The night my baby was born, Philadelphia was a ghost town. My husband ran out to get me my post-birth meal of choice – a turkey, lettuce and tomato hoagie from Wawa and came back telling me about his post-apocalyptic experience in a city that was usually packed with people urgently on their way somewhere. Hollow city streets, empty stores, a lack of pedestrians and endless silence. My baby was born during the pandemic, right in the beginning when stay at home orders went into effect for what was supposed to be two weeks.
When I think about that day two years ago, I remember how happy I felt as the nurse placed him on my chest at 3:45am and my husband told me, “it’s a boy!” He was our third baby and we decided to wait to find out his gender. I held our sweet boy as my husband and I looked at him with love and adoration. It was one of the happiest moments of my life. Amidst a global pandemic and negative news circulating on an hourly basis, we were experiencing pure and unconditional love as we brought life into this world. We couldn’t believe how lucky we were that he was our baby. Fifteen minutes later, I was rushed to the operating room due to a postpartum hemorrhage. The attending physician was attempting to stop the bleeding but there was too much blood and not enough lighting to properly see what was going on. Within fifteen minutes, I went from hearing “it’s a boy!” to “we’re going to the OR. Call in two units of blood, STAT.” I was delirious and lethargic as I was being wheeled out but I remember telling my husband that whatever happens, to not let go of our baby.
They quickly wheeled me out to the operating room and as we turned the corner, I heard my husband yell my name. As he held our baby tightly and looked me in the eyes, he said, “Hey, I love you. We’re going to be okay.” I looked at him, nodded my head, and looked up at the ceiling to avoid crying. I kept replaying that moment in my head for weeks after, imagining how differently it all could have ended.
In the operating room, all I remember was laying on the surgical table with my arms spread on extenders coming off the bed. One arm was being used for anesthesia and the other arm for a blood transfusion. The bright lights, cold room and sheer volume of people made for a terrifying experience. I remember a nurse asking about my two older kids and about my husband and I started smiling. She offered some distraction and a chance to have a human connection in an otherwise sterile environment. When I think back to that moment, I am so thankful for her humanity.
After receiving a blood transfusion, the attending told me that the color was coming back to my face. Although I couldn’t see myself, I felt ghostly. I think I disassociated and felt as though I was standing and observing everything that was happening in the room. I thought about my own mortality and the possibility of not being around to raise my kids, a thought that kept coming back from time to time as the pandemic continued. I prayed I would be able to come back to my family. I asked the physician, “I know it was really chaotic in there. Was the placenta taken out?” Even during surgery, I tried to take back some sort of control. She smiled at me and said, “Yes, my friend. Everything is done. Let’s get you back to your family.” As we came back into the room, the first thing I saw was my husband smiling at me, holding our baby who was wrapped in layers of hospital blankets. All I could see was his little face peeking through the material. Our baby was safe. Later he told me the nurse tried to take the baby to another room to get washed and he adamantly refused as she slowly backed away, citing his promise to me.
When we brought our son home two days later, all I wanted to do was retreat and keep my three children in our little cave, only venturing out for the necessities. I’m so thankful for friends and family who checked in on us and our support network that protected my mental and physical health. I remember the thoughts running through my head at the time – if I get COVID right now, will I make it? How would I take care of my baby and breastfeed if I have COVID? How would my postpartum body be able to handle all of this? What if the baby gets COVID? I was so unbelievably worn down.
Even after coming home, I continued to bleed profusely with tachycardia and almost fainted several times. I was afraid to hold my baby unless I was sitting or lying down because I was worried about being too weak to hold him. Eight days later, we had a bris for my son. I remember asking the mohel to take off his shoes because I thought the soles would drag something sinister into the home.
On a daily basis, my husband went to work at a hospital and intubated patients with COVID. I worried every day that he would get COVID. I worried about my parents getting COVID. I had a newborn at home and couldn’t stop thinking about everyone around me dying, including myself. Oh and we were all wiping groceries with Clorox wipes before bringing them into our home.
I feared for the health of my family and that coupled with the anxiety of giving birth and having an infant and two toddlers, was all so heavy. Every little decision we made felt so critical. I felt that if I made the wrong choice, there would be devastating consequences. Instinctively, I went into a protective mode. As the weight of the world around us intensified, I found comfort in the five of us being home together. My pandemic baby offered a daily burst of light in dark times. When I looked at him, I felt hopeful. Parenting during a pandemic is nonstop exhausting and I’ve tapped into a sort of energy I didn’t know I was capable of having. But it’s also making challah together, staying up late to play Monopoly Junior and going for walks to the park. Snuggling in my middle son’s bed and whispering about what we’re going to dream about that night. Talking to my daughter about her best friend moving away, telling her about what it was like when I was little and moved away from my best friend. Trying to shift my perspective in an attempt to create meaning from it all.
For the next several months, we would frequently pass a carousel my kids always loved and see it was closed. The horses were covered with a tarp-like material. The park was eerie and completely empty, a sharp contrast to the laughter of children normally playing and shouting for their parents’ attention as they completed each round on the carousel. My oldest would ask, “when will the carousel be open?” I answered, “when the virus is over.”
The juxtaposition of the state of the world outside our home versus the playful energy and innocence inside our home was a constant theme in our lives. The aggressive chaos of the latest geopolitical conflict highlighted in the news versus the beautiful chaos of raising three kids six and under. My husband and I developed a system in which we would put the kids to bed, order from a local restaurant and binge watch Westworld. We made time for ourselves. When the kids were asleep, we quietly talked about the world around us, trying desperately not to disrupt their innocence. I tried to make time for myself. If I wasn’t careful, I knew motherhood would consume my identity.
Two years later, my pandemic baby is now a pandemic toddler. Just as in the beginning of the pandemic, he offers a much needed respite when everything feels utterly exhausting. I feel as though so much has changed in the past two years and somehow not much has changed. We’re still in the middle of a global pandemic.
My pandemic baby is happy and full of magic and wonder. For whatever he missed out on by being born in March 2020, he makes up for it with his outgoing personality and infectious laughter. When I think about him living his entire life so far during the pandemic, I feel a knot in my stomach. He’s turning two in a month and will start wearing a mask. In the past few years, nothing has gone as planned and we’ve been through so much together. We’ve all been through so much. I sometimes wonder how I’ll look back on this time and what I’ll remember. What will my kids remember?
To all the parents and caregivers, sending my love to everyone navigating parenthood and caregiving during this time. What has your experience been?