Posted on 12th July 2021
Endodontist Michael Khoury and his family have been living in Perth since 2007. However, when Michael’s wife, endodontist Rada Haddadin, was offered a position as an Assistant Professor at the University of Jordan and a consultant endodontist at the University hospital in 2016, Rada and the couple’s two daughters travelled to the Middle East, while Michael remained in Perth to complete his Doctor of Clinical Dentistry at UWA.
The family made the distance between them work as best they could – seeing each other every three months to four months for a couple of weeks and longer during holiday periods. They were able to celebrate every Christmas, Easter and most birthdays and anniversaries together.
Soon after Michael left Jordan at the end of January 2020, Rada discovered she was pregnant, so Michael arranged to go back to Jordan in April to see his family. However, his flight was cancelled due to the COVID restrictions, which came into place in March. After that, the family was thrown more obstacles preventing them from being reunited.
“The plan was for Rada and the girls to come back for good to Australia, especially after Rada got a new job at UWA Dental School,” Michael adds. “However, Rada had a complicated pregnancy and therefore she was prohibited from travel upon medical advice. Here, things started to get more complicated, because she contacted the consular of the Australian Embassy in Amman, who was very keen to get her on the first available plane to Perth, but her medical status was not cleared for travel.
“From my part, travel was not an option due to airport closures and quarantine conditions, plus it was not guaranteed that I would get an approval to return to Perth. It was very hard on us to accept, especially Rada, that we would not be reunited before giving birth. She was in tears most of the time and I was here trying to calm her down and reassuring her that everything happens for a reason and that her parents are there for her. The COVID situation there in Jordan was getting worse with time, while here in Perth we were doing well and living a normal life.
“I am a family guy who enjoys and cherish family time,” he adds. “I was worried about them all the time, being worried about their health and how they can stay safe there! At the same time, I had to continue what I am doing and focus on finishing my studies. It was very hard to work while being stressed and concerned about the whole situation.”
The family connected via daily video calls (which was challenging with being in different time zones) but the obstacles meant that Michael missed most of Rada’s pregnancy, including the birth of their son, Mark, who arrived in September 2020.
“I was able to be with Rada on FaceTime while she was giving birth in the theatre as it was a caesarean delivery,” Michael recalls. “Her friend was with her and she held the phone during the delivery and took many photos. I was able to see Mark first and watch every single detail of this precious moment. It was very late at night in Perth time, but I was there till I was sure they were OK. I was also talking to my daughters Laila and Tiana, who were at home waiting to hear the news anxiously. They were not allowed to go to the hospital due to COVID restrictions in Jordan. It was a night that I will never forget! I actually submitted my dissertation on that same day while Rada was on her way to the hospital!
“It was harder and harder every day when we had video calls,” he adds. “I wished I could be physically there to help with the baby and have sleepless nights. Having said that, Rada’s parents got COVID a few weeks after she gave birth. This made things quite hard on Rada and I felt even worse for not being there because she was dealing with the baby and everything around alone.”
Immediately after Mark’s birth, the family started the paperwork for Australian citizenship and an Australian passport for Mark, so that Rada and the kids could finally come back to Australia. The process took around seven weeks, and after being apart from Michael for nearly a year, Rada and their children arrived in Perth on December 15, before going straight to hotel quarantine.
“I was so worried about them travelling under these circumstances, but they had to take the risk and they were very precautious during travel,” Michael says. “I went to the airport hoping to see them from a distance, but the WA Police let them out from a back door, which I couldn’t access.”
“Travelling with three children including a baby is normally challenging so you can imagine how more challenging and stressful it can be during this pandemic,” Rada recalls. “We were happy to arrive, but we did not expect what was waiting for us. We had to go through lots of check points and very strict procedures at the airport and then we were taken to the hotel by a bus. We had to take all our luggage and belongings with us, and no one was allowed to help us with lifting the bags and so on. This was hard having a baby and a relatively recent surgery. My younger daughter Tiana held Mark as Laila and I lifted the luggage into the hotel trolley. Finally, we went into the rooms at 11:30pm after a long flight and long wait.”
Rada says quarantine was a unique experience. Michael cooked healthy dinners for the family every day and dropped meals and supplies from the shops to the hotel. Online school kept Laila and Tiana busy, and Rada says taking care of little Mark made the time pass quicker, but there were times they felt bored and overwhelmed.
“I tried to put a smile on my face every day, although I felt deeply sad,” she says, adding that baby Mark’s first Christmas was in quarantine, which was also the family’s first Christmas away from Michael.
“We made a Christmas tree out pf paper and decorated the rooms to have some Christmas spirit,” Rada says. “I was holding my tears in front of the kids on Christmas Eve. Michael came to wave for us that evening. We were dressed up for dinner and had a video call with him. Christmas 2020 was different – never to be forgotten!
“I am really glad that time is part of the past now,” she adds. “However, when I reflect on that time, I can see some positive things out of it. We spent more quality time together as I had no other distractions. We were creative with the things we did, and we connected with lots of family and friends. We became more appreciative of the things we have. We cherish moments we spend together as a family. We make most of our time and enjoy simple little things. It is a blessing to be together after everything we went through last year.”
“COVID prevented me to be with my wife during the whole period of her pregnancy and the birth of our son, Mark,” Michael says.
“I couldn’t feel the first kick and watch my baby growing inside my wife’s tummy. I couldn’t hold Rada’s hand when our son arrived safely into this world. I wasn’t able to hold my son when he was a newborn. It was the most difficult time that we have ever experienced in our life! I missed out on many tiny and big moments that no husband and father would choose to miss. I couldn’t physically support my wife during her pregnancy, but we managed to stay connected emotionally.”