The Shadow
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The Shadow

WRITING PROMPT: PANDEMIC REFLECTIONS

Lockdown Baby

Pandemic and pregnant

A pregnant woman in a brown sweater holder her hands in a heart shape over her belly.
Photo by Suhyeon Choi on Unsplash

On Thursday, March 12th, 2020, my husband and I arrived at work ready to start our “Friday”. We had decided to take March 13th and the 16th off to make the bank holiday weekend a 5-day event. Complete with time for just us after we dropped our 7-year-old off for school and after school care.

This was going to be my husband’s first day off for the year. He was coming off of a huge project that had really burnt him out. We were looking forward to some R&R.

No phones, no work, no kiddo, just us. We would walk over to our favourite cafe for coffee and brunch, stroll by the river if we got ambitious. We might even have a nap.

About noon, the emails and news alerts started coming in. With less than 7 hours of preparation, the government had ordered schools, childcare facilities, and other non-essential businesses to shut by the end of the day. We were heading into lockdown.

Over the next few days, the Irish government came out with more information. New restrictions and new lists of what was and wasn’t essential were given to us daily. We huddled in our houses and hoarded canned tuna and toilet paper. The St. Patrick’s day parades were cancelled and my daughter cried. It was our first taste of the lost things of 2020.

One of the things that hung in essential/non-essential limbo was the fertility clinics. I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) when I was 23. Our now 7-year-old daughter had been conceived with the use of hormonal treatments. We had gone back and forth on having a second child for years.

The treatments I had undergone made me feel unhinged and exhausted. The mood swings and months of negative pregnancy tests had nearly torn us apart. I was been worried about going through it all again, but at the end of 2019, we finally felt like we were in a good place to try. My first appointment was supposed to be April 1st, 2020 and now it looked like it wasn’t going to happen.

I thought it was a sign from the universe that we should give up. Everything was so uncertain and the world looked like it might be going to heck in a handbasket. The expense and stress might not be something we could afford. Putting it off again seemed like a poor option too.

Maybe we were meant to only have one kiddo. I told my husband that I was done trying while I made dinner on the 17th of March. I was scared. Things were so uncertain and adding treatments that made me crazy to the mix would make things worse.

But my monthly cycle was late, and I was feeling weird. I chalked it up to stress, but he suggested I take a test, just to see. I figured it couldn’t hurt if only to kill the last bit of hope we had.

On March 19th, one week after lockdown had been announced I took an at-home pregnancy test. Positive, at least 3 weeks pregnant. What? Stunned, I showed it to my husband. He looked from the test to my face and burst out into nervous laughter.

I should have been happy, it was a surprise! A blessing! A miracle, almost! But I wasn’t.

I was ANGRY.

With everything happening in the world, with all the potential parents out there longing for a child, why was I chosen? The one who gave up! The one who questioned our quest for baby number 2, to begin with? WHY ME? I felt unworthy, frightened, and ungrateful.

Thankfully, my husband was over the moon excited. He gathered me up in a hug and promised me everything would be ok. I wanted to be excited with him, but all I felt was guilt because I didn’t. How could I be a good mom to this baby if I felt this way when I found out about it?

The first few months I was so sick. My 7 year old begged me not to die from “The Corona.” No amount of reassurance could persuade her that I had not fallen prey to the danger lurking on our doorstep.

We ventured no further than our back porch to enjoy the sunshine of the nice April weather. I shared the news with my parents, my boss, and my good friend. I plastered on a paper smile when they asked me how excited I was.

At 13 weeks along, I got my first ultrasound. Shiny new yellow stickers were plastered all over the maternity hospital. Women clutched their bellies and eyed each other suspiciously from behind their masks from a 2-metre distance.

Everything felt hurried and slow at the same time. When I finally got to the ultrasound room, I couldn’t even watch the screen while the tech worked. For safety reasons, I had to face the wall and breathe through my mask away from her. I faced the wall and worried, hoping everything was ok.

When she was done with all the checks and measurements of the life in my tummy, she told me I could turn back now and see the screen. She leaned WAYYYYYYYY back to put as much distance between our faces as possible and she guided the instrument to show me a wiggly little black and white image of the baby.

The baby’s feet were kicking like mad, so much so that the tech said, “Oh look at that! Baby’s just kickin’ away, kickin’ away.” Watching those little feet wiggling on the monitor, it all suddenly felt real. The joy and connection I had wanted to feel suddenly hit me like a ton of bricks.

I got my small pile of black and white pictures and the assurances from the tech that all looked normal and well with the baby. Measuring right on track, no problems or concerns. We finally told my 7-year-old that night that she was going to be a big sister. We showed her the photos and she finally believed me that I didn’t have “The Corona.”

Pregnancy in a pandemic is strange. With my older daughter, my husband had gotten to come to ultrasounds. We toured posh-looking birth centres, were given countless pamphlets on water birthing and hypnobirthing and a million other things. We went to birth class and purchased maternity clothes and picked out a rocking chair and bedding at the shop.

Now my husband was told he would have to wait in the car park while I was in labour. He never got to see an ultrasound, just the pictures. Birth classes were cancelled, tours were not given, and we got all our baby gear on Amazon.

At the maternity hospital, the stickers started to fade. People became bored with the fear and used to their masks. We all sat a few chairs apart and complained about our partners missing out on births and ultrasounds.

Still, there was always an undercurrent of worry. What if COVID got into the hospital? What if you caught it? What if the baby caught it? What if a million things.

Restrictions eased over the summer when the numbers dipped into double digits. My daughter turned 8 and we went to the aquarium armed with masks and sanitiser. She made us promise she could have a big birthday with friends next year. “We’ll try” was all we could say. I turned 33, we did nothing and it was glorious.

When September came, the kids were excited to go back to school. They all hated online learning and were eager to see their friends and their teachers. I worked from the dining table without having to mute my mike to check maths homework. I put in my notice at work. With no clear end to this pandemic, how could I guarantee I would be back in 6 months? A year? Ever?

My last day at work was October the 9th. It was a Friday and my dad retired that day as well. We did a video call to celebrate. I looked forward to having a month to relax, set up the baby things and figure out how my somewhat complicated stroller worked.

October 19th, 2020 was a Monday. I had my 36-week check-up scheduled for 930 am. My husband had taken the day off and after the appointment, we were going to spend the day together. No phones, no work, no kiddo, just us.

We would get takeout from our favourite cafe for and brunch, take a short waddle over by the river before I got tired. I was definitely planning on a good nap.

About 4 in the morning, my water broke. The baby was coming 4 weeks early and I was afraid and excited. Was 4 weeks early too early? Would the baby need more help? Would she be ok?

My husband dropped me at the door to the hospital. He couldn’t come with me, and I ventured in alone. I worried that he might not make it back in time. How could I have our baby without him there?

The doctors checked me over while he got our daughter breakfast and got her off to school. The doctors made frowny faces and told me that the baby was the wrong way round. She was sat down, crossing her arms and legs, refusing to come out after making such a big fuss. I was scheduled for a “surprise” cesarian section for my surprise baby.

In the end, my husband made it, they gowned him up while they prepared my epidural. My second birth was vastly different from the first. The posh birth centre and warm tub were replaced with a giant needle in my spine and harsh overhead lights. My youngest daughter entered the world a bit early, but healthy.

They told me we would be in the hospital a week and the baby would be right next to me in her little plastic crib. She was perfect, adorable, and a terrible eater. It turns out 4 weeks early was a little too early for her and less than 24 hours later, they told me she needed to go to the Neo-Natal Unit.

A baby in the Neo-Natal Unit is worrisome enough in normal times, during a pandemic is even worse. My husband had been booted out of the hospital 2 hours after she was born. There were no visitors on the wards and only mothers were allowed to visit Neo-Natal. I visited her as often as I could until my 5 days were up. I went home without my baby.

We drove in to visit her every day. Every day my husband sat in the car park, and I went in to see her. Every day was a worry. I have been out in the world. Did I bring the virus with me? Don’t touch anything. Use all the sanitiser. Don’t let her touch anything that might have touched anything else.

You see tiny babies in the Neo-Natal. You worry if you might inadvertently bring the virus in on your visit. Neo-Natal nurses are some of the best people. They care for their flock of little ones with unending patience for babies and scared moms. The moms support each other. We all have similar worries and fears. Our hands are all chapped from excessive sanitiser.

My baby finally came home when she was 11 days old. Many babies stay much longer, and moms that were making the daily visits before me and would make them after I was home waved as we loaded her into her car seat.

Final thoughts

Navigating this pandemic hasn’t been easy, and the world is forever changed by it. So many questions are still unanswered. Will these vaccines keep us safe? How long will they last? Will things ever even be CLOSE to “normal?”

Bringing a new, vulnerable little human into this world was confusing, scary, and amazing. Even though this pandemic time pregnancy wasn’t what I expected or would have perhaps chosen, I am thankful every day that our little baby is here. I am thankful that we have two beautiful girls and that the universe gave us this incredible gift to help us get through these trying times.

When I look back on the year and everything that’s happened, I can’t process it. I lived it, but I still have a hard time realizing that it has been a whole year. I am not alone in being astounded that COVID has disrupted and changed our lives for so long.

I hope that a year from now, things are better. I hope that we can have little kid’s birthday parties again and that we will feel safe enough to let our toddler explore the world around her. I hope that in a year from now, we will be relieved instead of astounded. I hope we will look back on a year of finding what normal means now instead of sighing at a year of lockdown.

On March 13th, 2021 we had brunch at our kitchen table. The baby tried rice cereal and wasn’t sure what to think about it. We didn’t go for a walk by the river, but we made candles and laughed. We cried and mourned a life we missed out on over the last year. I held my 4-month-old baby and wondered at the journey we’ve had.

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Kelley A. Mussler

Kelley A. Mussler

I’m an exhausted parent, an American living in Ireland, an introverted bookworm and a tweeter of crappy haikus.