A Pandemic Family

Growing a family amid a pandemic changes the kind of family support new parents can depend on. Shayla Dinning ’13 and Neal Dinning ’12 find ways to bridge those gaps.

A community grows with a pregnancy in a way that eases the burdens of parenthood. So many want to love this new life, a joy. In many traditions, that means family, friends, and neighbors swoop into coo, take out the trash, or drop off food. A baby in a time of quarantine and virus? It upends those traditions and brings surprise benefits, too.

Shayla Dinning ’13 and Neal Dinning ’12 deeply felt the challenges of COVID. Neal wasn’t allowed into prenatal appointments. During ultrasounds, Shayla lay on a hospital bed holding her phone near her stomach. Over FaceTime, Neal first heard the soft rhythmic heartbeat of their daughter Fionne. Sounds of life shared through technology. “It was all worth it in the end just to see her,” Shayla says.

Fionne was born into a community, of course—loving grandparents, family, and friends. However, with COVID, seeing them is as hard as getting dad into doctor’s visits. Being only three months old, Fionne’s not yet vaccinated. While Shayla hopes antibodies from her own vaccinations transferred into Fionne’s immune system during pregnancy, any form of interaction remains severely restricted.

“We can do Zoom calls and FaceTime [and] that’s kind of how we get around it or try to share in our experience,” Shayla says. “But it’s not quite the same as being able to see them all in person.”

Neal is there with her now, in person. His home office is adjacent to the nursery. Fionne’s cries carry over the walls and into his meetings. It’s allowed for extended bonding between the two that Neal likely wouldn’t have gotten to have if he still commuted to work.

While they find silver linings and gratitude in this situation, the Dinnings look towards a future outside and one filled with connectivity beyond a screen. From meeting her large family to going on playdates with her cousins, the Dinnings know that a loving community is waiting for Fionne.

“I think growing up in my childhood, some of this stuff we take for granted,” Neal says. “Being able to go outside and just hang out with your friends, go to movie theaters, and stuff like that. And for me, hopefully, we get back to that point when it’s safer and more under control, and Fionne can have those same experiences.”


post-image Shayla Dinning ’13 and Neal Dinning ’12 with baby Fionne, who joined the family as COVID-19 precautions reduced the number of people who could visit an unvaccinated child.
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