The Whitley Family

Cameron Whitley, Melanie Whitley holding baby Oliver, Dexter (black dog), Cera (yellow dog)

The Whitley Family

Bellingham, WA

We arrived in Bellingham, WA in September of 2019. The year was set to be one of tremendous change- we purchased a new home, started new jobs, moved nearly 3,000 miles from New Jersey to Washington State, left our support system, and did all of that while expecting a baby. The year was, in short, already set to be a lot. Then, six weeks before our first child was due, as we packed the hospital bags and stayed awake fretting about what it would be like to be new parents, we began to hear about a mysterious illness that had made its way to the US, landing just 60 miles south of us in Everett, WA.

By the time our son was born, there was a low hum of anxiety as the nation began to worry in earnest about the illness. The morning after he was born, a doctor friend contacted us to tell us to leave the hospital as soon as we could – COVID-19 was spreading and nothing felt safe anymore. Soon our parents, all of whom are over 60 and live out of state, cancelled their trips to come visit and help with the newborn. What was set to be nearly a month of assistance turned into very concentrated, very isolated, family bonding time.

Since then, most of the nation has gone through lockdown and social distancing and we have seen as people we love struggle with the isolation, fear what layoffs will mean, and try to adopt the 12-step mantra of one day at a time. It has created dissonance for us because on the one hand, we are worried about COVID-19, particularly because much of our family is in their 80s, and Cameron is a transplant patient – he had a kidney transplant three years ago due to Kawasaki's disease and is immunocompromised. At the same time, we have also leaned into the isolation as a sweet relief from our usually hectic lives. We are doers, even when all we want is to rest, we are often running. COVID has taken that choice away. Instead of feeling pressure to haul a new baby to dinners and activities and weddings, instead of entertaining visiting family, instead of feeling a sense of loss at all the things we are missing because of 7pm bedtimes, we get to just be.

We get to wake up in the morning and play with our baby and go for long walks and drink coffee and be together in this way that would not be possible if the world around us were not quieted. And so, there is an emotional juxtaposition with joy and peace on one side and sorrow and anxiety on the other.

We know nearly half a dozen people who have lost family members to COVID-19 and we mourn with them, we have medical trauma from past catastrophic illness and from being a queer family (Cameron is a transgender man and I identify as queer) who is not always welcome in every medical setting, and so we experience anxiety and fear, but we also count our blessings every day- we are healthy, we are housed, we are employed, we have food, we have family, we have joy.

-- Melanie Whitley

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