When the world seems like it’s ending, it feels wrong to bring a baby into that world. But that’s exactly what we did. And we did it here, at America’s original Ground Zero for the coronavirus. Two weeks before my due date, pregnant women were put on the “high-risk” list. I started self-isolating. A week before my due date, we were told they were limiting support people in the delivery rooms. I started to panic.
Having a first child is already pretty anxiety-inducing, but knowing a life-threatening and socially-paralyzing virus was also creeping up on us made it hard to breathe. (Something that — turns out — is also a symptom of coronavirus.)
My mom was supposed to come to Seattle for a month after the birth. My mother is over 60. My father — who would stay back in Texas but was supposed to come out later — is immunocompromised. My husband is a nurse. My family runs rampant with risk and potential exposure.
International travel was shut down. King County’s death toll went from nine to dozens in just over a week. A national emergency was declared. My baby kicked as I read the news, and it hit me: My dad isn’t coming. My in-laws aren’t coming. My mom probably can’t come.
I went into labor March 16. When entering the hospital, we were screened for COVID-19 symptoms. During labor, I walked around the floor to get things moving. We made it one lap before a nurse came and said we weren’t allowed to do that. My husband went to the snack room to get me another Popsicle (my third of the day, because when else can a grown adult justify eating three Popsicles in a day?), and he was locked out. “No patients allowed in the snack room anymore.” Things were changing by the minute.
Our daughter was born early on March 17, and our life completely cracked open all at once. This chunk of a human (all 8 pounds, 10 ounces of her) looked up at us, and it felt like she asked, “What were you so worried about?” At that moment, I silently answered, “Nothing. I can’t remember. We have you now.”
The pediatrician told us what we all already knew — my mother shouldn’t visit right now. My mom had already checked in to her flight when we made the phone call. She was crushed, but trusted it was the right decision. Quickly, Texas — along with the rest of the country — started to see case after case of this virus pop up in their state, their county, their community. It was the right call.
They say it takes a village to raise a child. But what happens when your whole village is self-isolating?
Staying home with a newborn is pretty easy. The governor could tell me I’m not allowed to leave my bed, and I would have to change about 14% of my day. But the social aspects are hard, because raising a baby is already extremely isolating.
A friend started a meal train for us, but people just drop off food outside, and we wave to them from a window. It hurts to not hug them; to not thank them in person; to not show them this child, who I’m pretty sure is award-winningly beautiful.
There are daily FaceTimes with the grandparents. There are Zoom video chat happy hours with old friends to introduce our daughter. Our neighbors (who we interact with on a Slack channel) have delivered loaves of bread. Local radio stations play requests, and we dance. People have recorded voice memos welcoming our baby into the world. We have connected in new ways, with people we haven’t connected with in years.
I admit I’m still scared. I still ache for hugs from my mother and my friends. But we’ve promised our child that this world was worth it. We promised her that this world is beautiful. And while parks are closed and the arts are sinking fast, beauty remains. Beauty remains in the love we are able to receive from family, friends and community. The village that COVID-19 has helped us build is a funny one, reliant on a good Wi-Fi signal and kind looks from six-feet away, but I am thankful for it anyway.