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Welcoming My First Baby During the Covid-19 Pandemic

M.M.'s Brand Editor had her daughter on March 5, as the world went into lockdown. Here, she shares what it’s like to care for a newborn in the midst of a pandemic.

By Caitlin Abber

Mornings with my newborn daughter, Simone, are my favorite part of the day. Though exhausted, I wake up excited to see her face in the sunlight. I take her out of her crib, check her diaper, and bring her into the bed with me and my husband. There, she nurses for as long as she wants, falling in and out of sleep. At some point, my husband goes to make coffee and then climbs back into bed with us. We talk to her and to each other, stroke her soft hair, listen to music, and it feels like the bed is a tiny island for just the three of us, separate from the rest of the world. We can hear the ambulance sirens just outside the window, but here in our bed, the virus can’t touch us.

“In a very short amount of time, Covid-19 has changed so much about being pregnant, giving birth, and becoming a parent.”

When I gave birth to Simone on March 5, Covid-19 was just creeping into our consciousness, but it hadn’t yet enveloped New York City. In fact, at the hospital, it was as if there wasn’t any virus at all. My doula and my husband were able to be with me the entire time I was in labor, and in the recovery room, nurses and doctors fluttered in and out, touched me and the baby, and breathed all around us without any concern. During the two days we spent in the hospital, my husband and I kept remarking how lucky we were—that the birth was relatively easy, that Simone was healthy, that we had so much love between us. Looking back now though, I realize we had missed a beat. One of the luckiest parts of our story is that she came when she did. Had Simone arrived even a week later, things may have looked completely different. My sister-in-law, who is due any day now, is waiting to see if her Alabama hospital will even allow her husband in the room. Friends who are due one or two months from now are looking into home births. And my doula, to whom I owe Simone’s beautiful, drug-free birthing process, has redone her website to emphasize her video and chat offerings, as New York hospitals are now allowing only one support person in the delivery room. In a very short amount of time, Covid-19 has changed so much about being pregnant, giving birth, and becoming a parent.

It has also changed what having a newborn and being on maternity leave is like. On normal maternity leave, I would be washing my hands frequently, but not obsessively. I’d be ordering diapers online, but not because I was concerned Amazon might run out. I’d be connecting with friends and family, but not because I would want to make sure everyone is healthy. I’d feel disconnected from work and miss my coworkers, but I wouldn’t be worried about their health. My heart wouldn’t race every time my husband took the dog for a walk, and I certainly would not be Lysoling every package or takeout container that came into the house. I wouldn’t be watching so much MSNBC. I wouldn’t be feeling Simone’s forehead every few hours for the slightest increase in temperature. I would be shopping for baby clothes instead of baby masks. I would be exhausted and perhaps frazzled, but not in the way I am now, where I am straddling the euphoria of having a newborn and the sheer terror of living through a pandemic.

“I am straddling the euphoria of having a newborn and the sheer terror of living through a pandemic.”

I also might not be so sad. Yes, there is a sadness that comes along with new motherhood (some women get it worse than others), but the sadness I’m feeling now is different from anything I’ve read on postpartum depression. It comes in waves when I remember all the things we’re missing out on, like friends and family dropping by with casseroles or the ability to plop her in the stroller and take her for a walk. And then it gets more intense when I think about how much worse things could be—or how much worse it could still get. To be sure, I am so grateful for our health and the health of our loved ones, our ability to buy groceries, our jobs and security. But when I think about the first month of Simone’s life and the next months, or perhaps year, to follow, it’s hard to comprehend the time we won’t get back and what is still yet to come. The majority of our friends and family, including two sets of her grandparents, still haven’t met Simone in person. It has just been the three of us (and a lot of FaceTiming). Sometimes I think about saving her onesies in Ziploc bags so I can preserve the new baby smell in case our family misses the opportunity to smell it for themselves. And the hardest part about this—the thing I can’t say out loud—is that we don’t know when anyone will meet her, and that every day we hold our breath hoping no one gets sick so they still can.

I’ve had to adjust all the fantasies I had of a blissful, springtime maternity leave. I won’t be taking Simone to any toy stores, stopping by my favorite coffee shop, or meeting up with other new moms. Even taking her for her routine checkups at the pediatrician is a big question mark. Everything is on hold until further notice, and for now, all we can do—me, Simone, and my husband—is live in our apartment, and make the most of it.

Thankfully, I find this baby completely intoxicating, and taking care of her is a respite from the gruesome headlines and infuriating politics of this moment. I spend all day feeding her, washing and folding her tiny clothes, organizing her things, and sanitizing pacifiers and pump parts. I create activities for her, like rattle-time, photoshoots for the grandparents, and music hour, even though she’s a newborn and she just wants to eat and sleep. Obsessing over her is a fulltime job—but it’s also a way to distract myself. There’s nothing simpler and more pure than keeping this tiny human alive, and if I get caught up in the news about the virus, I miss out on being fully present in this time with her that I’ll never get back. It’s survival, but it’s also self-care. I need her right now as much as she needs me. And so we go on as if everything is normal, as if this is the only life any of us know.

“Thankfully, I find this baby completely intoxicating, and taking care of her is a respite from the gruesome headlines and infuriating politics of this moment.”

I anticipated that becoming a mother would change my whole world. I anticipated that certain things, like my social life, personal space, and the ability to wear clothes not covered in spit-up would become less of a concern. I anticipated that I’d be flooded with a new kind of love—a love so overpowering that it would dwarf any previous use of the word itself. I anticipated that some days I would grieve the loss of the life I had before. I even anticipated that some days I would feel angry for bringing something so vulnerable into the world, and with it, creating something so vulnerable in myself. What I could not have anticipated was that, at the exact same time I was becoming a mother and irrevocably changing my entire world, the larger world would be in the midst of a pandemic, and thus forever changing too. But navigating new motherhood during Covid-19 means navigating a new reality that is uncertain above all else, and in order to be a good mother for Simone, I have to be okay with that. In order to protect her, to nurture and nourish her, I need to embrace the stillness, the white noise, and whatever comes next—especially if it’s just another beautiful morning together.

Caitlin Abber

Written By

Caitlin Abber

Caitlin Abber is the Brand Editor at M.M. LaFleur, and an award-winning writer and content creator. Over the last decade she has held senior editorial positions at MTV, Women's Health, Public Radio International, and Bustle, and has bylines at InStyle and OprahMag.com.

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