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Credit: Jodi Miller
The Way We Eat

These Moms Brought Their Baby Home During a Pandemic. Here’s What They’re Cooking, Eating, and Hoping for the Future.

published May 9, 2020
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Name: Robin Oatts and Jodi Miller (Jodi took the photos for this piece)
Location: Columbus, Ohio
How many people eat together in your home? Two. Eliot, their baby, is just 8 weeks old.

There are some unexpected similarities between the self-imposed quarantines most of us are in this spring, and the earliest days of parenthood, shutting yourself in at home with a newborn for a sleepless chain of nights. But what if you actually are in the midst of both at once? What is it like to have your very first baby during a stay-at-home order? Robin and Jodi live in my neighborhood in Columbus, Ohio, and they brought their little boy Eliot home just before our state shut down. I’ve been following their first few weeks of motherhood on Facebook as they document visits through the thick pane of their front window, holding the baby up and letting grandparents and friends admire from a safe distance. These pictures have become for me an indelible image of this wildly strange and painful time.

Thinking about front window visits, and how hard early motherhood is even without the multiplier of a global health crisis, I talked to Robin about how they are eating, coping, and learning the ropes of new motherhood at a safe but difficult distance.

Credit: Jodi Miller

How old is Eliot now?
He was born on March 11, so he’s 8 weeks old.

When did you realize that new motherhood was about to get weird?
Well, my oldest sister lives in Seattle and it hit there first. I had been hearing from her on the build-up, like this is what is happening and things are starting to get crazy. She ended up moving her flight up, because she was going to come and stay with us to help. We were kind of nervous, but nothing had happened in Ohio, no one was talking about it.

On the day he was born we had a huge party in our hospital suite. I think we had 20 people in the room. There were no restrictions. But then by the time we got home, three days later, suddenly everyone was talking about it, and it all changed.

Credit: Jodi Miller

If I remember the timeline here in Ohio, schools were closed on March 12, and bars and restaurants closed on the 15th. The state issued a stay-at-home order on March 22. So all of this was just going down in your first week home with a newborn.
Three days after he was born he had his first pediatrician check-up and our pediatrician was like, “Shut it down. Don’t have visitors. I would isolate yourselves.” From that point, the third day at home, no one came into the house.

What was your first week at home like?
It was probably the worst week of my life if I’m being honest. Everything you go through with your first kid was heightened by everything else. The stress of keeping visitors away, even people bringing meals: I was sitting here telling my family and friends they really can’t come over. They were like wait, what? We would keep deliveries at the door and wash stuff off. Plus just figuring out how to breastfeed without actually seeing a lactation consultant. I had to FaceTime my OB with my shirt up.

We are both self-employed; I am a photographer and designer and Jodi is a photographer, and in the first week or two she just had notice after notice of canceled jobs. That was another stress, email after email of her losing work.

And then on top of that we had all that rain and my basement flooded for the first time since I owned this house, in 10 years. We woke up on the fifth night and the basement was flooded; it’s where we keep all our photography equipment. I was sitting on the stairs, going through boxes and organizing, Jodi was mopping. It was a bad week.

Credit: Jodi Miller

That’s brutal. Were you able to get food and groceries?
We decided right at the beginning, OK, we’re not going to go out. I signed up for Instacart and I think we had one or two deliveries and then it was like, you can’t get times; everything is out of stock, what are you going to do.

After Instacart dried up we did have friends who brought groceries for a couple weeks. After that things settled down enough that we could place drive-up orders at Whole Foods and just have them placed in our trunk. But we stretched our grocery items as far as we could and used up food from the freezer. So again, that was pretty crazy and stressful.

Wow, yes, feeding yourself when you have a new baby is stressful at the best of times. How were you eating through all of this?
Well, it did line up in some ways perfectly, because I was planning for maternity leave. I’m a big cook and we prep. I make all of our own bread, so I made five loaves and froze them. My sister actually gave me a good idea, because I was trying to find the time to make a bunch of food and freeze it, and she said, just make doubles of everything you’re making for dinner. Over the last month [before Eliot came] I would just make extra and freeze it. So, in some sense, we had a good setup.

But produce was the big thing; we are big vegetable people. So we would just put in an order for produce, whatever we could get, and have it delivered, and use whatever we could get. We adjusted the recipes we’d use. Instead of huge salads, do a little bit of produce each meal.

Now, Jodi has a huge garden. She has 8 raised beds at least. She grows basically everything that we eat in season. When all this started happening, and you couldn’t really get produce, she immediately went, put seeds in, and started growing us arugula, and other things that are pretty quick to germinate.

Credit: Robin Oatts

So wait — Jodi’s response to grocery shortage was to go plant greens?
I think she brought me fresh microgreens within seven days of when everything happened.

That is ultimate love, so romantic!
I know! In the thick of the season she’s like a cat bringing you a mouse. She’ll bring this huge box of produce to the porch, and part of me is like, I love you so much; and then another part of me is like, how am I going cook all of this? [Laughs] But I don’t take her garden for granted right now.

Credit: Jodi Miller

What was your favorite thing you stashed and ate?
The biggest thing actually, was one of Jodi’s things. She got this book, The First 40 Days. She was really into this book and actually ended up prepping a bunch of broths, because she read in the book that bone broth is such a good thing for healing. So she did huge batches of chicken and beef bone broth. Then she made congee with broth and greens, with eggs. I had that almost every morning for the first week or so. We had a ton of that prepped in the freezer. But it was so comforting, we had so much of it and I never got sick of it. That was my favorite thing — other than alcohol at this point, since I can have it again!

Have people been able to bring you meals?
We had a Meal Train and I shut it down early because I just didn’t want people to feel obligated. People sent us gift cards for GrubHub and delivery. A week and a half or so into it people started sending stuff, having it delivered or leaving on the doorstep.

One night I got a text from my best friend that said, “If you’re up at 4 a.m. check your front door.” When we looked out, there was a huge delivery of bagels and cream cheese. That kind of stuff happened quite a few times. In fact, she ended up running to get groceries for us because she didn’t want us going into the store.

My sister was here the first three weeks and was able to take on a lot of the cooking and cleaning for us, which we were so grateful for. But overall the situation did add to the stress. Even though we are big cooks ourselves, cooking most of our meals almost every day on top of having a newborn, is a lot.

Credit: Jodi Miller

Tell me about your front window. How did the visits there start happening?
It just kind of happened. I’ve always sat on the couch and looked out. I have a pretty tiny house, so that’s the only main room. It’s kind of exposed; without a front porch people can see right in. The first one was my sister, she came over with my nephews, dropping off a dehumidifier the day the basement flooded. I was sitting there with Eliot and opened the window, someone was taking pictures, and that just became the thing. We would open the window to talk a little bit, and people would look in, and we’d be on the couch with Eliot. I posted a few pictures and then made a whole album and people on Facebook would be like, can we come for a visit? Can we sneak a peek? Step right up and see the baby!

Credit: Jodi Miller

What are the first things you hope to do with Eliot when this is all over?
Honestly, I’ve been kind of mourning the idea of what I thought our postpartum would be like. We are pretty close with our neighbors two doors down, and almost every weekend we would hang out with them. We’d just make a reservation for four and try new places all the time. If we weren’t going out we’d be cooking, do themed days where we would be cooking all day and hang out. And so I think that has been the hardest thing — I can’t just go hang out with friends and pop the car seat down during brunch. Or go to my friends and let them hold Eliot while we cook all day. That’s the stuff that I miss the most.

Food is so much of our social life; it really is the majority of our social activity, and it’s hard to not be able to do that with other people, especially with a newborn.

Credit: Jodi Miller

What do you dream of, when you think about his first birthday? Or does that just seem impossibly far away right now?
No, actually, I’ve had to focus on that to be honest with you. It’s easy to be isolated and sleep-deprived, and think it’s never going to change. And I just keep telling myself: Even if it’s a year from now, and there’s a vaccine, hopefully, we can get back to normal. Normal being him able to walk around in the garden, and us hang out with friends and cook all day — honestly, life as we knew it. But with a one-year-old! I can’t wait until we’re back to normal. That’s what I dream about.

Thank you so much, Jodi and Robin! Follow Jodi and Robin both on Instagram, and visit their professional websites here.

The Way We Eat is a series of profiles and conversations with people like you about how they feed themselves and their families.We’re actively looking for people to feature in this series. You don’t have to be famous or even a good cook! We’re interested in people of all backgrounds and eating habits. How do you overcome challenges to feed yourself? If you’d like to share your own story with us, or if you know of someone you think would be great for this series, start here with this form.