Life at a Distance: Giving birth & moving back to Singapore

In our series "Life at a Distance," we'll be sharing the experiences of featured Juggle readers adjusting to new socially distant lifestyles post-COVID-19. Julia gave birth to her first daughter and Justine went back to Singapore to be with her family when the virus began to spread in New York.

In our series Life at a Distance, we feature the experiences of Juggle readers adjusting to new socially distant lifestyles post-COVID-19.

This week we hear from Julia Brothers, who gave birth to her first daughter during quarantine, and Justine Chan, who went back to Singapore to be with her family when the virus began to spread in New York.

Julia Brothers, Washington, D.C.

Tell us about your quarantine.

Woman with glasses holding a baby
Julia with her newborn daughter, Roxy

My quarantine started with just me, my husband, and our surly cat in our small townhouse in Washington, DC. However, we managed to gain an extra human midway through because I have impeccable biological timing. I gave birth on April 26 at the height of an international pandemic, which, oddly enough, didn’t have its own chapter in “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.”

Being nine months pregnant during the quarantine meant that, unlike some, I had something else to crowd out the financial worry of our decimated economy, the abject boredom of social distancing, the anxiety of not being able to acquire basic goods and services and the fear of a loved one contracting a novel coronavirus. I had distractions like getting the house ready for a newborn, debating whether I had just peed my pants a little or was leaking amniotic fluid and falling into many WebMD circles of hell. The baby’s arrival has since presented us with an all-consuming quarantine project (more stressful than taking up sourdough baking and less tasty). Now, five weeks knee-deep into motherhood, I don’t think I’d even be able to notice if the quarantine lifted, other than being able to reasonably procure diapers at a grocery store instead of having them airlifted to me by relatives in other states. 

Are you currently working? What is work like in quarantine?

During non-pandemic times, my husband already worked from home and my job involved substantial travel, so my co-workers and I were accustomed to working and connecting with one another remotely. Therefore working from home under quarantine (prior to maternity leave) wasn’t a huge adjustment other than my husband and my having to partition the house into our respective work zones to stay focused and manage dueling conference calls. That said, losing my daily commute meant significantly less exercise and time to decompress (I walked to work), and I think ultimately extended my workday since I had so many more hours I could be on my laptop. 

Has anything positive come out of quarantine for you?

The quarantine has made distance among friends and family seemingly obsolete. Suddenly I’m doing regular Zoom calls with groups of friends who have been scattered around the United States for years, which has been incredibly fulfilling and demonstrates how easily we could’ve all been doing this before.

This kind of remote contact has been crucial during this weird time to have a newborn, as neither my nor my husband’s family has been able to travel to come visit us (and help out) post-baby — we’ve been pretty much on our own since leaving the hospital to muddle through the first few months of parenthood. Our network of friends and family have nonetheless found awesome ways to provide support, even from thousands of miles away. Delicious meals, gift cards, gourmet cheeses, baked goods and the occasional bag o’ margarita have been delivered to our doorstep every single day for a month from friends all over the world, from DC to Texas to California to even Japan.

What has been your biggest challenge?

The escalating social distancing really hit home for me on March 15 with the cancellation of my long-anticipated baby shower that was to bring in friends from all over the country. At the time, I admittedly was feeling sorry for myself and the fact that the last six weeks of my pregnancy and the first several months of my maternity were going to look very different than I had anticipated. In retrospect, of course, this seems incredibly petty as the pandemic intensified, unemployment exploded and Americans started having to say goodbye to loved ones via Zoom.

As a Virgo, lacking almost any level of control and ability to plan was maddening. Like many people who saw major life events upended by the quarantine, I think the most important coping mechanism for me was learning to let go of the things that were ultimately out of my hands. I had to find ways to become at peace with the chaos, mourn the loss of all the prenatal, labor and postpartum plans I had envisioned, and move on. 

How are you taking care of yourself in quarantine? 

Mostly through saturated fats and excessive carbohydrates. I am not ashamed.

Justine Chan, New York City and Singapore

Tell us about your quarantine.

Woman in black tank top speaking to the camera about the housing market in the U.S.
Justine creating content for her business’s YouTube channel

I live in New York City but decided to move back to Singapore and in with my parents in mid-March when the pandemic started escalating in the city. Singapore was on lockdown for almost two months so I primarily stayed at home except for grocery shopping and some exercise outside. As of June 19, Singapore entered phase 2 of its reopening plan, which includes indoor dining (at a restricted capacity) and visiting relatives. I came back to New York a few weeks ago to resume my professional life here.

Are you currently working? What is work like in quarantine?

Yes and no. I am a self-employed consultant for startups, but projects have slowed, so I have weeks that feel very busy and others where I have practically nothing to do. 

I also run a website that educates women on home buying (Live With Plum), and I’ve increased my work on that through the pandemic. With less consulting work to do, I have pivoted to focus more on Live With Plum — I’ve done things like introduce new content forms like YouTube and our newsletter. 

Has anything positive come out of quarantine for you?

I got to spend more time with my family, which is nice as I moved away from Singapore in 2008 and have not spent as much time there since. 

I also get to spend more time on my business, which I usually have to squeeze into my already rare free time, since most of my income comes from consulting projects. During the quarantine, I had the time and mind space to focus on more strategic initiatives and even added three more people to my team. 

What has been your biggest challenge? 

My biggest challenge is getting comfortable with the loss of income from fewer consulting projects and also what the rest of 2020 and even 2021 will look like for someone self-employed like me.

I am also saddened by the devastating impacts of the virus falling along racial and income lines, and how inadequate the collective response has been. 

How are you taking care of yourself in quarantine? 

I try to work out every day and also go outside for a change of scenery.

What do you think? (Leave comments here.)