I expected to feel relieved when I finally met my newborn son — even if we were in the midst of a global pandemic. And I did feel immediate relief, namely that he was born safely, but I also felt unimaginable grief for what would be our family’s loss of many of the traditional newborn experiences. And then I braced myself for an onslaught of anxiety. After all, suddenly here I was with a newborn IN A GLOBAL GERMFEST. It seemed unavoidable that the first few months — and maybe more — would be a time of isolation and uneasiness for me.
But now that I’m a month in, I can say that while I have felt those things, our reality is far different than I could have predicted, and even some of our disappointments and challenges have come with a silver lining. Here’s a little taste of what our world is like right now.
We aren’t connected to our village.
Nobody is visiting. With my previous children, we had a constant stream of people stopping by or asking to come over, and I was very busy coordinating visits from friends and family. It was fun to show off the babes, but it also meant I had to be on. I felt like my house had to be relatively tidy, I couldn’t smell, take a nap, or lounge in my nursing bra and granny panties. I had to weigh whether to fumble with a breastfeeding cover-up or whip out my giant nipples in front of family, friends, and even mild acquaintances. I had to try to find clothes that fit my newly-shaped body or wash spit up stains out of the dirty ones. So although I miss our village so much and can’t wait to one day force my adorable baby on them, it has actually been nice to have a reason why people can’t drop by unannounced. We’ve found alternative ways of connecting and getting support—video chats, quick catch-ups through the glass storm door, food left on our porch—that may not be as intimate as having visitors over, but that aren’t as stressful either. I try to remind myself this isn’t forever, so in the meantime I can enjoy not having to share my baby snuggles.
We don’t go anywhere.
With the births of my other children, I pushed to return to normal life quickly. Everything I did before baby I kept doing — I simply attached a small human to myself while doing it. My first two babies came on mountain hikes and coffee outings. I even wore my babies to girls’ nights out, being careful not to spill wine on them. I convinced myself that the quick return to normalcy would alleviate postpartum anxieties. I’m not sure if it did. This time around, in the age of COVID, I’ve barely left the house, with or without my newborn. Aside from walks around the neighborhood, most of our time has been spent in our home or backyard. I was so sure that being housebound would increase my risk of postpartum complications, but, honestly, I’ve kind of enjoyed staying put. My life moves slower right now. If I need a break, I hide out in the basement or go on a walk alone. Being at home has allowed me to relax and stay calm.
The older kids are home.
All. The. Time. This has been the most difficult adjustment for all of us; like many families, we’ve never spent this much time together. I was supposed to get a month of maternity leave with the baby while the kids were finishing the school year. I’d made a list of the shows I was going to binge while endlessly breastfeeding and rocking baby to sleep. I had a stack of neglected books to read and article ideas to write. Well, those things are still neglected, and I’ve instead mastered the art of breastfeeding while walking around trying to locate my screaming children. And the adjustment isn’t easy for them either. They miss going to school and seeing their friends and taking trips to parks, the zoo, and splash-pads. It’s stressful being at home with three kids with three different never-ending sets of needs. We could all use a break. At the same time, a part of me appreciates that I no longer have the added chaos of packing them up and getting them to school or camp on time each day. We have no schedule we have to adhere to and I appreciate the looseness.
The city is opening back up.
I thought I’d be excited for restrictions to be lifted. I could sign my older kids up for summer activities, we could put our zoo membership back to use, sit on the patio of a restaurant. Instead, I hate that everything is opening back up. It’s scary. Because we have a newborn, we don’t feel comfortable going back to “normal” just yet, even if other people are. It means the kids aren’t headed back to gymnastics this week and I’ve been rehearsing the conversation we’ll have when they realize that and the neighborhood playground and pool are open again, they’re just not allowed to go. Life was easier when caution tape surrounded the park. The guilt was lessened when I wasn’t the reason for them missing things. As we watch the numbers rise in our state all over again, I get more and more nervous about what normal will look like with a newborn.
There was no definitive guide for being pregnant during a pandemic and there certainly isn’t one for parenting a newborn during one. The CDC and my pediatrician don’t have definitive recommendations so I am just having to figure out what works for my family — and I do this through the very real disappointment I feel for all the “newborn things” that aren’t happening this time around. But allowing myself to consider the upsides hidden in each of these disappointments has allowed me to find some brightness in these surreal times. It is undeniably tough to be a parent right now, but finding appreciation is not entirely impossible and—along with wine and cookies—is keeping me grounded.