Home

Four generations of Geraldton family reunite, meet their newest member following COVID separation

Headshot of Kate Campbell
Kate CampbellGeraldton Guardian
Gema Welsh with her son Finley Albin and mother Julie Camp in Geraldton.
Camera IconGema Welsh with her son Finley Albin and mother Julie Camp in Geraldton. Credit: Maik Albin

Finley Albin is well and truly a “COVID baby” — until a few weeks ago he’d been in virtual isolation since birth.

From spending his first eight months under lockdowns and restrictions with his first-time parents in Germany — in a country and continent where coronavirus is running rampant — to a fortnight in hotel quarantine after a long-haul flight to Perth — all Finley knew were the four walls around him. That is, until last month, when he experienced the wider “normal” world and met his extended Australian family for the first time.

The chubby-cheeked, happy-go-lucky nine-month-old is proof that amid all the doom and gloom, panic and uncertainty, there are feelgood COVID stories out there.

Finley’s homecoming with his parents — his Geraldton-raised mother Gema Welsh and German father Maik Albin — has united four generations of a local family after the pandemic threw all their plans into disarray, like countless others. It’s the best combined Easter, birthday and Christmas present the family could ever wish for, rolled into one cute baby-sized package.

Get in front of tomorrow's news for FREE

Journalism for the curious Australian across politics, business, culture and opinion.

READ NOW
Gema Welsh with her baby son Finley Albin during winter in Potsdam, Germany.
Camera IconGema Welsh with her baby son Finley Albin during winter in Potsdam, Germany. Credit: Pics: Maik Albin

After spending a few months at home early last year, Gema, 27, returned to Germany — where she lives with her lawyer husband in Potsdam, a city bordering the capital, Berlin. She was six months pregnant last March, when COVID-19 was tightening its vice-like grip on the world.

The hopes and plans at that stage were for her mother Julie Camp and brother Josh to travel to Germany to be with her and Maik as they welcomed their first baby.

But that was not to be. Thankfully, the week before Finley’s birth in June, rules changed in Germany to allow partners to be present in the delivery room. But Gema was in hospital for three days before delivering Finley, during which time Maik was only allowed to visit for an hour a day.

Life with a newborn is an insular existence, but living in a small apartment in the middle of a European winter in a shuttered city where you are your baby’s only source of entertainment, and you have to rely on FaceTime calls for motherly advice and family support from more than 13,000km away, is a next-level baby bubble.

Gema’s saving grace was her husband, who worked from home most of the time and stepped in to “play every role” the homesick new mum needed.

But after Christmas, Gema and Maik decided to start the “stressful” process of trying to come back for a visit during a pandemic, so Finley could meet his maternal grandparents, great-grandparents, uncle and extended family.

Maik Albin and Gema Welsh with their son Finley on the plane to Australia.
Camera IconMaik Albin and Gema Welsh with their son Finley on the plane to Australia. Credit: Picture: Maik Albin

It was a process that involved booking flights that had every chance of being cancelled at the last minute, filling out paperwork for G2G passes and visa applications for Maik and Finley, and spending many thousands of dollars on inflated airfares and hotel quarantine.

Their flights were only cancelled once. It was a case of second-time lucky for the family of three when their flight took off on February 20, leaving a country that has seen almost 2.8 million COVID cases and more than 76,000 deaths. “I was an absolute nervous wreck right up until we checked in at the airport,” Gema said from her mother’s Geraldton home.

“I think we got really lucky, to be honest.”

Gema Welsh and Maik Albin with their baby Finley during hotel quarantine in Perth. RIGHT: Gema Welsh with her baby son Finley Albin during winter in Potsdam, Germany.
Camera IconGema Welsh and Maik Albin with their baby Finley during hotel quarantine in Perth. RIGHT: Gema Welsh with her baby son Finley Albin during winter in Potsdam, Germany. Credit: Maik Albin

The first week of hotel quarantine at the Pan Pacific in Perth — where thankfully, they had a big room with a panoramic city view — went relatively smoothly, but Finley started to crawl during the second week.

“He was just climbing the walls. The days started dragging at that point,” Gema said. “But we were more than happy to quarantine because it meant freedom at the end, and it’s the reason why WA is as safe as it is.”

Gema’s parents and brother were waiting in the hotel lobby when they were finally released — the last ones to leave that day.

But they all knew not to overwhelm baby Finley too much, despite how badly they wanted to hug and hold him.

The emotions and tears were not far from the surface as Julie, Gema’s mum, relived the bittersweet reunion.

“It was gut-wrenching not being able to be there in person to help her and not to be there for your first grandchild,” Julie said.

“We FaceTimed as much as we could, but it’s not the same.

“Seeing Finley broke my heart because the kids have had it so tough with their isolation, and we spoke about it that we couldn’t hold him straight away, we had to bide our time ... it was nobody’s fault, it was just the situation ... I’m just lucky now they’re home for a while and I get to see him every day.

“Not being able to hold my grandchild was one of the cruellest things, but there was nothing I could do about it.

“It was gradual. I had to wait for Finley to come to me.

“He’s here now and it’s been worth the wait, absolutely worth the heartache.

“He’s adapted so well and he’s just a very healthy, happy little boy ... the light of our lives.”

In the days and weeks since, the hugs are flowing between Finley and his “Nans”.

I think we had a good enough reason to come back. I was just desperate for everyone to meet Finley.

Julie also knows a bit about being isolated as a first-time mum.

She had Gema in Scotland, and back in those days — the mid-1990s — communication was limited to snail mail and phone calls.

“Thank God for FaceTime ... after I had Gema we sent photos of her to family in the post but it took a good month for them to see what she looked like,” she said.

The first-time grandmother also knows her family isn’t alone and said her heart went out to all the other families separated because of COVID-19.

Julie Camp bonds with her grandson Finley Albin in Geraldton.
Camera IconJulie Camp bonds with her grandson Finley Albin in Geraldton.

In some circles, Gema knows “returned travellers” have a bad rap, but feels that is unwarranted and wants people to realise in many cases these people are Australian citizens who desperately want to come home. For a lot of them, they have lives overseas they need to get in order first.

“We’re not a massive risk. Like everyone, we do quarantine, we get tested before leaving and twice while in quarantine,” she said.

“Obviously (the Government) have got all this stuff in place to deter people from coming but I think we had a good enough reason to come back. I was just desperate for everyone to meet Finley.

“It feels like such a luxury being here from where we’ve come from ... you can do pretty much whatever you want here. Every day I keep thinking ‘I wouldn’t be able to do this in Germany’. The first time we went to the shops here we just felt so weird because we weren’t wearing masks.”

Not being able to hold my grandchild was one of the cruellest things, but there was nothing I could do about it.

Finley Albin with his great-grandmother Valma Camp.
Camera IconFinley Albin with his great-grandmother Valma Camp.

The young family plan to return to Germany in May, but right now they are soaking up the sun, enjoying all the freedoms being in WA brings, introducing their baby to family — including the writer of this story — and seeing his reactions to many overdue “firsts”, like dipping his toes in the Indian Ocean, and seeing other babies and dogs.

“He might have a bit of colour too, by the time we go,” Gema joked.

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails