Having a Baby During a Pandemic
They say it takes a village to raise a child. What happens when the village is under lockdown?
Before my wife, Amy, got pregnant with our third child in November 2019, we deliberated long and hard. How would adding a third kid alter our family dynamic? Could we afford it on my income alone, allowing my wife to stay at home with the kids, as we preferred? Could we fit another person in our cozy, three-bedroom, one-bathroom house? How much harder would it be to give our children personal attention? We thought we’d considered all the variables. Then, in the middle of Amy’s second trimester, a global pandemic broke out.
This was a variable we had not considered.
When our baby was conceived, reports of a plague springing up on the other side of the world were still a few weeks off. We knew adding a third kid would be difficult. But with a deadly, contagious virus wreaking havoc on society, our equation was fundamentally altered. What kind of world would we be bringing this child into?
The mystery was the most unsettling part. On top of common uncertainty about how the virus spread and how deadly it could be, we were terrified about what would happen to the baby if Amy got sick. And even if we managed to complete the pregnancy without contracting the novel coronavirus, how much more dangerous would planet Earth be for our expanded family? Would the bottom fall out on us, financially speaking? Life was tense and anxiety-ridden for everyone in those early locked-down months, and as expectant parents we sometimes found ourselves expecting the worst.
Even as we learned how to mitigate COVID risks and some of the nightmare scenarios started to recede from our imaginations, the pandemic continued to affect our pregnancy experience in myriad ways. Shortly before the world changed, I was able to attend the ultrasound that revealed we were having a boy. But Amy was soon barred from bringing anyone with her to OB/GYN checkups. She described a waiting room full of masked, lonely women with no one present to celebrate milestones or comfort them in the event of bad news.
We were desperate to make sure Amy would not face labor and delivery in isolation. A positive COVID test or even symptoms would prevent me from being there for the baby’s birth, which provided extra motivation to live carefully. So I wore my mask, even in outdoor scenarios where transmission risk was low. We kept our kids from a friend’s birthday party, although it hurt. Somehow, we managed not to explode at those who were careless—although there’s a special kind of contempt reserved for people who let their nose hang out of their mask at the grocery store when such flippancy might block you from witnessing your son’s first breaths.
When the day finally came in August, the childbirth experience was just different enough that it would have seemed eerie to a time traveler from before the pandemic. There’s always some looming dread during labor, a traumatic passage during which so much could go wrong, but it was worse this time around. Rather than wander the halls to move the labor along, Amy was required to stay in the room. I could only leave briefly to grab food from downstairs—and if I exited the hospital, I wouldn’t be able to reenter until after midnight due to the policy of one guest per day.
Adding an extra degree of difficulty to one of life’s most painful tasks, Amy had to keep her mask on while birthing the baby. When her epidural didn’t take, the physical strain became even more extreme, and her mask ended up soaked with sweat as she breathed and pushed.
But the COVID-era restrictions yielded unexpected benefits during recovery. We’d have loved for our daughters to meet their brother in the hospital, but the no-visitors policy was also a blessing. No hurt feelings about who does or doesn’t get an invite, no obligation to socialize with guests, despite your exhaustion. Just two whole days of resting and getting to know the little guy.
Similarly, there may be no better time to be stuck at home with a newborn than during a pandemic that is keeping the rest of the world at home, too. As the cold weather approached and backyard hangouts became untenable, there was very little to do except spend quality time at home with the baby. The pandemic has given me an abundance of face time with the kid. Sometimes masked-face time, too, though those moments were a reminder of how much of a child’s development is tied to facial expressions. In Isaiah’s first few months of life, he would stare blankly at me until I revealed my whole face, at which point he flashed the biggest baby smile you’ve ever seen.
He does that a lot. As far as I can tell, the boy has handled life during COVID extremely well. He is hitting his developmental milestones. He hasn’t been sick in any significant way. He gets out of the house every day. I’d certainly like him to have more socialization than he’s had so far, but it feels like his first year could be going so much worse.
Perhaps being born into a global pandemic is not going to scar him, after all.
Not that it has all been smooth sailing. We were back in the hospital just days after being discharged, because Amy came down with an infection, a scary experience. I was asked to wait in the parking garage with the baby or go home during the patient intake process. Eventually, my extremely upset wife convinced a kind hospital employee to let me stay in an unoccupied lobby area to minimize the distance between mother and child. She was worried she’d miss the baby’s feeding and mess up her milk supply.
Meanwhile, I fretted about leaving her side when she could be suffering a life-threatening ailment. It gave me a sober appreciation for the suffering of people who drop their loved ones off at the COVID ward, not knowing if it’s the last time they’ll ever see each other face to face. Thankfully, Isaiah and I were able to get into the room with Amy in time for his feeding, and, having ruled out the most severe possibilities, the doctor discharged her that night with a prescription for antibiotics.
People have told me that the transition from two to three children is easier than going from zero to one, or one to two. This is a lie. For me, the leap from two to three was by far the most treacherous. Your first kid rocks your world, but a couple can pass one child between them to give each other breaks. With a second baby, two parents can still divide and conquer. With three young kids, you are hopelessly outnumbered.
Managing all three of these chaos agents at once is tough when both of us are mobilized, and it’s much tougher to pull off solo. When my 5-year-old and 3-year-old refuse to follow my instructions, or when they erupt in a violent shouting match over who gets which seat at the dinner table, I normally opt to physically intervene. This is essentially impossible when I’m holding an infant to stop him from crying. I quickly learned how seriously they took my commands—which is to say, not very.
The pandemic compounded the pressure-cooker effect. To protect the newborn from COVID, we were limiting even outdoor play dates and not relying on our friends and family for help nearly as often as we usually would. For a few weeks there, it was just the five of us stuck at home, sometimes driving each other insane.
So, of course we decided this was the perfect time to move.
Remember that cozy three-bedroom, one-bathroom house? As soon as we brought the baby home, we realized it was a bit too cozy for a family of five. The real estate market was booming despite the pandemic—or maybe because of it—so we figured the time was right to sell. Our close friends had just purchased a house in a neighborhood we liked, and there was another spacious option just down the street. Presuming we’d have no problem selling our home, we put in an offer, leaving us with two mortgages.
Why did we do this to ourselves at such a moment? Perhaps being trapped inside for half a year had changed our perspective on our living space. Maybe moving seemed like a productive use of months that might otherwise have felt like wasted time. Whatever our reasons, it turns out preparing your house to go on the market is exponentially more difficult when you have to tend to an infant and his siblings and a global pandemic has pared down the list of people you can call for help. For similar reasons, getting the new house into shape was more time-consuming than I expected. And when our home did not sell right away, an unbearable tension set in over our family.
That joyous baby smile was one of the only reprieves from our self-induced stress—a reminder that in this era of death and despair, our family had been blessed with new life and good health. This baby that so complicated the pandemic era for our family ultimately helped us to survive it.
At long last, the old house sold. We are slowly but surely getting the new house organized. The arrival of vaccines has ignited some optimism. Hopefully, the next phase of our little boy’s life will be a lot calmer than the tumultuous moment he was born into–and maybe, if we’re really lucky, he’ll grow up as blissfully unaware of COVID-19 as we were when he was conceived