Am I having a boy or a girl? Is baby on track growth-wise? What color should I paint the nursery? Wait, was that a kick or indigestion? As soon as you receive a positive pregnancy test, it’s next to impossible to shut out the endless stream of questions running through your head — and if you’re a first-time mom, that uncertainty is tenfold. When I found out I was expecting in November 2019, I was equal parts ecstatic and anxious, wondering how on earth I was going to grow a tiny human being inside of me, nonetheless bring it into this world.
Thankfully, my first trimester was uneventful. Baby was getting glowing reviews during her check-ups while I was enjoying daily naps and extra helpings of carbs. My husband, Nate, and I decided to stay hush-hush about our growing family until the end of January, so when it came time for the big reveal, we couldn’t wait to tell people in person. However, soon after we began to share the good news, there was another story popping up around town — a little one about a respiratory disease named COVID-19. Like others, I didn’t think too much of it at first, but as the toilet paper aisle at Publix began to look sparse and you couldn’t find hand sanitizer to save your life, I began to realize that maybe this whole coronavirus thing wasn’t going away anytime soon. Still, I kept telling myself: It’ll just be a few weird weeks. I never thought my baby girl would be born into a world where a pandemic was still raging. Needless to say, that notion didn’t age well.
Bumping Along Through Quarantine
Since I typically work from home, my day-to-day life wasn’t too disrupted when the lockdown began in March, and overall, being pregnant during quarantine was a fairly ideal situation. First off, I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything — no parties or dinners where I was stuck wishing I was (a) having a glass of wine or (b) home with my feet up — and I didn’t feel bad making Nate stay home to watch Netflix (again) with me. Plus, with nothing to do, I had plenty of “nesting” time. All the organization tasks I hoped to accomplish were more doable than ever, but I did find it annoying that I couldn’t shop in person. And on top of that, everything online was back-ordered. Note to expecting mamas: The earlier you can order things, the better!
As the weeks went by and my baby grew from the size of a walnut to a pear, I started to realize how weird it was that no one had seen my burgeoning bump. When I first found out I was expecting, I was excited to become that cute pregnant person in my barre class or out and about shopping. Unfortunately, with self-isolation, there was none of that, including zero need for maternity clothes (which maybe was a blessing?). By the time I decided my tummy was big enough to warrant a social media announcement, it had been months since I had gotten properly dressed. When I finally put on a real outfit that didn’t include leggings, it made me realize just how sad I was that I couldn’t show off my changing body. And let’s be serious, that sought-after pregnancy glow doesn’t translate nearly as well over Zoom or an Instagram post.
There was also a big, looming question mark surrounding my baby shower. Originally scheduled for May with an alternate date in June, there was a period of time when I wasn’t sure if the celebration would even happen. As a first-time mom, I always imagined having a shower, and while petty, it was hard to wrap my head around the idea of not having one. Questions like Is it safe? or Will people think I’m selfish? were just a smattering of my concerns. By the time the backup date rolled around, things in Florida appeared to be improving. Ultimately, I decided to go ahead with it, but the entire shower was moved outdoors with boxed lunches, tables 6 feet apart and a station packed with gloves, masks and hand sanitizer. Who needs party favors when you have PPE?
While a few guests understandably declined, I ended up having a lovely celebration. However, even after having a safe and socially distant shower, I still had a COVID-19 cloud hanging over me. I was so terrified that I’d hear about someone getting sick because of me or that I’d end up being guilty of hosting a super-spreader event. Unfortunately, that was just the tip of my anxiety iceberg.
As my due date got closer, I began obsessing about what would happen if my husband or I had COVID-19 when I checked into the hospital. I couldn’t shake how horrible it must be to deliver alone, and the mere thought of giving birth solo sent me into a tailspin. Without fail, I asked about Winnie Palmer’s guest policy at every single appointment, confirming again and again that Nate would be allowed in the room with me. It didn’t make me feel any better that partners were banned from most OB appointments. While I felt thankful that Nate was by my side for the exciting doctor’s visits like the “you’re officially pregnant” sonogram and the anatomy scan, my heart broke for the first-time moms who weren’t able to share those special moments with their significant other.
It’s a Girl!
At the recommendation of my doctor, I ended up scheduling an induction. Not only was it daunting to know that on July 1, I would be leaving my house with a pregnant belly for the last time, but it was also nerve-wracking that I had two weeks to remain COVID-19-free. I couldn’t stop stressing that I’d somehow test positive despite going into full-blown quarantine mode. Even the slightest headache or symptom sent me into a downward spiral, and if you’ve ever been pregnant, you know just how many weird symptoms you experience daily. When the day finally came, I crossed all my fingers that our self-isolating had paid off. Luckily, it did. I was negative, so my nightmare of being in the COVID-19 ward was off the table.
While I’ll spare the details of the actual delivery, it was so strange bringing a baby into a pandemic-ravaged world. During my stay at Winnie Palmer, every time a nurse came into my room, there was a mask-on policy. I also learned that if I can labor with a mask, it’s not too much to ask others to wear one at the grocery store. But the hardest part wasn’t wearing a mask; it was not being able to have visitors. Both my parents and in-laws were first-time grandparents, so it was devastating not being able to share their precious granddaughter with them immediately. I had always imagined my mom and dad in the waiting room with Nate running out to let them know she had been born. Instead, pictures and FaceTime had to suffice. Months later, I still feel sad that they missed out on that huge part of the birth, but I do feel grateful that they were able to meet my daughter soon after she was born. I have a few friends whose parents still have not met their grandbaby due to the fear of traveling, which must be so disappointing for them.
Both sets of grandparents met my daughter when we arrived home, but everyone wore a mask when holding the baby. Our baby mask mandate lasted for about two months for immediate family, but it’s still in effect for anyone else who wants to hold sweet Jackie. I can only imagine what her little brain must think with everyone’s face partially covered up!
Masks were just the beginning. It was a bizarre feeling to finally admit to myself that my first go at motherhood would be anything but normal. Even simple things like going to Target had me questioning whether it was safe. Beyond practical concerns, new moms have taken a hit socially too. Support groups and classes for new moms have been few and far between, so finding camaraderie has been infinitely harder than it would normally be. Even some of our good friends haven’t met our daughter yet, but that’s just the unfortunate reality we’re living in.
While arguably there’s never been a more stressful time to have a baby, there have been a few benefits. The biggest one? Quality time with dad. In a COVID-19-free world, my husband would’ve only been at home with Jackie and me for two weeks; instead, he was at home with us for close to five months. In those first few weeks — the ones where life is a total blur of feedings, diapers and sleepless nights — he was able to really be present, not just to help me, but to watch his daughter grow up daily. For that, I feel eternally grateful.
Another aspect is that COVID-19 has taken the pressure off. Without our usual bustling calendar of commitments, I don’t have to choose between booking a sitter or hanging out with my little munchkin. Trust me, while sometimes I wish I could be traveling again or attending parties, the anxiety of leaving her at home is nonexistent. We’re just living in Newborn Land, and you know what? That’s OK. Everyone says you’ll miss the baby stage, so that’s what I keep telling myself. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll long for these endless nights stuck at home and covered in spit-up. Either way, Jackie is going to have a lot to read about in her baby book when she grows up — and when it’s finally safe to throw a party, she’s going to have one heck of a sip and see.