The day after my office sent us all home due to the pandemic, our baby was born.
The WHO had only declared COVID-19 a pandemic a few days earlier. At work, we had spent much of the week cancelling travel and training, sending apologies that – had they been texts – would have ended in the shrug emoji. What are you going to do?
On the Friday, we had the double-punch of the office shutting down and the schools planning an extended closure. An extra two weeks of March break. An extra two weeks, if all went to plan, for the girls to spend with their baby sister before returning to school. And I would be there, as well – at least for a little while, working remotely until Public Health changed their guidance about office spaces.
About twelve hours after I finished packing up my desk, we were on the phone with triage at the hospital. We were sure that the baby was coming. Nearly two weeks early and at a truly unpleasant hour of the morning, but on her way.
As it turned out, baby was on her way, but she was in no hurry. She did not arrive at the ungodly hour we expected her. Instead we came home and spent a full beautiful, quiet, close day until late in the afternoon, where things progressed very rapidly. The birth plan was practically trodden underfoot in the scramble to get set up for the delivery, and even changes of plans had to be changed again because of the swiftness of the delivery. Precipitous, they called it.
When my parents brought the girls home, they got to hold the new baby. To date, at time of writing, it is the only time anyone other than NJ or the girls or I have held her. Until social distancing guidelines are lifted, that will continue to be the case. She is healthy and strong, and there will be no compromising that. We are taking as few chances as we can.
By now, you may be getting the sense that things have not exactly progressed the way we had planned. Not the leave I’d planned, not the maternity leave NJ had planned, not the family time we’d planned, not the way we’d hoped the girls would be able to show and tell their new sister to their school friends. Not the way we’d hoped to open our home and enjoy a kind of shabby hospitality with some friends with babies a little older than ours.
But plans don’t matter in the post-COVID world. They mean nothing in the face of our collective responsibility to make – if we’re being truly honest – the extremely minor sacrifices of isolating ourselves and not having close contact with people for a period of time, and allowing our expectations to die.
Having a baby is one way to demolish your expectations, but there is something kind of freeing to the swift and complete death of expectation that the pandemic has brought. I understand that there are lots of people for whom that uncertainty brought real tangible, financial, or mental health challenges. We are deeply fortunate that this is not the case for us.
Not that it hasn’t been stressful. Other than the unfathomably vast heartaches wrought by the terrors of the moment, watching in quiet despair as the combined scourges of the virus and racism lay waste to much of what we know as our normal, there are a lot of minor, personal heartaches that we find ourselves navigating as our plans crumbled to dust.
I try to keep reminding myself that plans are just choices, and we can choose other things. That patience is a choice, that love is a choice, that we can choose how we want to feel about things and how we respond to things. That for those of us privileged enough to be able and solvent and more or less neurotypical, this is a storm to be weathered, a fairly straightforward set of choices to make. That it’s time to batten down the hatches and just be until the situation improves.
Many of us feel forced to find silver linings in a stressful time. I’m afraid that despite everything, I don’t know how to see this experience my family is having as anything but a big old silver lining. It is a string of beautiful moments. Feedings, where sometimes NJ and I just can’t contain how impossibly happy we are to be in that moment together. Those exhausted, giddy moments where one of the baby’s older sisters take her so we can catch our breath and we see the power of the love they have for her. Smiling at her as we pad around the bedroom, doing laps at all hours of the night, me making white noise with what my eldest calls my “magical shushing mouth.” I watch her fall asleep, always switching the shushing for a smile as her impossibly long eyelashes flutter closed, knowing that I have ended her day showing her love and peace.
But the beauty of this moment, despite the trials we face, isn’t just small. It isn’t just personal. It is grand and sweeping and glorious. There is a doubling-down on the value of institutions, of collective action, of shared civic responsibility, of the value of human lives and the value of the dignity of the human experience. There is terror and pain and despair but there is bravery and resolve and pride, and even as we feel the heartaches I celebrate the beauty of the human spirit.
That is the lesson that I have learned, isolated in our home with our new baby during this pandemic. More than plans are a choice and you can make another choice and patience is a choice, I have committed to another choice: that no matter what, I will celebrate what is good. I recommit to the choice to feel joy about joyful things, even when the weight of things suggest despair.
Babies are – as all children are – mirrors we hold up to ourselves. I am deeply fascinated by that, and feel that responsibility deeply. If I can greet the day with joy and enthusiasm, perhaps she will too. If I can match the wonder she feels when encountering things for the first time, maybe we can prolong that beautiful, simple joy of experience. If I can laugh, fully and without reservation, she’ll learn to, as well. And her smile, her little still-learning-to-laugh laugh, are so beautiful that I ache from it, and so I must meet that responsibility.
It’s led to a lot of self-reflection about what my family needs, specifically my girls. My daughters need me to do what I can, in my lane, to make the world better. They need me to be bright and optimistic and hardworking. They need me to be a little smarter, a little more committed, a little more clear-eyed. Maybe a little more stoic, a little more resilient. I need to put on my game face so that what I see in those little mirrors is something I can live with, something I can be proud of. In doing so, and seeing others do so, I truly believe that progress will be made. And just maybe the uncertainty of our times will resolve into the certainty that normal will no longer be good enough, and better will forever be the goal, and that this, like so many moments before it, will be an inflection point for change.
I don’t know that it will. I don’t know that I will be successful. But I do know that I want her to see me smiling at her when she wakes up and smiling at her when she drifts off to sleep, and for now at least, those smiles are fuelled by optimism and hope and resolve and so, so much love. Not because I don’t feel the heartache of our moment – but because I choose to feel the joy.