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Separated by an ocean, photographers Michelle Siu and Chloë Ellingson stayed connected during COVID-19 through thousands of text messages, navigating loneliness, pregnancy and new realities

Michelle Siu holds her son, Sekou Siu-Wing-Hung Jalloh, at home in Cambridge, England, this past March. Michelle is a photographer; her partner is a front-line health worker. Their experience of pregnancy during the British pandemic has been one of isolation.Michelle Siu/The Globe and Mail

On this Mother’s Day, my first, I can’t help but think about the birth of my son in March.

I moved from Canada to the U.K. for my partner, Ibrahim Jalloh. When pregnancy complications landed me in the hospital, he was not allowed in. Through the paper thin curtains of the shared ward where I spent a week, I heard the voices of other women tearfully calling for their partners and wanting to go home. We were together and alone. I went into labour the moment Ibrahim was allowed a brief visit. After 1.5 hours our son, Sekou, was born and given a little red hat to indicate he needed special care.

Through pregnancy and postpartum, it is my friendship with fellow photographer Chloë that has been part of the antidote to the loneliness. As shown here, even though we’re an ocean apart, our texts saw us through major transitions over the past year. And on this Mother’s Day, it’s her friendship for which I am grateful.

-Michelle Siu


One year ago, as we started to feel like the outside world was closing in around us, life inside of our home was beaming. Our daughter was nearly one when the pandemic hit, on the verge of walking and talking and injecting her own will into her surroundings.

Motherhood during the pandemic has been all-consuming, but it has also been a profoundly life-giving force that has kept me grounded and hopeful.

Through the transitions that the year has brought, including my family’s move to Montreal from Toronto, friendship has been my solace. The consistent presence of Michelle in the form of texts and phone calls throughout my week gives me perspective on my own life. They are a reminder of how relatable my experience is, even from a continent away.

-Chloë Ellingson


Chloë Ellingson lies on the floor alongside her baby girl.Chloë Ellingson/The Globe and Mail

Michelle Siu (May 10, 2020):

happy mothers day mama. may there be coffees in bed, tons of hugs and love and a damn delicious meal in store

Chloë Ellingson:

Thank you darling!! Got my coffee delivered and listened to one of my favourite Brazilian albums as my daughter crawled around on the floor. Jeff brought me tulips! Blessed


Leaves and petals begin to fall off the tulips at Chloë's home last spring.Chloë Ellingson/The Globe and Mail


Michelle (March 11, 2021):

Hi babes my water broke last night which isn’t too surprising cuz of complications. feeling totally fine. Could last for days or longer so will be in the hospital for the long haul

Chloë:

Hi love okay wow thank you for this update. Okay please keep me posted or I’ll check in again. Would love to chat whenever is possible. I’m here and sending love!


When Michelle went to the hospital in labour earlier than expected, she had to wear compression socks to avoid blood clots. Ibrahim was vigilant about her wearing them because she had been vaccinated for COVID-19 and faced a small risk of clotting. Curtains separated her from a shared ward filled with women in various stages of labour complications; noises from heartbeat monitors filled the ward each night. The skies over Cambridge, as seen from Michelle's home, were gloomy.Michelle Siu/The Globe and Mail


Michelle (March 12, 2021):

So latest scans mean earliest I can go home maybe Tuesday after another scan

Chloë:

Wow alright so you got a few hospital days!

Michelle:

Ya may need to be in until baby comes. He’s not feeling his downsized new home!

Needs to be monitored constantly

Chloë:

He’s like why did my California King water bed get downgraded to queen?

Michelle:

Ha ha ya zactly

Chloë:

What’s the latest with you and baby?

Michelle:

I’m feeling better so much drama on the ward today with labours and inductions got me entertained

Chloë:

What a truly unique experience

Michelle:

So many tears! Everyone wanting their husbands. Poor things


Sekou, shown here being fed by his father, was born weighing 4.2 pounds.Michelle Siu/The Globe and Mail


Michelle (March 21, 2021):

They just gave me the green light so I’m totally ready to be discharged when he is. Thank god girl, mama is losing her mind in here

Chloë:

I bet babe. I’m hearing the words of my midwife right now: this is not how people are meant to deal with babies! We’re not supposed to do it alone


Chloë's partner, Jeff, reaches out to touch their daughter in the morning light.Chloë Ellingson/The Globe and Mail


Michelle (March 21, 2021):

U having a work day or fam day

Chloë:

Today is a fam day but I get a “sleep in” first so I’m reading in bed with coffee 🤤

Michelle:

Well that’s a happy happy place

Chloë:

It absolutely is. Today we’re driving to see Jeff’s friends who just had their second baby

Michelle:

That sounds so lovely

Chloë:

Yeah it will be nice. Just a quick afternoon country jaunt. Jeff has a lot of friends here. Now I just need to make some

Michelle:

I sympathize

Chloë:

But there are a lot of different ways for friendship to look, and right now mine look like phone calls, and that’s okay! They are still there and real

Michelle:

And hey friendship phone calls are pretty damn life giving ya!


Michelle (March 22, 2021):

Hi auntie Chloe! Look at me without my feeding tube. Time for home!

Chloë:

HELLO!! YAY!!!! I am just thrilled for you all! Baby gets to see his beautiful home for the first time!

Hello love I hope this finds you three cozy and settling into your new family life at home ❤️ I can only imagine it’s posed new challenges and levels of intensity but I’m wishing you all the love and cuddles and comfort food and good coffee amid it all xoxo

Michelle:

Hi love! Omfg I’ve never slept so deeply in my whole life. So damn glad we made it home. And coffee. Now we both can have morning moments ❤️❤️

Chloë:

Oh my gosh a shared morning mo!! 😭

Michelle:

how you been?

Chloë:

I’ve been alright! This week I feel so much more grounded than last week. Getting into my new phase with my daughter. Transitioning phases is always hard but I’m getting there. And thinking about having my own office just lights up my soul. I’m free for the next 25 in case chatting with a friend would help lift you up love

It just dawned on me that Sekou will (likely?) have a British accent 😭 🧡

Michelle:

Haha ya. Hey what was the baby sleep book you were recommending?

Chloë:

It’s already on its way to you

The Siu-Jalloh family spends some time at home.Michelle Siu/The Globe and Mail


Text exchanges have been condensed and edited.