Postpartum in a Pandemic – pt.1
I’ve wanted to sit down and write for a while now, but I wanted to be in the right head space to do it. Tonight, as I was taking my evening bath to wash off the smell of spit-up, I realized that I have a 2 year-old, a 7 month old, and I’m living through a global pandemic that’s coinciding with one of the most frightening/controversial ends to a presidential term in modern American history……I’m not going to be in the right head space for a long time. I better just sit down and write.
I’m sitting at my dining room table. There are three Santa figurines staring at me. There’s a platter with a picture of a goose on it with snowflake decals resting on it. There is a pile of green placemats to my right from Christmas dinner. Putting away the Christmas decorations hasn’t been high on my list of priorities. What’s the point?
That question has popped up in my head more often in the last few months in regards to the little things. I’m sure a lot of people have had these thoughts as this uncertain time has raged on. Put decorations away, put on actual pants, get a shower? What’s the point?
Zach and the babies are my main “point.” They keep me smiling and occupied. Focusing on them during the day has helped. But, at night, when they’re asleep, my mind is infiltrated with the complete insanity that has been going on in the world (at least I assume they’re asleep, Lucy sometimes does an hour long stand up routine for her toys before settling down). I try to keep out the noise but I can’t. Yes, the reality of the world is scary, but as much as we want to, we can’t look away. A national health crisis combined with political and racial unrest is like a perfect storm of crazy. We can’t pretend it’s not happening. It’s easy to do because we are confined to our homes with endless entertainment at our fingertips. I watched the Crown so many days in a row I started thinking in a British accent. We have masterfully created a safe bubble, but it’s not healthy or responsible to pretend that everything is peachy keen. There are a lot of things going on that are much bigger than us that we need to give care and attention to.
When the world first stopped, I was 7 months pregnant with Zachary. I was more anxious than I had been in a while. I was on the edge of my seat every day. My jaw started hurting from clenching my teeth so much, so i had to wear my mouthguard at night. Yes, I’m one of those people who has a “night guard.” I look like I’m ready for a boxing match when I go to bed. I was paranoid about keeping Zach, Lucy, and my unborn baby safe. I rattled off all of my fears to Zach, to my parents, to my in-laws. Everyone was clear on how nervous I was about having a baby in a pandemic.
Postpartum is a thrilling and difficult time, especially with the first baby. Lucy’s situation was a bit wild. Best and worst few days of my existence. The highs and lows of the first couple of months were intense. I was a stranger to myself. I not only had to get to know my new baby, but I also had to get to know my new self. This new self had experienced joy and heart ache and joy again in a matter of days. My family had changed, but the world around me was unchanged. At least I could rely on family and friends and the stability of seeing them often to help guide me through my new journey.
Postpartum in a pandemic is a whole new roller coaster.
Birthing Zachary was the easiest part of 2020. He was more than ready to come into the world. Why? I don’t know. I told him again and again, “Little one, it is a shit show out here right now. You should stay where you are.”
In mid to late March, our president decided to tell us coronavirus was no big deal even though the scientists all over the world were like, “Yeah, this is a pretty huge deal.” How Fauci held himself together during those meetings, I will never know. During the day I threw my focus into the babies, and at night Zach and I would watch the news. Each night our leaders spread the virus of deceit as the coronavirus continued taking lives. No matter your political affiliation, you can’t deny the guy lied. He straight up told us he lied. He said on tape that he played it down to avoid panic. It’s obvious that tactic failed. It encouraged panic, hatred, and divisiveness at a time when we REALLY needed calm, kindness, and unity. It’s hard not to get political when the administration and the media politicized the virus and are still politicizing it. I can’t say it enough how grateful I am to be from a family of medical professionals who are on top of any type of health crisis. I’ll never forget, my dad said to us the first weekend our area shut down, “We all need to wear masks. We all need to distance. Life will not be the same for at least the next 18 months.”
Not only was there a pandemic raging, but racial unrest reached a peak. Three days before Zachary was born, George Floyd was murdered. His murder was a tipping point for the black community and beyond. The situation was tragic and disgraceful. As horrifying and graphic as the video is, I think it was important it was shown. He did not die in vain though. His death, along with the murders of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, called attention to so many similar situations that people of color deal with every damn day. Ahmaud was killed in February and Breonna in March. I am embarrassed to admit I had no idea until the summer that those murders happened, along with many others, and what’s worse is I know I am not alone in being unaware. Even the government seems to be doing very little, if anything meaningful at all, to address institutional racism. White people have either turned a blind eye to it or haven’t given it the time of day to educate themselves. I myself have allowed my privilege to get in the way of seeing how the world really is. I think of myself as an open, accepting person and I give credit to my parents for raising my brothers and I to be so. I have loved ones in my family who have experienced hardships because of the color of their skin that I and my children will never have to know and I thank them for sharing their experiences with us to keep us aware. I know there is room for growth and improvement. I welcome this growth and Zach and I are open and ready to learn how to be better as our babies grow and learn from us.
Floyd’s death sparked numerous civil rights protests across major cities. It was an eye opening experience. We need more than eye opening experiences though, we need real change. We need to listen, appreciate, and amplify black voices. As I have grown up, I have heard of racial tensions flaring up and then they seem to calm down and “go away.” But that is my ignorant assumption. I assume it’s all okay because it’s not in our faces. I don’t have to live it. We can’t keep perpetuating the same cycle.
As I was preparing to bring new life into the world, I was learning about so many mothers who mourned the wrongful deaths of their sons and daughters. I thought, damn, here I am trying to protect my babies from coronavirus, while mothers all over the country have been trying for decades to protect their babies from the virus that is racism. Being a mother has given me a new perspective on something I have always known was there.
There is so much happening at once that is much bigger than my family and I feel like to be responsible humans and parents that we need to stay abreast of what’s going on and figure out how we can contribute. That’s always going to be the case. There is always going to be something bigger going on, but all of this happening with a global pandemic, combined with postpartum feelings, it has hit hard. Everything is being put on the table. We need to sit down together and face it.
Society’s view of racism correlates with the views some have of the virus, if it’s not affecting them personally then it doesn’t matter or it’s not real. Our true nature has been revealed this year. It seems to be a singular nature of self preservation with little or no regard for our fellow human. But there is hope. People of all races and creeds making their voices heard in defense of their neighbors are proof of hope. The scientists who have told us the truth and who have developed vaccines in record time are proof. The dedicated healthcare workers are proof.
“When the news is scary, look for the helpers.”-Mr. Rogers
As the world erupted and summer forged on, my physical recovery from Zachary’s birth seemed to be much faster than my first time. The first two weeks postpartum, Zach had off from work. I got a lot of rest and bonding time with Zachary while big Zach tended to Lucy.
My body was bouncing back, but my head and my heart were all over the place. My heart was full with the love for my growing family, but simultaneously it ached because I couldn’t share my joy in the manner in which I was accustomed. My head was spinning with what could happen if anyone in my circle caught the virus. There was still a lot unknown. With each week, my dad and brothers gave us insight and updates on what to do and how to proceed.
The day I brought Zachary home, I didn’t let my parents hold him. I kept them at a distance and made them wait a few days. I trusted that they were okay, but I was afraid. I was afraid we could have brought something home from the hospital. My biggest fear outside of Zachary getting something was my parents getting sick. I don’t know what I would do if something happened to them. I had to proceed with the utmost caution. It took so much energy to do that. Zach’s parents didn’t come down until Zachary was a week old. If everything were normal, they would have been there the day he was born. This was their second grandchild and they had to meet him wearing hospital gowns and masks.
We spent a lot of alone time just the four of us through Zachary’s first couple months. We began to look at it as a blessing that we didn’t have to run off to different places every weekend. I was able to establish a routine and time did seem to go fast. My mom was able to visit safely and my aunt Clare started a routine of taking Lucy out for walks while I got situated with Zachary. Everybody else saw Zachary through the windows or FaceTime calls.
I didn’t cry very much those first few weeks, which surprised me. Crying, whether it’s happy or sad crying, is like an essential part of postpartum. I cried a heck of a lot before he was born. But at a time when I was experiencing a combo of the “baby blues,” pandemic fear, and guilt about keeping people at a distance, I didn’t cry. I can remember a friend of mine telling me that she felt so overwhelmed about everything, but she couldn’t bring herself to cry. It made me realize that I felt the same way. So much had already happened in the outside world that I think I was stuck in fight or flight mode. I couldn’t let my emotions get the best of me because I needed to be ready and on constant guard to keep my family safe. I felt that way for months. I felt confused and completely unsure of the future. I had felt this way for a time in the past and I do not like who I am when I feel that way. Working through those feelings while holding it together for my babies and for Zach is a chore, but I think the important thing that helped me was I talked it out with Zach, often.
I could tell around August/September that everything was starting to hit Zach. One night he told me he felt like he had nothing to look forward to and he felt guilty for feeling that way because he had two growing babies and he was so grateful we were home and safe together. His job was not affected by the pandemic other than the location. He set up his office in our “library” room on the 2nd floor. But he couldn’t kick that feeling of dread. He said every day felt the same. Get up, get coffee, say hi to me and the babies, go upstairs to work. Then when he was done, he’d come down, have dinner, play with the babies, and then it was their bedtime. Everything he did was inside the house. Every day, the same thing.
I had been wondering when it would finally kick in for him. I was used to the “being home a lot” part since I am a stay at home mom. Repetitive days are my jam, but not going places was getting rough. I tried to keep my visits to mom’s house short and limited through the summer. We visited the pool if nobody was there. My parents held just a couple outdoor gatherings, but even then I kept Zachary in his carseat away from everyone. I felt so sad doing this. What was the point of going out if I had to be in another room or sit alone across the deck with him the whole time? We didn’t visit the shore until the end of August. My mom said the other day how it didn’t seem like Zachary was an infant for very long. It’s because everyone hardly saw him as an infant. I was operating out of fear, which in retrospect I could have eased up. But being fresh from having a baby, my wiring was short circuiting. I could not let myself calm down. I kept thinking that as soon as I relax something would happen.
Knowing that Zach was going through similar feelings as me was helpful in figuring out how to keep our spirits up. Saying out loud “I’m unhappy and I can’t figure this out” is the first step in helping yourself feel better. Because ultimately it’s YOU who makes YOU happy. Yes, your partner or family can bring you joy and help you feel fulfilled, but YOU make the personal decision every day to be happy or be miserable. I learned that the year I had miscarriages. I chose to be miserable a lot that year. I became detached from everyone and allowed myself to be lost in pity even though everyone did their best to cheer me up and include me. I didn’t feel better until I realized I was the one keeping myself down.
Thinking about people who don’t have the kind of outlets I have makes me so sad. There are many individuals across the nation who struggle with mental illness. These people were left behind or disregarded before the pandemic. I can’t imagine their struggle now. The isolation of the virus has been so detrimental to those individuals. Mental illness is another societal issue that has been brought to the forefront by coronavirus.
After Zach and I hashed out our feelings and came to terms with the fact that life was going to be different longer than we planned, we felt better. We felt more at ease as new information was learned. His parents were able to visit safely a few times over the summer, which helped ease the monotony and take our minds off the real world. My family figured out ways to be together safely as well.
My birthday was September 30th. Zach organized a birthday parade for me, which was sweet. My brothers and their wives, my parents, and aunts brought balloons and poster boards. We should go into a birthday parade business with all the parades we have been doing since the pandemic began. I always love my birthday and though it was weird this year, it still felt special.
Lucy turned 2 on October 24th. I felt anxious because I wanted to give her a special day as safely as possible. Everyone kept saying not to worry because she wouldn’t remember it, but I wanted to create a joyful day that was unique compared to the hum drum we were living. Even though the world was in disarray, we were able to celebrate her big day. We planned Zachary’s baptism for the same weekend. I figured if we felt safe enough to have a party for Lucy, we might as well celebrate Zachary too. My mom and dad graciously hosted Lucy’s birthday party. Our immediate families attended and the weather was perfect. I think it was close to 75 degrees that day, so we were able to spend a majority of the time outside. When we were inside we all wore masks. Lucky Lucy had a great afternoon with her cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. She knew the day was for her.
The following day we had Zachary’s baptism. It was us, the priest, both sets of grandparents, and the Godparents. Again, it wasn’t the large crowd we were used to, but the intimacy of it made it feel all the more spiritual. I hadn’t been to church in a long time because of the virus. When we walked in I felt this overwhelming sense of calm. It was like we stepped out of reality for an hour and we are able to focus specifically on Zachary. We were able to cancel out the noise and we allowed ourselves to breathe easy.
Come November, Zach’s parents were able to visit for his birthday weekend. The virus was getting worse and the travel restrictions for both Massachusetts and Pennsylvania were tightening up, so that was their last visit of the year. It was a good way to head into the holiday season.
The holidays brought on some new anxiety. We were upset about not being with family, especially Zach because he doesn’t see his often in normal times. But we focused on the positives and tried to keep our perspectives fresh. We made the firm decision it would be best to stay home for the holiday season, all across the board. We’re fortunate enough that we are probably never going to be completely alone for a holiday again. We will either be traveling or hosting, so we took advantage of having a quiet meal. Thanksgiving was nice. Zach cooked while I tended to the kids. We did a sides exchange with my family so I was able to stop by my mom and dad’s house to drop off food and give a holiday greeting. We did a zoom hangout with Zach’s family. It was different, but the kids are at an age where they love being home. We took some nice family photos just like we would any other year.
For Christmas, it was our year to travel to Amesbury. We made the tough decision that it wasn’t safe for us to travel. My family was up in the air about what to do for Christmas. My mom had the idea of making sandwiches for everyone and having the families come in shifts to open presents. The conversation was back and forth for a few weeks.
December 18th the babies and I visited my mom and dad in the late afternoon. It was like a typical visit that we had been doing. I had been trying to visit when nobody else was there as to not overcrowd them or expose the babies to too many people. We didn’t have our masks on. My dad was in the living room most of the visit doing work. My mom ordered pizza and we sat in different parts of the living room and ate.
About 20 minutes before we left, I handed Zachary to my dad so I could get things ready. I packed the kids up and we went home. The next morning I was preparing cookies that I was going to drive down to Zach’s sister later in the afternoon.
My phone rang.
It was my dad.
“Did you go to Sarah’s yet?”
“No, we are doing that later today. Why?”
“Don’t go. I tested positive for Covid.”
TO BE CONTINUED…