We started out by joking about the globally significant events that dominated the headlines when we were born. Race riots, O.J. Simpson, Chernobyl, the ill-fated Challenger. Dark humor, maybe, but as history geeks who met at a Civil War reenactment, this is par for the course for my husband and me. This baby, we laughed, would have the 2020 pandemic to remember! It would be a mile-marker by which we’d look back and say, “oh, yeah, the coronavirus. You weren’t born yet, but Mommy was pregnant with you when that was happening.” It would be a thing of the past, an anecdote for “this day in history.”
Then it dragged on and on and on.
What started as a presumably brief stay-at-home order stretched into weeks. And now months. The news reports became more dire. The economic threat loomed. The anger rose. The death toll climbed.
In light of what the world at large is facing right now, anxiety about being pregnant in a pandemic seems almost trivial. High-risk concerns aside (admittedly, these are growing too), I can’t help feeling a little silly for dwelling on the implications of what this means for me and the little sweet-potato-sized person starting to tentatively kick.
But I still think about it anyway. A lot. I mean, I’m home all day alone with my thoughts. It’s natural.
Slowly, the cultural expectations surrounding an American first baby have dwindled for us. Suddenly, my husband couldn’t accompany me to prenatal checkups anymore. Our hospital tour was canceled, with later options uncertain. We looked down the calendar pages and wondered. Will a baby shower be safe this summer? Will we be able to have family visit in those first fragile weeks after this child arrives? What about the risks of just being pregnant with the threat of this sickness? Will my husband, an essential worker, bring the virus home to me despite his constant precautions? Will we lose our baby to the preterm delivery or miscarriage that has devastated other families touched by COVID?
I used to be in favor of the surprise announcement of “it’s a boy!” or “it’s a girl!” that accompanied the baby’s first cry, but my husband talked me into finding out the gender ahead of time and now I’ve been on board for months, eagerly anticipating the sonogram that will settle our name decision. Now even that will have to be amended. The scan I had planned out in my mind, envisioning the exciting moment of truth (accompanied by all the necessary measurements and charting that makes the 20-week ultrasound a lengthy process) will be a procedure I’ll attend alone, while my husband sits outside in the car, on a video call if possible, waiting to unfold a piece of paper with me later if not.
People have been through much worse.
I think of the parents who welcomed their first child during wartime, during famine, deployment, terminal illness, death. I think of the women who have labored alone, the fathers who have been left alone with their babies when the mother didn’t make it through (hey, United States, it might be time to do something about your messed-up maternal mortality rates), the babies who have been born into devastating poverty or left at police stations or gone straight into foster care.
My dreams of picture-perfect sonograms seem weak and heady in comparison.
I am not owed ideal circumstances. But it never occurred to me before this year that wanting them might be unreasonable.
My husband and I started dating in 2016. We got married in 2018. We talked about children in 2019. Now, in 2020, our baby is on the way. And I’m realizing that the 2020 into which this baby will be born is going to be radically different than the 2018 in which we said our vows, despite the passage of just two years.
I’m not trying to preach doom and gloom. I’m not suffering under the delusion that my white, middle-class American existence is somehow threatened in the same ways as others who enjoy less privilege. I’m not under the impression that my child is going to be born into a post-apocalyptic wasteland populated only by zombies and murder hornets.
But neither am I trying to act like everything is going to be A-OK and just as it was before. Because it’s not.
It’s a strange tightrope: trying to balance between two extremes, trying to be pragmatic about the problems we already face and will soon face, and trying to be optimistic, peaceful, faithful — without succumbing to conspiracy theories. (Because they are everywhere. Lesson one: unfollow the people who post them on Facebook. Just do it. Your mental health will thank you.)
Our baby is due in the early fall, at a time when we’re told we might have to expect a second surge of infections. Possibly less dire than what we’re seeing now. Possibly worse. Whether the virus burns itself out enough this summer to let “normal life” resume, or whether this fall will bring a harder time than we have yet seen, no one can tell for sure.
My husband said something the other day about how glad he was that we got married before this all happened. I agreed. We reflected sadly on the people who are postponing their weddings, getting married over Zoom, or saying their vows with an officiant and the bare minimum of witnesses, planning their receptions for next year and hoping and praying that Grandpa will make it until then.
I feel bad for all of those people, doing what they can with what they have, where they are. And then I feel a stab of guilt. We’re doing something even more radical — bringing another person into this world, in the midst of All Of This.
My husband and I talked a bit about timing before that second pink line on the pregnancy test showed up. Were we truly ready to have kids? Were we mature enough to be parents? Were we in a good financial place to take on the expense and responsibility of raising another human being?
And though jokes about “well, incompetent people become parents all the time — Donald Trump has four kids, after all” made us feel a little better about ourselves (funny how that comparison game works), the fact we kept coming back to was that there was never going to be a perfect time. So, naturally, this time must be as good as any. Right? That seemed right. We went for it. It wasn’t a quick road, but eventually the good news came like a happy shower of relief. It was time to have a baby.
But we didn’t choose this time. We didn’t choose a pandemic. We didn’t choose worldwide upheaval and economic distress and yet another election where we’ll be asked to pick the lesser of two evils.
If we’d truly been given the choice, what would we have taken? Would we have been able to find a better season?
“For everything there is a season… a time to be born and a time to die,” says the unnamed Preacher in the Book of Ecclesiastes.
“…a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away.”
In this time to refrain from embracing, I have a lot of time on my hands to think about a God who loves, who doesn’t make mistakes. Who is bringing my son or daughter into this world for such a time as this.
In matters of faith, I used to roll my eyes at Jesus’ disciples who doubted Him so often despite His presence right in front of them. They saw the miracles with their own eyes. They listened to His teaching and followed the same rough paths He walked. Why, then, did they so frequently mistrust what He told them? Why couldn’t they see the pattern laid before them that the Son of God was spelling out letter by letter? They had God Incarnate in their closest circle and they still didn’t “get it.” They heard His words about how He would redeem them from their struggles and sin, and they still didn’t really believe.
And, honestly, I’m not much different. The pattern is laid before me. The works God has done in my own life and in the lives of the people around me aren’t hidden. But still I doubt. Still I fear. Still I struggle to take hold of promises that I know in my head will not fail, but hesitate in my heart to embrace.
I don’t know what the plans are that God has for this baby. And that not knowing is really hard.
But isn’t parenting always full of unknowns? Is there anyone, really, who has it all together before they start? Is there anyone who can truly say they have mastered What to Expect When You’re Expecting?
If you read through to the end of this admittedly long think-piece and are now wondering where the conclusion is, what the takeaway might be, I’m afraid you may be disappointed. I don’t have easy answers. I don’t have a succinct soundbite to end this exploration. I’m just trying to figure this out, too.
I would be lying if I said my husband and I weren’t naive. We are. But so is every first-time parent. The fact that we are looking at a future we can’t predict isn’t really so vastly different than the situation facing any other couple waiting to welcome their first child. None of us are gifted with the second sight.
All I can know is that I’ve wanted this baby, hoped for this baby, prayed for this baby. I didn’t want, hope for, or pray for these circumstances, but maybe someday the pattern here will emerge too — even as we work through loss and uncertainty and grief and shortages and a world where no one shakes hands anymore.
And if all else fails, it will definitely make 2020 a memorable year to record in the baby book.