Twice I was on the sidelines covering the College Football Playoff National Championship when Clemson won. I’ve had conversations with civil rights leaders, local change-makers, and families who’d just lost a loved one in the kind of horrific tragedy that makes front-page news. I had a newspaper column with my name on it — not that it was any sort of major deal but it was known well enough to garner occasional praise from bartenders and baristas around town as they took my credit card to swipe through the reader.
We regularly had friends over to our house for gatherings around the fire pit. We’d grill dinner, play music, drink beer, and laugh well into the night.
We traveled. We went to concerts — so many concerts.
My life used to be a lot more interesting.
Now, I stay home with my daughter. We spend days going for long walks during which we seek out turtles and squirrels. We are working on visiting what feels like every playground on Earth. We do a toddler version of “ballet” in the living room or in any room where the mood strikes, really. We mold snowman after snowman out of play-doh and have the same back and forth each time one is broken.
“I broke it!”
“That’s okay. We can build it again.”
And we do.
We make a big deal out of checking the mail. We walk with our best buds to drop the older girls off at school as often as possible.
We both enjoy the time spent with them, but only one of us thinks about how before too long we’ll be dropping her off at school and our days won’t be filled with excited squeals about squirrels or requests to listen to “talk about Bruno” one more time.
My life used to be a lot more interesting — on paper, on social media, by most of the usual standards.
Six weeks ago we ended up in the hospital in the middle of the night because I couldn’t feel you move – nothing I tried would stir you and I was terrified. We’d passed the pregnancy finish line. You were three days late and counting, but I still couldn’t believe you were really going to be okay.
History made me anxious.
We had no idea I was already in labor.
I woke up around 2:30 a.m. on the morning of June 16 to use the bathroom, because that had become my routine in late pregnancy. I couldn’t fall back asleep right away, so I started scrolling on my phone.
Eventually, I decided to move to the bed in the guest room, but I was only there a few minutes before I realized I hadn’t felt you move lately and became scared. I sat up and rubbed my belly, hoping to wake you.
I went to the kitchen, grabbed a cold water bottle and took several big sips. I was determined to try all the tricks I’d read in the books. I hadn’t had to use any of those through pregnancy. You made it easy on us – no big scares and you moved a lot.
I scarfed down a strawberry granola bar.
I went back to the guest room and laid on my left side, hoping in a few minutes you’d react.
As I sat in bed doing mental gymnastics over whether I should be panicked, I realized I’d never forgive myself if something was wrong and I’d done nothing or if I didn’t at least tell your dad.
He says I busted into our bedroom loudly. I don’t remember it that way, but I’m betting he’s right. I dropped the pillows I’d carried to the guest room back on my side of our bed, sat down and quietly called his name.
“I haven’t felt her move in a while and I’m scared,” I told him, quickly running down the list of things I’d tried that hadn’t worked. My last idea was to take a hot shower “because she always moves for hot showers.”
It wasn’t thirty more seconds before I was under the hot water. I took what would, by anyone’s standards, not be a long enough shower to even apply shampoo, but I didn’t feel you move.
I got out and told him we had to go. In a frenzy, we grabbed our packed bags, threw on something not resembling pajamas and whatever shoes we could find, told Carter we’d be back soon and drove the mile or two to the hospital.
I was walking into the hospital when I felt you give one small kick.
But I wasn’t leaving until we had a chance to listen to your heartbeat.
I never wanted to pick your birth date. It’s a silly thing, but it mattered to me. You were just stubborn enough to almost make me do it. I was scheduled for induction on the night of June 17th.
At 4 a.m. on June 16th, the nurse who greeted us was barely done strapping a monitor on my belly when we heard your heart beating. You were as healthy as you’d ever been. I cried. Listen, that detail will come as no surprise to you when you get to know me.
Moments later, the nurse asked me if I’d felt a contraction. It was mapped on the screen, but I had no idea it’d happened. From there it was a whirlwind – she checked a few things and realized I was already starting the labor process.
You were picking your own birth date like I’d hoped.
The nurse left the room for a quick conversation with the OB on call and returned to get us moved to the room where you’d be born.
There’s a lot about labor and delivery that nobody really needs or cares to know – frankly, a lot of the day was spent waiting around. I was in labor, but I wasn’t as far along as many women are when they get to the hospital.
A lot of the day really is a blur. I remember little things like it was unusually cold. In fact, Greenville set a record low high of 67 degrees that day. I remember our sweet nurse who left her hearing aids at home and couldn’t quite hear anything we said to her so she kept reminding us to speak up.
I remember the feeling of the contractions and the moment I realized I was ready for the epidural. Then there was the trouble of getting the epidural dose right. Apparently, they dose by height and they weren’t quite sure what to do with your tall mama. Half of my body was numb while the other half felt every bit of each new contraction for about an hour until they figured it out. The adjustments would later mean I didn’t regain feeling in that leg for an inordinately long time, but hey, I had nowhere to be.
Mostly, it was a lot of waiting. Your dad and I watched episodes of Parks & Rec, talked about how our life was going to change and played cards.
We were in the middle of a game of 45s when our nurse rushed in to check on your rapidly dropping heartbeat for the second time. We weren’t alarmed. It’d happened before and you stabilized as soon as I rolled over. But this time she was followed by so many other nurses your dad made a joke about not realizing that many people even worked at the hospital.
The doctor wasn’t far behind. They told me you were ready and asked if I was.
Livy, you only made me push for nine minutes. I’d made a six hour labor playlist and we didn’t get through two whole songs before we saw your sweet face.
By the way, you arrived in this world to the sound of Alicia Keys singing ‘A Woman’s Worth’. I made sure your dad listened to which song was playing so we’d be able to tell you that.
You came out with eyes wide open and you snuggled up to me instantly. I’ve never seen your dad cry so hard and I’ve never felt stronger.
It’s been six weeks and one day since that moment. You’re snoozing on my lap right now and I know I should’ve written this sooner, when I didn’t have six weeks of less than optimal sleep under my belt. I should’ve jotted down more details or carved out an afternoon to write before it became blurry, but I’ve been soaking up the moments with you; watching you grow and learn our faces; listening to you practice your little giggles and learning what calms you when you cry.
Livia, I want you to know, if you ever read some version of this, that June 16th, 2020 was truly the best day of my entire life so far. Every fear I’d had about giving birth during a pandemic washed away that day and what it left us was the chance to get to know each other in your first day of life, uninterrupted, as a family of three. It was an unconventional, but beautiful way to welcome you. Every big and little thing we went through in the years of trying to bring you into this world was worth it in the moment we saw your face for the first time at 2:01 p.m. on June 16th.
I haven’t sat down to write this yet, because it feels like I shouldn’t. Not that I shouldn’t have the feelings I do, but that I shouldn’t admit that it’s not entirely easy – that my overwhelming joy of being six weeks from meeting our child is sometimes overshadowed by the grief of what we’ve been through and the fear of what we’re living through now.
But I’ve tried to share our story with sincerity, so here I am. I’d ask that you read this with the context that we are over the moon excited and in love with our baby girl. Know that we are so full of gratitude we can barely stand it. Know that we realize we could be like anyone else for whom this pandemic has delayed treatments to help them get pregnant and we’re deeply sad for them. Know that we read our daughter books at night and laugh at how she kicks when we do silly voices. Sometimes we cry happy tears sometimes when she’s kicking, because we really can’t believe where we are. The joy is always there, even when other emotions creep in.
It’s terrifying to be pregnant in a pandemic – to receive little or conflicting information about the specific threat to your and your baby’s health and to have to navigate the decisions at hand, trying to determine what is best for your child before you’ve even met her yet.
It’s a scary time and that’s an understatement.
Being pregnant in a pandemic after loss, years of failed attempts to get pregnant and long periods of thinking it would never happen is, at times, unbearable.
Grief doesn’t disappear. I’m not suddenly over the baby I’ll never meet because we have a new one we likely will.
The combination of emotions keeps me up at night. I tear up when I see the note to our first baby scrawled across the small white board in our closet – the note we can’t bring ourselves to erase – “we’ll love you always.” I bawl in the shower because I think of the tiny baby that we now lovingly say was here briefly to make a comfortable space for our little girl.
Loss is trauma.
It shows itself in many ways; in bouts of anger; in worries over things that aren’t a big deal but are more manageable to carry than those that are; in tearing up at little reminders around the house and on dates that should’ve been milestones.
In the midst of a pandemic, with little information about its effect on infants, grief manifests in fears that something will steal this new baby away before we really get to know her.
Any book on miscarriage will tell you it haunts future pregnancies. Even if you have healthy, happy children after a miscarriage, each new pregnancy has the nagging sense that something can steal the joy unexpectedly. It’s a natural part of the process.
And in 2020, there’s a concrete threat – a pandemic that could do a lot more damage than cancelling baby showers.
I’m long past being sad about a baby shower. I’m focused on the final goal of getting her here safely.
I would kill to know the first days and weeks of my baby’s life could be normal. I’d give anything for it to be like it would’ve been if we were able to get pregnant one, two, even three years ago when we first started trying.
I wish she could meet all four of her grandparents the day she’s born. I wish visitors could come to the hospital. I wish we could see a steady stream of our closest friends walk through our doorway to say hello to this girl we’ve waited years to meet.
But that’s not our reality right now. Our reality is that there are restrictions in place and recommendations that force us to make tough decisions.
I won’t pretend it doesn’t suck.
It does. It breaks my heart.
The strangeness of this year is hard for so many of us.
And we face the challenge in different ways. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how lucky I am that this pregnancy has been easy on me, physically. Getting here was hard, but the actual pregnancy hasn’t presented any concerning symptoms or emergency appointments. I wasn’t extremely nauseous at any point and I haven’t had any spikes in blood pressure. I count each one of those things as blessings, especially when fears creep in.
I navigate the weirdness of being a social person stuck at home by preparing for her arrival – I’m nesting, washing clothes, ramping up FaceTime calls, taking more photos along the way than I probably would have otherwise, reading more chapters in baby books than I ever planned to, talking with friends who’ve just had children in the pandemic and listening to podcasts on motherhood.
I’m reminding myself daily that “quarantine” means Russ, the baby and I will have quality time as a family of three that we wouldn’t have had otherwise.
We’re still six weeks out (if all goes as planned) and we have no idea what things will look like when she arrives. Businesses are beginning to open back up around us and people are getting restless about being home. We hope it’s a sign that the world will start to get back to normal and that we’ll do so with a more controlled grip on the coronavirus.
Regardless, our days will stay the same as long as that’s the medical recommendation. We’ll soak in the extra time together and know that being here safe at home, however uncomfortable it can be to miss everyone around us, will be worth it if it means we can contribute to a healthier world for our baby girl.