This is a happy story with a happy ending. I have my beautiful rainbow baby girl, and she is happy and healthy. That is ultimately all that matters here. But amidst all of the joy that swooped in when she arrived six weeks early at the end of January is another story. The story of what it has been like for me to bring home a baby and be a newly postpartum mother during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our Early Arrival
My daughter was born on January 21, 2020. This is also believed to be the date that the first COVID-19 case in the United States, and here in Seattle, was confirmed. My water broke six weeks early, and after four days of “keeping her in” at the hospital, I was induced and gave birth unmedicated five hours later. I pushed for nearly four minutes, and it only took that long because my doula and OB told me to stop pushing so everyone could get in place. Long story short, our girl seemed ready to make her entrance into our lives. I lost our first daughter almost exactly 1 year prior at 23 weeks. Suffice to say, we were ready to meet this baby, too.
She was born tiny but incredibly strong, and our three weeks in the NICU were spent focusing on developing her stamina and skills for breastfeeding and ensuring she was gaining weight well. We were discharged on February 10 with the advice to isolate Lou in our home as much as possible until at least her March 3 due date since we were in the midst of cold and flu season and she was a preemie baby. And here we are nearly three months later, still at home.
Imagination vs. Reality
My therapist told me last week during our tele-session that the primary demographic of clients she has that have reported their lives haven’t changed incredibly much because of the Stay at Home ordinances in our state are stay at home and work from home mothers. My life has, in many ways, looked much like I imagined. Long, tiring days filled with special moments and lots of dirty laundry. Learning (and mostly struggling) to juggle my remote, full-time job as a creative director with being a mom to a new baby. Feeling lost in my new, softer postpartum body and frustrated at my lack of time, energy, and willpower to do anything about it. Feeling eager to spend my time snuggling a sleepy, smiley baby, and easily choosing it over social activities or self-care.
What I didn’t expect was to not be able to take her on long walks at the state park near our home. Or, introduce her to… anyone. I didn’t foresee not being able to have family and friends visit and help us during this huge time of transition and overwhelm. I thought the cleaning service I hired would be able to take one huge thing off my plate for these first few months. I didn’t anticipate living in fear that my husband and I could lose our jobs and financial security at such a pivotal time in our lives. I couldn’t predict how often I would need to set aside my own grief and processing about what is happening in the world around me so that I could focus on my little one.
Instead, I had imagined warm spring days sitting at sidewalk cafes with our girl, having everyone that walked by stop and gush over how beautiful and cute she is. And taking a trip to Paris this fall when she’s at that perfect age to still sleep through a long leisurely lunch in my arms. Friends and family traveling to see us and swinging by for a little “Lou” time. She’ll only be this age once, and it often feels like we’re missing out on everything that could have been.
Balancing Joy with Sorrow
I spent most of 2019 grieving the loss of our first daughter. I learned how to sit in it, dwell on it, come nose to nose with it. And I feel the reach of grief coming for me again as I think about all of the “could haves,” “would haves,” and “should haves” for what I imagined in this first year of Lou’s life.
But then, as I sit at our dining table writing this, I hear my husband in the kitchen showing our three-month-old daughter an orange, asking her to feel it, smell it, see it. It’s the simplest of interactions, but I can’t help the huge wave of joy that washes over me as I overhear this sweet little moment between them. I imagine her face, taking in yet another brand new sight, enamored by her father’s voice. But just because something is beautiful doesn’t mean it can’t be hard. And it is really hard to be a brand new mother. Compounding that very hard job with a global pandemic is even scarier, uncharted territory.
Nothing about motherhood is what you expect. Even the amount of love you imagine you will have for your baby pales in comparison to reality. You come to know things you can only learn through the process of experiencing them. So, you can’t anticipate the outcome of something that changes you completely. And this pandemic, just like becoming a parent, has changed life as we know it.
Looking Forward with a New Perspective
We will look back one day on these early, exhausting, magical, strange months with our baby during such a significant time in our world’s history and yes, we’ll reflect on the things that made it so challenging. But we will also talk about her first smiles, the funny books and illustrations she would study intently as she learned to take in the world around her, and the squishy, sleepy, messy joy of getting to know our daughter. Thinking about this future reflection reminds me to live in the present moment and take it all in, because if I live in the world of “coulds, shoulds, and woulds,” I will miss the joy that is there amidst the sorrow and strain of this time.
So, I let myself, as often as I can, walk around in Lou’s little mind. A place where there is no knowledge of the pandemic, no financial stress, no anxiety, no self-consciousness. Instead, there is love, learning, growing, and life lived in the present.