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Being A Grandmother During A Pandemic

grandmother

Menopause Kuel Category Expert: Lorraine Miano

By the time you read this, I’ll likely be cuddling my newborn grandson. My youngest daughter is expecting her first child, who happens to be my sixth grandchild and third grandson.

Each new arrival brings such joy and an abundance of love….and little squishy bodies….and lots of baby kisses….and OH that smell!! There is nothing on earth quite the same as the smell of a newborn baby. Is there?

A Blessing:

“It is a blessing that my oldest son and his family live close by to us.”

As a grandmother or “Nonni” as my sweet grandbabies call me, it is really hard to live over 700 miles away from your daughter when she is getting ready to give birth. My oldest daughter also lives near my youngest in Boston and over the past seven years she has given birth to three of my “Boston Beans”. During those arrivals, we could at least hop on a plane or drive up to Boston several times a year. That did not happen this year. Social distancing, quarantining, and testing made it so restrictive. I wish I could have been close by to watch that belly grow! At least now during the pandemic, we have Zoom. Maybe for each of those Zoom belly check-ins, we can refer to them as Zoom Bloom.

It is a blessing that my oldest son and his family live close by to us. My two oldest grandchildren are right around the corner. We see them as often as we can, mostly outside, usually with masks. We go on hikes and have dinners on our outdoor porch. At least we have that.

We All Need A HUG!

My youngest daughter did make it home twice this past year. We were so happy she did! Once over the summer…mid pandemic, and for Christmas! Being pregnant put her at high risk for COVID-19, so to be sure she could come and be safe, we went overboard with all the protocols! We quarantined, got tested before she came, met other family members outside with masks, and social distanced. We were able to have a wonderful visit, although there were no hugs! We all need to HUG! That is the first thing I’m looking forward to when this is over! My grandkids best be ready when they see me coming!

Below is a list of some of the things we grandparents (and everyone for that matter) missed during the Year of the Pandemic.

Now before you say, “Yes! But we kept you healthy!” …I agree… I do! BUT there is much to be discussed about the negative effects that isolation and lack of touch have on our physical and mental health. Be aware this is important for ALL of us, not just the geriatric community!

Loneliness Is Bad For Our Health:

According to Tulane University School of Public Health: “Mental and physical health are interconnected. Social isolation’s adverse health consequences range from sleeplessness to reduced immune function. Loneliness is associated with higher anxiety, depression, and suicide rates. Isolation and loneliness are also linked to poor cardiovascular health and cognitive function:

  • A study led by an epidemiologist at Newcastle University concluded that deficiencies in social relationships are associated with a higher risk of coronary disease and stroke.
  • A study published in the Journals of Gerontology concluded that loneliness was associated with a 40% increase in risk of dementia.

“A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology linked social isolation with higher risks of premature mortality.”

Touch Deprivation:

Links between social isolation and serious medical conditions are not fully understood, but ample evidence supports the connection. A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology linked social isolation with higher risks of premature mortality. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) points to loneliness and isolation as serious health risks.”

As well, when it comes to hugging and touch in general, according to Asim Shah, MD professor and executive vice chair of the Menninger Department of Psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine, “When physical contact becomes limited—or, in some cases, eliminated—people can develop a condition called touch starvation or touch deprivation.

“When someone is [touch] starved, it’s like someone who is starved for food,” Shah said. “They want to eat, but they can’t. Their psyche and their body want to touch someone, but they can’t do it because of the fear associated with, in this case, the pandemic.”

Touch Starvation:

Touch starvation increases stress, depression, and anxiety, triggering a cascade of negative physiological effects. The body releases the hormone cortisol as a response to stress, activating the body’s “flight-or-fight” response. This can increase heart rate, blood pressure, respiration and muscle tension, and can suppress the digestive system and immune system—increasing the risk of infection.

People who are stressed or depressed, perhaps because of lack of touch, will have problems sleeping, Shah said.

“Every single medical disease including heart attack, diabetes, hypertension, asthma—every single physical disease—is altered if you are more anxious, more depressed, or if you have more mental health issues,” he said,

Long term, he added, going an extended period without positive physical touch can even lead to post-traumatic stress disorder.”

Speak Up And Reach Out:

For women who are peri or post-menopausal, this can be devastating to their already imbalanced hormones and elevated stress levels. Since grandmothers usually fall in one of these categories, it is of the utmost importance for them to pay attention to how isolation and touch deprivation may be affecting their overall health, especially as cardiovascular disease is associated with social isolation, and is the #1 cause of death in women. Seeking guidance and support from healthcare providers, counselors, friends and clergy may be beneficial. Speak up and reach out.

So, This Is Just Some Of What We All Missed This Past Year:

  • Lots and Lots and Lots of HUGS
  • Family Dinners
  • Mask-less Visits
  • Kissing Faces
  • Big Family Get Togethers
  • Births
  • Weddings
  • HOLIDAYS
  • Baking and cooking with the grands!
  • Traveling
  • Family Vacations
  • LOTS AND LOTS AND LOTS AND LOTS AND LOTS OF HUGS!!!!!

But It Wasn’t all Zoom And Gloom!

Some of the things I’ve appreciated during the pandemic:

  • Okay… so, there was Zoom and it was pretty awesome to be able to see all the grands pretty frequently!
  • Being able to work from home
  • Not having to wear make-up
  • Not having to wash my hair so often
  • A new found appreciation for baseball caps and PJ’s
  • More home-cooked meals
  • Being able to binge watch Netflix and not feel guilty!
  • Being more mindful and present
  • Lots of nature walks and being outside for “visits” with loved ones
  • Concentrating on staying healthy and boosting my immune system
  • Grateful for each moment we could spend in person with our loved ones.
  • Not taking ANYTHING for granted any longer!

So, you noticed that I said I’d be cuddling my newborn grandson soon.

The Ultimate Hugging. I Am Determined For That To Happen. So Just Exactly How?

This is what I am willing to do to be able to hold and cuddle that precious little peanut…and help his parents to be able to get some sleep for the first few weeks!

  • Quarantine for 5 Days
  • Then Get a COVID-19 Test
  • If negative…Fly to Boston
  • Quarantine in a VRBO for 5 Days
  • Get another COVID-19 Test
  • If negative, get ready to cuddle!!!
  • Then, when I return home…. Get the Vaccine so that I can see and HUG everyone ALWAYS.

The thing is, this IS a Pandemic. There ARE health risks. If we are willing to take the precautions, we need to in order to be with our loved ones, (I know I speak for many grandparents who are aching to hug those grandbabies) we DO what we CAN. Whether you receive the vaccine or not, (that is your decision and your body, and as a health advocate I respect that) we can still take other necessary precautions to be able to be with and hug our loved ones, because social interaction and touching is what will ultimately boost our immune systems. It is what will really keep us happy and healthy. I know that loving and cuddling that little boy is going to give my immune system the boost it so desperately needs!

And that is what really matters.

Update:

UPDATE: April 2nd: My little cutie patootie Otto James arrived two weeks early at 8lbs. 4 oz. on March 29th. Since I hadn’t quarantined before his arrival, I’m now in my “special house” (as my grandkids call it) for 5 days. It’s lovely, but I’m one anxious Nonni! I am able to hold him while I wear a mask, but no kisses or snuggles! Thankfully I was also able to see 3 of my other little peanuts for Easter (outside & masked!) My heart is full.

2nd UPDATE: April 7th: Just got tested today and I am negative!! YAY! So tomorrow I move in with the new little family and get to snuggle baby Otto to my heart’s content!! Life is good!

About the Author:

As a post-menopausal woman herself, Lorraine Miano discovered her passion of offering menopause advocacy, support and resources to women in all phases of menopause through health coaching, proper nutrition and preventive lifestyle choices. She received her certifications as a Health Coach and hormone health expert from The Institute for Integrative Nutrition. She has been able to help even more women by writing and publishing her first book, The Magic of Menopause: A Holistic Guide to Get Your Happy Back!
Lorraine loves to encourage her clients with her mantra “Menopause is NOT an ending! IT IS a new beginning!” When she’s not advocating for “the change”, you can find Lorraine traveling with her husband Richard, quite often to visit her 5 grandchildren who call her “Nonni”.