"How are you handling visitors?" "Are you demanding that everyone get the flu shot?" "Do you have enough Purell?" "Are you worried about RSV?" These are the questions every new mother gets the minute she gives birth. They hold even more weight when said baby is born during a pandemic.
It was my first pregnancy and it was a dream. Aside from a few hiccups in the beginning with cramping, bleeding, and a low placenta, I had a relatively issue-free nine months. I escaped morning sickness and stretch marks but traded that for back pain and sciatica. My skin was flawless, my hair never looked healthier, and my cravings were little to none, although I kept “fit” by walking my 1-year-old golden retriever, Oliver, after one too many vanilla milkshakes. Overall, I carried on with life as a normal 31 year-old.
I was due March 30 with Baby B. I left the sex unknown because somehow for this Type-A, need-to-know-everything Virgo, keeping it a mystery felt less stressful. So, when my water broke early (on March 10 at 4:30 a.m.), you can imagine how annoyed I was to have to go to the hospital and get checked out. I wasn’t experiencing the gushing flow of fluid you see in movies, so I expected to be sent home to carry out the rest of my pregnancy until my due date. The nursery wasn’t done, the car seat wasn’t installed, and we still hadn’t settled on a name. Unfortunately, my doctor muttered, “to avoid the risk of infection, we’re going to have to induce you.” I turned to my husband and cried. I wasn’t ready.
While it’s true you're never truly prepared to become a parent, I think those extra three weeks would have helped me. I was in a sort of “denial” period throughout my pregnancy, not relating to the other soon-to-be mothers who were cradling their bumps à la Meghan Markle and posting bump-dates. I don’t handle change well, so for me, this was so much more than life-altering. What I didn’t know was while I was in my recovery bubble, everyone’s lifestyles, at home and abroad, were also changing thanks to COVID-19.
Becoming a parent when the world isn’t in crisis is hard enough.
My best friend called while I was in the hospital asking what dish she should make so I didn’t have to cook when I came home. “Chicken parm is easy, how’s that?” I asked. “Sure,” she said. Twenty minutes later, I received a text saying “How’s zucchini parm instead? I got the last seven zucchinis.”
I knew that Coronavirus was now in the U.S., but this was the first time I had heard of those hoarding perishables, soaps, paper goods, and food they didn’t even eat or need, just to have something. Toilet paper and hand sanitizer were worth more than gold. In a matter of days, the number of COVID-19 cases had increased by the hundreds, inching closer to home with every passing minute. Little did I know that outside my hospital room, the entire world was shutting down.
Unable to grasp the new reality that would await me, my sole focus was on obtaining: a Club Sub from Jersey Mike’s, a charcuterie board piled high with burrata, a glass of Moscato d’Asti from my favorite tapas bar, and tuna sashimi. It really is cruel that pregnancy makes you crave what you can’t have for nine months. My husband came to the rescue with my sandwich, which I inhaled as we watched a video series mandated by the hospital on how to care for your newborn. About an hour later, a nurse delivered a message on behalf of the hospital about new sanctions regarding visitors. It was the third letter of the day.
From a social standpoint, the experience of childbirth was completely taken away from us. My husband didn’t get to go out into the waiting room to tell our parents “It’s a boy” because there was no one there. There was no influx of eager visitors with gifts in tow because they weren’t welcome. Over the course of my three-day stay, the hospital had banned all visitors to the maternity ward and other units as a precaution to keep patients safe. Roaming the halls on a walk to the nursery, I noticed for the first time how quiet and morose a floor full of crying newborns could be. Becoming a parent when the world isn’t in crisis is hard enough. Throw a pandemic into the mix and it’s like fumbling through the dark with two left feet after a night of one too many glasses of pinot noir.
They say it takes a village to raise a child. Hopefully that village comes out of quarantine soon.
A few days postpartum, I was struggling. I cried all the time, barely ate, and was so overwhelmed. I instantly mourned my old life and sometimes, during the middle of the night, I allowed the terrible words of “regret” and “selfishness” to creep into my mind, wishing for that old life back. I hated myself for those same thoughts as I remembered that I have a beautiful, healthy little boy. I am not a paranoid person but was truly scared for my family, many of whom worked the front line. At a time when feeling loved and surrounded by support is crucial, I never felt more alone. No one wanted to be near us. Family, friends, and neighbors could only drop off food and gifts at our doorstep. My cousin “met” our son, Tommy, through our glass door. My 94-year-old grandmother, who refuses all forms of technology (which I love), could only rely on pictures of her great grandchild shown to her by my aunt. Everyone suggested FaceTime. I’m bitter that I didn’t get those moments I had always dreamed about.
So, who knows when I’ll get my charcuterie board, when people will be able to visit and hold my son, or when I'll feel comfortable going into a public place without the risk of bringing anything home to him. And with each news ticker that crawls across the television or emergency update that pops up on my phone, in a sense, I’m grateful I gave birth early. So many of my expectant friends are terrified they will be going through the scariest moments of their lives alone, as hospitals are considering banning partners. Is it really that difficult to wash your hands and stay inside your house? Has this become our new reality?
They say it takes a village to raise a child. Hopefully that village comes out of quarantine soon. Until then, we all need to embrace Dorothy’s mantra: There’s no place like home.