Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Mixed emotions on Mother’s Day after two years of pandemic restrictions | Local News

Maricruz Loya doubted she would make it home to her six kids and husband and feared for the fate of the seventh child growing inside her.

Loya, 34, said in her coronavirus-induced misery, she argued with medical personnel at University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque over whether she should have a cesarean section to save the baby and whether she should go on a ventilator to save herself. She wanted neither.

She knew, though, how sick she was.

She and other members of her family had contracted COVID-19 around Thanksgiving Day 2021. But while her family improved, she remained sick.

Loya — who overcame the infection, gave birth to a healthy boy and has a lot to be thankful for Sunday — is one of thousands of mothers in Northern New Mexico and beyond who have endured the coronavirus pandemic and its varied effects: illness, grief, isolation, workplace and school shutdowns that turned their homes and lives upside down.

As they looked forward to Mother’s Day — the closest to normal the holiday has been since the pandemic’s start — several mothers who spoke about their experiences in the last two years also recalled a difficult time that in many ways brought their families closer together.

‘I got down on my knees and I prayed’

Loya, who typically was treated at La Familia Medical Center in Santa Fe, headed to Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center when she fell ill with COVID-19 and promptly was transferred by ambulance to UNM Hospital.

She still couldn’t turn the corner.

“I couldn’t get the air into me to yawn,” the stay-at-home mom recalled. Visitors were forbidden because of the contagiousness of the disease. The isolation gave the coronavirus additional force, she said.

Her children — the oldest a young woman of 19 — called her on the phone and communicated by video chats, “and I could barely speak, and tears would come out,” Loya said. “I really thought I wasn’t going to come home.”

Tears still come at the memory of those moments.

One afternoon in late November, she said, she managed to crawl out of her hospital bed. “I got down on my knees and I prayed,” Loya said. She thought, “If God wants me to go, it’ll be my time to go.”

The next day, she started to improve.

“People are like, ‘How is that possible?’ I say, ‘Because God is real.’ “

Loya also doesn’t discount the effect of the medications and care she received. “When I was finally able to take deep breaths, it was amazing.”

She gave birth to Jaziel Imani Loya on Feb. 11. He is well.

She expects to hold a barbecue on Mother’s Day for her large extended family, including husband Juanpablo.

‘From scary to overwhelmed’

Dr. Virginia Harvey had no choice but to meet COVID-19 head on.

As an emergency department physician at Presbyterian Santa Fe Medical Center, she treated dozens of patients who had contracted the coronavirus.

Her husband, Patrick, is a physician in the same emergency department. It was one thing to put themselves at risk, she said, but they had three children they sought to protect as well.

“When we first started seeing COVID patients, I was very apprehensive,” she said. “Because we really didn’t know anything about COVID.”

Harvey, 39, will spend much of Mother’s Day demonstrating dedication to her profession — she’s on duty from noon to 10 p.m. Sunday.

“But my husband already got me a nice bathrobe,” she said. And she wouldn’t be surprised by a Mother’s Day treat in the morning. Last year, her son Quenton made her a cup of coffee with raspberries in it.

There was a period of worry over the coronavirus because nobody knew for sure how it was transmitted or how easily.

“There was the transition from scary to overwhelmed,” she said. Over time, she added, it became more manageable with vaccines, medications and greater knowledge.

She and her husband talked about the risks with their three children, 6- and 10-year-old daughters and an 8-year-old son. The kids were frightened, she said, and they found it bizarre that their parents couldn’t hug them after a shift until the shoes and scrubs came off and they had taken a shower. But the children also knew their parents had a rare role in fighting the disease, Harvey said.

The family recently came down with the coronavirus, Harvey said, adding their vaccinations no doubt lessened the disease’s intensity.

They have weathered the duration of the pandemic well, she said, and “I feel that it’s been very fulfilling to be able to help in a very tangible way.”

“I am so proud of my kids, especially these past two years,” she added. “I think that they have sacrificed a lot in terms of missing school, in terms of missing birthday parties, in terms of missing friends.”

The experience has brought home how lucky Harvey is to have her family. They have pitched in and done more than just get through it.

“They still find time to make you raspberry coffee,” she said.

A chance to ‘just slow life down’

What stands out in Mary Carlson’s mind about working from home during the pandemic was spending time with her two children with no purpose other than being together.

Before, they would be together while they were running errands, shopping or going to a school function.

But they didn’t hang out for its own sake.

“I look at it now, and I think it’s an opportunity parents had to just slow down life and just get some really special time with our children that we wouldn’t have had otherwise,” said Carlson, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Carlson said the bureau ordered everyone to telework in March 2020. At the same time, the schools shut down. Her daughter, who was 12, and her son, then 10, began doing online learning.

She could work in her office and they could do their school work separately, so there was no conflict — most of the time.

Sometimes they would barge into her office, even when the door was closed, while she was in an online meeting, she said.

If the meeting was important or if a TV news station was doing a remote interview of her, a sticky note on the door became handy.

“I’m going on camera, and I was like, ‘You guys have to stay out,’ ” she said.

The increased at-home time together led to new activities, such as Sunday drives, movie nights and walks around the neighborhood, Carlson said.

Her kids went back to school in the fall, and it was an initial adjustment for everybody.

“I really dreaded it and thought it would be really hard,” Carlson said.

But, she added, “It seems like a couple weeks in, you’re back in the swing of things.”

‘Yes, it was lonely’

Nadine Mondfrans described herself as a great-grandmother to 32 and a great-great-grandmother to nine, and she said tacking another “great” to her credit isn’t necessary.

“I don’t want to be a great-great-great,” said 91-year-old Mondfrans, who lives in an independent senior residential center, Albuquerque Grand. “I’m tired.”

She has seen the good and the bad, the boring and the dramatic.

“And I’m still here,” she said. “Everybody says, ‘Well, it must be because you have something else to do.’ But I wish I knew what it was.”

Her Mother’s Day celebration most likely will include an outing, probably a cookout, with son Jim and daughter-in-law Mary, who live in the Albuquerque area.

“They come get me and take me,” she said. “And I always get flowers.”

Mondfrans only recently has started going out again, having been cautious through the coronavirus pandemic. For months, Albuquerque Grand took meals to residents’ rooms. The residents didn’t leave their rooms much, other than to get their mail.

“They kept us all safe,” Mondfrans said.

Nevertheless, it was a slow couple of years. Not seeing family members was the worst part. “I was on the phone a lot,” she said. “It wasn’t easy. … Yes, it was lonely.”

Being cooped up affected her physically. “I lost a lot of my balance and mobility,” she said.

Although the pandemic isn’t officially over, it has cooled off. Staffers recently took their masks off.

Mondfrans had seen plenty of tough times before. She was born in 1930, early in the Great Depression. Besides New Mexico, she has lived in Nebraska, California, Wyoming and Utah. As a child, “We didn’t have riding horses. We had workhorses that we rode.” She married at 18 and had three kids within a three-year stretch.

As a middle-aged woman, she went back to school and earned an associate degree in accounting. “I had to study like heck,” she said.

She worked for the state of Wyoming and for Williams International in Ogden, Utah, an engine-builder for airplanes, industry and the military.

Mondfrans divorced her first husband, and her second husband died in 2000 because of a blood clot. “And so I’ve been alone for a long time.”

She used to hunt and fish. She loved to camp.

She still cooks, cleans, plays word search games and “wouldn’t miss Jeopardy for anything,” she said.

Only when she stood up was it evident Mondfrans is only 4-foot-10. “At one time, I was 5 foot tall if I took a big breath,” she joked.

That little frame has absorbed a lot of experiences.

She knew at a young age, she said, that you must have rain to see rainbows.

‘We did get a lot closer as a family’

Mary Carmack-Altwies answered the phone with a voice hoarse from coughing. She’d been diagnosed with the flu.

A few days later, she said she’d also tested positive for COVID-19.

Ironically, she said, her recent illnesses came after two full years of the pandemic when neither she nor her children — a 10-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter — got sick, thanks in part to social distancing and increased awareness of hygiene.

“I’ve been joking that I miss the mask mandate because it kept us from getting all the other sickness,” she said. “We have caught the flu, norovirus, colds ever since they were lifted, so this spring has been kind of a struggle.”

Carmack-Altwies, the district attorney for Santa Fe, Rio Arriba and Los Alamos counties, said many of the changes the pandemic wrought on her family’s life had a silver lining.

“We did get a lot closer as a family, and that time was really wonderful.”

Her wife was a stay-at-home mother, Carmack-Altwies said. Still, the family had to adjust to constantly shifting school schedules and quarantine periods.

“And I had to adjust my work schedule, as well, so the burden didn’t fall completely on her,” she said of her wife. “I had to work from home some days so I could share the burden of making sure they were doing school work and just have a rest.”

Her children missed out on many extracurricular activities during lockdown periods.

“We couldn’t spend time with anyone else, so we had to get more creative about how to entertain ourselves,” Carmack-Altwies said. “We did hikes, bike rides and family games around the house. It was fun to slow down our lives and focus on what is important.”

Carmack-Altwies said she initially tried to shelter her children from fears associated with the pandemic.

“They picked up on it anyway,” she said, and showed increased anxiety about keeping family members — particularly a grandmother — safe and healthy.

‘Why I love this work’

Amber Wallin is always thinking about moms: working moms, moms who recently immigrated to the U.S., Latina moms who disproportionately bore the brunt of the pandemic-era economic fallout.

“As we look at who was hardest hit by the pandemic, it was moms,” noted Wallin, 40, who is executive director of the child advocacy organization New Mexico Voices for Children.

She tossed out statistics: While 47 percent of women make up the state’s workforce, they make up about 64 percent of front-line workers. Working women experienced wage loss at a higher rate than men.

As schools and day care centers shut down, many women — including Wallin — became largely responsible for their kids’ care and schooling.

“As a mother during the pandemic with young children, I think it further cemented for me why I love this work and am so passionate,” she said. “It also made it impossible to ever set anything down.”

Wallin was appointed to the nonprofit’s top position in December 2021 after previously serving as deputy director. She described leading two lives at once.

“We are managing a staff and a team of people,” she said, “while we’re also simultaneously the primary person running a household and leading parenting duties.”

Before the promotion, as her husband continued working full time outside the home, she was charged with overseeing remote schooling for her 8-year-old son, Gus, and the care of now-5-year-old Luciana. She recalled bouncing from Zoom meetings to Gus’ virtual school and the other needs of her children.

Walls came down, Wallin noted, as parents tuned in to work meetings with kids in the background.

She’s grateful two other moms — her mother and mother-in-law — were around to help her keep her work and home lives balanced.

“Luckily, both my mom and mother-in-law were teachers themselves,” she said. “Our family had so many different privileges and supports that so many families in New Mexico don’t have, and it was still a big struggle for our family.”

‘I was always feeding somebody’

Ann Jindra recalled the early days of the pandemic, when schools shut down.

Her husband continued to work at the office, while 49-year-old Jindra, a stay-at-home mother of three — ages 15, 13 and 10 — found herself more in demand.

“I went suddenly from having some free time on my hands each day to being with the kids 24/7 and needing to be available for three meals and two snacks,” she joked. “I felt like I was always feeding somebody.”

Jindra said she also took on the responsibility of managing her children’s education through remote learning, a process that came with a steep learning curve for her, too.

Her youngest needed more help staying focused, she said, so she concentrated more on him “to the detriment of the other kids.”

“I was just so sure they were doing what they were supposed to do,” she said. “But I was incorrect.”

She discovered her older children also needed supervision to make sure they were doing their schoolwork.

Jindra said home exercise helped her cope.

“I got a Peloton [exercise bike] right before the pandemic, and that mentally really helped me,” she said. “Every day I would get on there, sign out from being a mom for 20 to 30 minutes and do some self-care so I could then take care of them.”

She and her family contracted COVID-19 in early 2021, Jindra said, but their cases were mild. Her husband and children were asymptomatic, and she became “slightly sick.”

“I almost felt relieved,” she said. “And started to feel a little more free, like we could leave the house. We didn’t restrict ourselves all that much after that. I think we came through it pretty unscathed.”

‘A very humanizing experience’

Camilla Feibelman found herself working remotely in her small Albuquerque home with her husband and two young children amid the coronavirus pandemic and her conservation group’s intense regulatory tussles with federal agencies.

When her then-3-year-old son and 7-year-old stepdaughter were on summer break in 2020, it was difficult at times to juggle parenting and her environmental mission in a cramped space, she recalled.

“The Trump administration was rolling back the methane rules, and I was trying to stave off sibling fights,” said Feibelman, executive director of the Sierra Club’s Rio Grande Chapter. “It was pretty chaotic.”

At that time, the summer camps were closed because of the pandemic, Feibelman said. She and her husband both were required to telework, so they had to find a way for everyone to coexist in a 1,200-square-foot house without a room that could be used as an office.

Feibelman said she wrote “WAIT” on a yellow card and would hold it up to let them know it was a bad time to interrupt her during a teleconference.

She would coordinate her calls with her stepdaughter’s online classes so they could spend time together.

“We came up with strategies that worked OK,” Feibelman said.

Being cooped up led to efforts to get out of the house together, whether it was walking around the neighborhood or doing a new hike every Sunday.

Feibelman said she came away with a greater understanding of the challenges working families deal with, often with little societal support.

“In some ways,” she said, “I felt it was a very humanizing experience.”

Reporters Rick Ruggles, Scott Wyland, Phaedra Haywood and Jessica Pollard contributed to this story.

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