Baby, Stay Inside
Take care of yourself, they said. Pedicures.
Dates just the two of you.
I had one massage before the lockdown, and within an instant the lady zeroed in on my thighs. Anxiety was being held there, the zones like heated boulders bearing the burden of my baby but also, it seemed, the more confused brainwaves of life adjusting to Italy’s crumble, to South Korea’s curve flattening. To the virus sneaking through United States port cities.
Take care of the things, they said. Highlights and cuts; you don’t know the next time you’ll get to the salon. Dentist, same. Eye doctor, same. I took two hours of vacation to stake out the DMV and get my Star card. Good thing, too. Because now, who the hell wants to fly anywhere?
My dentist’s voicemail: we will have to reschedule
My hairdresser’s text: closing indefinitely
My swimming class: cancelled through June
My baby shower: postponed until this is all over?
My OB appointments: we’re going to skip more than we would…
Baby CPR: cancelled
Breastfeeding 101: cancelled
Newborn basics: cancelled
Should I stop here to say, I’m due in May?
I wonder now, in a Coronavirus universe devoid of toilet paper, erased of all other questionably necessary paper products, and mysteriously absent of frozen breakfast boxes like this pregnant woman’s best friend—toaster strudels with melted cream cheese icing—how gracious people would be with baby advice. Before self-quarantine, new mom messaging was 100% just you wait. You’ll never sleep again. Breastfeeding is all but impossible. You’ll be lucky to shower. You’ll have an identity crisis. Let people help you. Get out of the house.
Let people help you. Get out of the house.
I don’t know which is worse. Sheltering in place before I will be sheltering in place, or the soft-edged, tail-down back-pedaling of people who’ve freely conveyed just how hard having a baby is. Moms love to level the playing field, but I’m the one giving birth during the first global pandemic in one hundred years and the comparisons are no longer as fun. Mental health is a big concern for first time moms adjusting to life with a newborn, and I‘d been hoping for a better buffer than this tenuous, oscillating, emotional quicksand and a homemade face mask. Hoping for an experience more regal and momentous than my own mom choking up over the phone as we realize she might not meet baby for the first several weeks, if not months, of her first grandchild’s life.
This is no bitter joke about sleep deprivation.
Women have been doing this for centuries, more than one person tells me. I want to ask them if that sounds as useless as I’m hearing it to be. I’d like to remind them the first babies have died from coronavirus: a six-month old…a six-week old whose parent’s never knew the virus was in their house.
There is a book I’ve been reading, Baby Makes Three, that’s all about the trauma a new baby inflicts on it’s parent’s relationship, and the not-often talked about statistic that two-thirds of parent relationships massively tank in satisfaction with the arrival of their infant. This dissatisfaction lasts for at least three years and possibly longer—if the couple sticks together.
I’m reading the book because I’d like to belong to the other one-third of parents who navigate the emotional turmoil with tools instead of endless mentally damaging sparring matches. But knowledge is knowledge, and from reading the book I also now know that any angst experienced by a mother in her third trimester directly correlates to the delayed development of her baby once delivered and on the outside. Any stressor or trigger is a direct cortisol-shot to the fetus and the impact can be tracked well into the first year of their life. The book recommends being as calm as possible during those last months and weeks.
Should I mention? Most of isolation has me knotted like a wet rag.
I signed Kyle and I up for an unprecedented seven-week birthing class—re: twenty-one hours— with the possibly misplaced trust the instruction would prepare me for what famously/notoriously could be the worst or could be the best experience of a woman’s life. In addition to the class discussion on the helpful distraction of hobbies during pre-labor (baking! nesting! laundry!—are you kidding me, you want me to make a photo album in between contractions?) so far the biggest takeaway has been this: no woman has real control over her birthing experience. Must-get info for me, for natural birth hopefuls, for epidural-planners, for C-section selectors or those who don’t have a choice: no lady wants a shitty birth. I repeat: no woman wants that.
Of course, I also signed up for all these classes with the double motivation of meeting other couples in the same—I’ll use this barfy phrase—“phase of life.” Have a network, they said. Make mom friends! But as we Zoom our Monday night lessons long-distance and the teacher holds up an oversized cervix made of plaid flannel and Kyle falls asleep sitting next to me on the couch, my uncertainty takes another prickly stock market nosedive.
One class in particular, water aerobics, I joined with the double motivator of possibly making preggo friends but also because of the body of water big enough to float these pressure-cooker thighs, and take the weight away. Since registering, I’d been dreaming about a vast, sparkling blue pool with beautiful water I could submerge in and disappear from the constant reality that is growing a life form. When I signed up, being pregnant was my only worry.
In reality, the Elks Rehab Facility pool is grey. It’s a small pool in a grey room with tile surrounding grey water bouncing grey light onto the walls. The water, treated so intently to keep it clean, smells like newspaper being actively papier-mâchéd over a balloon, and the space is shared with several senior citizens hoping to jump start their probably unrepairable bodies.
The juxtaposition was not lost on me; bobbing pregnant women sporting bulbous spandex-covered baby bumps side-by-side with translucent, gnarled elderlies enjoying the same weightless release of the grey pool. The attendants checking their watches, ready to get the hell out of there.
One particular elderly woman (and this is how awful I am, I can’t remember her name. I want to say Betty, but that’s not right, I know), would make it to the pool within minutes of myself. And whereas I was rushing from work and had a specific class start time, Betty-almost was coming straight from home, hobbling through the parking lot so fast—if you’d shown me a picture of her, I’d never believe she could move like that—for an open swim sesh that happened to coincide with ours. Betty-almost’s favorite time of Mondays and Wednesdays was hauling to the grey locker room so she could sit on the center bench, buck naked and slowly dawning her modest swim tank and skirt surrounded by pregnant ladies bumping around each other and also around Betty-almost, who could’ve easily put her suit on before leaving home.
And here’s the rub; Betty-almost and I had the same initiatives. We both wanted to make friends, and to feel weightless for the more significant chunk of a single hour. That was it.
I wanted to make new friends who could relate to what I was going through, and now as the virus flows through Idaho, and the counties and cities and states and regions and countries undergo isolation, I’ve found myself falling back on old relationships, harboring them close in a way I haven’t appreciated in years. Because low and behold, here is something we’re all going through. Now I’m touching base with friends in Illinois, friends from Kenya, friends who live just neighborhoods away and I’m wondering why I never saw them more. Zoom, FaceTime, texting. Writing is an old friend, too.
And as my sibling and friends lose their jobs and sign up for unemployment, I hear a funky bed-fellow emerging in all this, an unlikely, undeniable perk. Coworkers catching up on sleep. Friends enjoying me-time. Old hobbies awakening from the top shelves of closets and cupboards under the stairs. Projects being completed. Books being read and pets being pampered. Desserts being baked. Breaks. Walks. Fresh air. What seems to be a lovely deemphasis of personal appearance. As it falls apart, people are simultaneously regaining touch with the world.
There is a section of my unborn human’s baby book: What was happening in the world when baby was born? Should I stop here to say, yesterday, there was earthquake?
But more importantly, after the earthquake were the people reaching out to each other: are you okay? Did you feel that! How are you? The virus is an invisible contagion raging through people like wildfire, lurking and stalking and hop-skip-jumping, infecting without symptoms, leaving no town untouched. It is also forcing a reckoning of values I’ve certainly never seen in my lifetime. I look down at this baby I’m supposed to deliver in six weeks with the other parent of this kid hopefully present—partners in California are being told to drop off the woman in labor at the drive-thru, and these emerging-mothers head inside to deliver alone now, to be absolutely safe—and I know in my gut that baby is entering a nicer world than the one we lived in just six weeks in the past. A more thoughtful world, a world reconnecting with the idea of quality time, of conversations with loved ones, of a mindfulness grown out of loss of control, fear of the unknown, and the risk of truly important things being taken away from them—from you—from all of us. “Truly important things” are being reconsidered.
In a situation where three separate long-distance family members have casually mentioned driving by and leaving stuff for our baby on the sidewalk, and waving through the windows, oh brother, does it make me squirm with the unfairness of my situation and the situation and the not quite knowing what’s next. But it’s also true that the freshest future member of the family has managed to bring cohesion to the unit, unify a future joy through the divide. Baby is providing hope for a time when all this is over, and it’s only over if we keep our distance, for now.
Sometimes at night, Kyle will lean over and whisper to my itchy, engorged belly and say, Stay in there for as long as you can. And while that’s all we can do, surely it is everything.
I often wonder what Betty-almost is up to when the late afternoon rolls around, abstaining from the rocket-like joy that would propel her to the Elks Rehab Pool. The water was grey but we converged there together to take the edge off as a collective. After class, Betty-almost would often forget her sizable undies in the spinner-machine that rinses out swimsuits, and I’d let her know her beige ballooners were still there, waiting for her.
I miss interactions like this.
If I ever see Betty again, I think I’ll be nicer. Now Kyle is mumbling in his sleep. Baby? Stay inside.
“Why yes, I am going to recommend the book I mentioned in my piece. Conflict management and dealing with your own emotions and the feelings of loved ones living in close proximity to you is not just for growing families. Don’t worry, it’s not a self-help book, but contains some good common sense about how to deal with the irritants and bad days we all have without snow-balling or taking it out on humans you happen to be around and actually like most of the time.”
Besides being almost-mom to a baking human, Hillary Bilinski is mother to The Cabin Shih Tzu mascot, Bean, and she practices mothering on her two miniature saguaro cacti by giving them one tablespoon of water once per month. Hillary has been a staffer at The Cabin for close to six years.