imagination and social skills thus helping with their mental health!
"Why not just homeschool them?"
This is actually what we initially thought, but I think this suggestion tends to come from a place of ableism, and not considering what others struggle with when they have a health condition.
To be honest, I think the whole restart plan was a tone deaf experiment. Because telling us to send kids to schools, with cohorts of 60, is just a disaster waiting to happen.
"Some classrooms with teachers were told to self-isolate for 14 days. So, it seems we are doing something wrong."
Classrooms are like a petri dish of infections, and no matter how many times you teach kids to observe public health guidelines, they will ultimately sneeze, cough and spread infection. Because they're kids.
And I don't feel as though I'm being alarmist. There are already cases of COVID-19 in many schools. Some classrooms with teachers were told to self-isolate for 14 days. So, it seems we are doing something wrong. In the city next to us, there were already around 56 exposures in schools.
The Bubble Conundrum
The approach of the government suggests to me the risk is low, and I’ve been led to believe that cohort systems are virus-proof bubbles and kids are safe in them.
But the reality is that kids meet and mingle with other kids; they have siblings that have their own cohorts and are exposed to even more kids. They go to activities, they meet family members and their parents go to work and meet others.
So that bubble, with all of its participants' attempts of keeping it small, is ultimately much bigger than we think. And that’s a worry for parents like me.
"...I’ve been led to believe that cohort systems are virus-proof bubbles and kids are safe in them."
During times like these, I want people to think of people with disabilities and underlying health conditions — people like me who are immunocompromised, who are considered minorities to many.
Telling a person who already has a lot on their plate, who needs more support from society than others, to just figure out something or stay inside and let others enjoy life is not helpful.
Back to “Normal”
Put yourself in my shoes for a second.
I’ve provided letters from my team of doctors, I have written every letter and email I could, but I’m still feeling as though my voice isn’t being heard.
Our district offered something called a “transition program,” which on paper looked fine — the kids will get online support in the mornings, and they can attend school in the afternoon. It’s gradual, starting with one day and then increasing to four days over time. Ultimately the goal is starting school “as normal” in January.
I picked it initially, until I heard from the school a week before school started. Turns out kids would not be allowed to go back to their regular classrooms with their friends. Instead, kids whose parents selected this program would all convene in a multi-grade classroom.
"Put yourself in my shoes for a second."
When I asked why they can't be with their regular friends at their assigned grade classroom, I was told that those kids would be in 60-kid cohorts and they can’t keep introducing the transition program kids to them for a day or more.
This information really hit home. It really started to feel like bubbles were being treated as impermeable; vacuum-sealed.
A Family Strained
My daughter had anxiety attacks when school started. She would cry every night, even after we sat and talked it through. She stayed awake.
She broke down crying one night, telling me she doesn’t want to go to school because she’s afraid of exposing me to the virus. She said she feels guilty that she’s happy with her friends and being at school in general, and she keeps telling herself “you’re putting your mom’s health in danger just to have fun.”
One night she told me that she will never forgive herself if something happened to me and she will blame herself if she exposed me. I kept telling her that exposure can happen from anywhere, but she wasn’t convinced.
This is another impossible situation. I want to comfort my daughter. I want this little human, who has lived through the trauma of my chronic illness and surgeries, to not live in fear. I’m immune-compromised, yes, but I also want her to be able to deal with the mental health effects of this pandemic.
"Maybe with some changes it would be much more reasonable to have my kids in school full time."
But I can’t vanquish those monsters and her fears. I can’t suddenly be healthier.
What I can do is homeschool her and her siblings, but I do think assurances are necessary — I want to be told that my kids won’t lose their spots, because schools are already full and crowded. But those assurances have not been made to me.
Maybe with some changes it would be much more reasonable to have my kids in school full time. But that would require adequate distancing between the kids and less exposure, which would mean a reduced school day and perhaps even opening up schools for kids of at-risk parents.
I’m not in the position to make these calls, but I would hope that the people creating guidelines would consider it. Because while many may think I’m a minority, I’m by no means the only parent with a chronic illness who is going through it this pandemic.
This is not a condemnation of teachers. The school my children attend is doing everything they can to help us and keep kids safe, but they are limited by the guidelines they are given.
Many people want a return to normal, as if that is a possibility given the ongoing global pandemic. While I understand this is an unprecedented moment, and that there isn’t a manual for something like this for governments to use, I want to see more outside-of-the-box thinking.
Solutions like some of the ones I’ve suggested above are just a start. I’m tired of my family being subjected to so much mental stress and uncertainty in already uncertain times.
"Just because I’m more likely to get sick and die because of my condition, doesn’t mean I want to."
And I keep hearing health officials say we should be kind to each other and that we will get through this together. I agree that we should be.
But I don’t think people who are immune-compromised or have underlying health conditions are always considered — it certainly feels this way when looking at public and government action. And I think it’s important that this changes.
Just because I’m more likely to get sick and die because of my condition, doesn’t mean I want to. I’m not collateral damage. And my kids would tell you exactly the same thing.
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