Parenting is hard. But when you’re a doctor fighting a global pandemic, and you share child custody after an ugly divorce, it’s really hard.
In the weeks after the COVID-19 outbreak first hit New York, Brandi Gestri was testing patients for the disease. She has primary custody of her 12-year-old daughter, and it was clear this would have to change when the area’s schools closed — mainly because of Gestri’s demanding work schedule. Her ex used to have her daughter two weekends a month; now, her daughter lives with him most of the time.
“She is definitely on the frontlines of this,” said her ex-husband, Michael Russano. “She does not have a work from home option.”
For a lot of separated parents, the pandemic has turned an already difficult situation into a nightmarish swirl of questions: How should virtual schooling be handled? What about visiting grandparents? And what if your ex isn’t taking the pandemic seriously — or is even using it an excuse to not let you see your child?
Thanks to a lot of teamwork and communication, however, Gestri and Russano have been able to work together. In fact, Gestri said it’s actually been constructive for their relationship. Shifting custody temporarily required her to put a lot of trust in Russano, and he, likewise, is trusting his ex-wife to do everything she can from bringing COVID-19 from the hospital back to their daughter.
She added that her divorce actually helped her look at the bigger picture as she adjusts to working during the pandemic and her home life shifting.
“You know, divorce is — it’s all consuming, all the time. And yet the rest of your life is still going on and you need to function … And that’s a very similar thing right now. It’s all coronavirus all the time,” Gestri said. “I do feel like I’m tapping into some skills that I learned back then.”
VICE News spoke to Gestri and Russano about learning from the past, and working together, while separated, to keep their daughter healthy.
Cover: Left: Michael Russano and his daughter; Right: Brandi Gestri and her daughter (VICE News)