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Young moms share their experiences during quarantine

New Moms participant Eniya and her son Mason together during quarantine at their apartment on May 12.

It’s early in the morning when Rashai wakes up in her Oak Park apartment. She gets out of bed carefully and tries not to wake up her three sleeping children. Soon enough it will be time to get them ready for homeschooling — maybe working on a homework assignment or video calling with their classmates — but for now she just lets them sleep.

These early morning hours are for Rashai. It’s her time for exercise and for personal peace and quiet. She said, during quarantine, it’s been hard to make time for herself.

“I love my kids but sometimes it’s like, ‘Ah, just give me a little bit of time, just a little bit,’” Rashai laughed.

While COVID-19 affects all of us, it has a tremendous impact on the families New Moms serves. Most of the young moms we partner with do not have a robust social safety net and many are experiencing homelessness. Because of COVID-19, many are dealing with potential or realized unemployment, the loss of vital social services, and lack of healthcare support if they get sick.

School closures and longer orders of “shelter-in-place” only increase the pressure on our young moms, who are the primary financial and emotional support for their families. Despite these challenges, moms are stepping up to meet the changing needs of their families.

Before quarantine, Rashai worked as a teacher at a daycare center. Now the center is closed and Rashai has lost her source of income, but she’s been able to homeschool her three children — something she’s always wanted to do.

“I always wanted to homeschool my kids,” said Rashai, a participant in New Moms Family Support Program. “I’m loving that access, but as far as not being able to work and make money and stuff, that’s the only thing I don’t like. But I’m a teacher, so that’s fun for me to be able to homeschool my kids.”

Because she lost her job due to the pandemic, Rashai was able to get a $500 direct deposit through New Moms partnership with Family Independence Initiative and #GiveTogetherNow Chicago to help cover living expenses. She said this money, along with regular virtual check-ins with her Family Support Specialist Rachel Guerrero have helped during this uncertain time.

“It’s good to see and hear from another adult,” Rashai said.

New Moms’ Director of Chicago Family Support Luecendia Reed (left), with the help of Chief Program Officer Melanie Garrett (right), delivers essential goods to participants on April 16.

Another New Moms participant, Eniya, said she also values the virtual meetings with her Family Support Specialist Jennifer Ruiz. 

“It has been beneficial to talk to someone outside of friends and family,” said Eniya, who enrolled in the Family Support program in January. “She’s unbiased, like a neutral person, she doesn’t know anybody that I could possibly be talking about. It’s an honest answer and that does help a lot.”

In April, Eniya earned her bachelor’s degree in health science but the end of the semester was entirely online. She said while she was still able to graduate, the switch to eLearning was unexpected.

“It actually benefited me,” Eniya said. “That saved me gas money. That saved me toll money. It also gave me more time to do my homework.”

Eniya is currently working in the lab at BioLife Plasma Services and was promoted to her new position right before the COVID-19 pandemic. Because her nine-month-old son Mason’s daycare is closed, Eniya’s mom has been watching him while Eniya is at work.

She said quarantine has “drastically changed” the childhood she envisioned for Mason.

“I had imagined going out with him and being able to point up at the sky and be like, ‘Oh, that’s the sky and it’s blue’ or, ‘That’s the grass and it’s green,’” said Eniya, as she began to laugh. “Now, I’ve got to go through the house like ‘What is blue in here that I could point to? What is green in here?’”

However, Eniya said she’s not going to give up on her family’s goals because of the pandemic. She said she’s been trying to adapt to each change like a true scientist.

“I’m in the health field, I’m in the science field,” Eniya said. “So, seeing different things change everyday or finding new ways to do certain things is pretty much all I do. I like that aspect of it.”

New Moms also connected Eniya with Housing Forward, a local organization that addresses homelessness and housing insecurity. She’s been receiving rental assistance which she said has helped ease some of her worries.

She said one of the hardest parts about quarantine has been not seeing her friends. Her friends from college were with her through her pregnancy, and she said and they have missed seeing Mason grow.

“I haven’t seen my friends in, I don’t know how long,” Eniya said. “Now, when I send them pictures they’re like ‘Oh my god, [Mason] is getting so big and I feel so bad I haven’t seen him.’ […] I can tell they really wanted to be hands-on and involved in his life more than what they can right now.”

Based on their own experiences, Rashai and Eniya both offered a piece of advice for other young moms.

Rashai said she knows it’s hard for many parents to spend so much time day after day with their children, but she recommends moms use it as a time to really get to know their kids.

“Everybody is always so busy with school and work,” Rashai said. “So, this is the only time to sit down and just try to understand them better, get to know them, spend time with them, play games with them, find out what they like and don’t like.”

She said with all the new things she’s learned about her children, it makes her feel “proud” — like she’s doing a good job as a mom.

Eniya said she would tell other moms, “We’re all in this together,” and remind others that they’re not alone during this difficult time. 

“Don’t feel isolated,” Eniya said. “Everybody’s life has changed because of this and we’ll all get through it together.”

As we all continue to weather this storm, we ask that you keep New Moms’ staff and participants in your thoughts and prayers, and consider donating to support young moms and children during the pandemic. Check out our website here for ongoing updates on New Moms’ response to COVID-19.