Opinion | We Were Promised a Village: A Year in the Life of Pandemic-Baby Parents

On March 7, 2020, Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency in New York in the face of rapidly rising Covid-19 cases. Three months and one day later, my daughter was born. I had waited so long to meet her, but when the doctors placed her on my chest and I tilted my head to see her, the mask I was wearing obscured the view of her tiny features. That was the first of many times that the pandemic slipped a veil between our new child and the world.

If having a baby puts life in perspective, having a baby during a pandemic sharpens the focus tenfold. The experience has been defined by contradictions: isolation when it takes a village, new life amid death, hope pushing down fear.

My husband and I did everything we could to ensure our daughter wouldn’t get the virus. At the hospital, she met her extended family through a phone screen. Once home, we often held her up to a glass-paneled door so that loved ones could see her pink toes without risk. Appointments with pediatricians and lactation consultants were attended via laptop. We never could figure out the right screen position for either.

My husband and I divided up our parental leave so that she could remain home with us longer, but eventually we both had to return to work. She was in day care for four full days before it closed because of a Covid case; in quick succession, all three of us tested positive and got sick from the virus. Quarantined and without help, we’d alternate dragging ourselves out of bed to take care of our baby, holding her close and hoping that we would be among the lucky ones.

On the other side of that battle — a place I’m grateful to be — and fully vaccinated, my anxiety has abated slightly. The receding daily dread has left room to experience the full joy of our new source of light and laughter. The pandemic has been a lot of terrible things, but it has also given us the gift of working from home, which has allowed us to see our baby for more of her waking hours and has granted us the unbridled joy of watching her roll over, crawl and work her way up to a first step.

This year, Opinion asked other parents of “pandemic babies” what it was like bringing a new child into their families during this exceptional time. Hundreds shared their reflections with us. The result is a rumination on overcoming fear, finding solace in the unexpected and adopting new perspectives. You can read a selection of their stories, edited for clarity and length, below.

‘So what’s the pandemic, and what’s just parenthood?’

My son was born about a month and a half before the pandemic. A year later there’s still no easy answer when it comes to balancing child care and work responsibilities. As a single first-time mom, I figured I’d manage by hiring help. Didn’t count on the world as we knew it ceasing to exist.

I’m working from home and I’m grateful for that arrangement. I get to be here for everything, including an entire year of breastfeeding in the privacy of my own home. But trying to meet hard deadlines each night when baby is making his own demands has driven me to the brink on more than one occasion. Work is nothing like it was when I left for maternity leave. Adjusting to a new work flow while taking care of an infant with little to no help has been maddening. I think companies in general can do a better job of accommodating mothers at a time like this. — Lori Chung, New York City

It has felt like doing cartwheels on the edge of a cliff. It’s been exhilarating, exhausting, emotionally chaotic — and we’re all healthy. My spouse and I are employed. So what’s the pandemic, and what’s just parenthood? I have no idea.

Returning to work in a pandemic does not happen without child care. For us, that meant selling our Chicago condo and moving closer to my parents, who watch our baby full time. We’re fully remote. We’re fully fortunate. But I’m not sure any of us envisioned it would go this way. As my dad said, “It only took a pandemic to get you to move home.” To which I responded, “And a baby.” — Ann Sanner King, Decatur, Ill.

We adopted a two-week-old baby in early July 2020 with 24 hours notice. The bonding experience, often called “cocooning,” is extra important in adoptive families, to secure the attachment and nudge the baby toward feeling safe and loved in their new home. In that sense, it has probably been beneficial that we were not able to pass the baby around to be held by other people.

But we own and operate an organic vegetable farm and nursery, and taking time off from work was never an option. The transition was incredibly sudden and happened right in the middle of our peak season. It was magical and brutal and completely hazed with sleep deprivation all at the same time. Before the baby, my husband and I each worked 80-plus hours per week. These days that’s just impossible, and we take turns working while the other one is soaking in the bliss of baby care. — Hanako Myers, Quilcene, Wash.

‘Our world, and his, is much smaller’

What really shook my confidence about having a baby in 2020 was emerging into the post-vaccine world in 2021. With boomer parents, siblings and a child caregiver all skeptical of the vaccines, I found myself contemplating difficult decisions. Suddenly it was us versus the grandparents rather than us versus Covid. We were the enforcers who deny grandparents access to their grandchild.

These were excruciating decisions on a personal level, but even more challenging was realizing the gulf between myself and my parents. Sometime it feels as if we live on different planets. With luck, our family will survive the pandemic unscathed, but I don’t know if I will forget this moment.

It’s an odd thing to admit, but having a baby has provided a radical simplifier for life during a pandemic. — Bryan Boyer, Detroit

My second child was born early on in the pandemic. Time has mutated: creeping and galloping in the same hour. What strikes me is that becoming a family used to be a social act; friends and community shaped our family. This was certainly the case with my first child, who sparked endless conversations, went many places and was held by so many people in her first year. By contrast, my second child has been held by immediate family only, has seen friends and neighbors through masks and has never been in a restaurant, bus or child care center. Our world, and his, is much smaller. I’m hopeful that we can gradually begin to grow back. — Ashley Telman, Chicago

‘The circumstances of his birth affected us profoundly’

My wife, a social worker at a hospital, tested positive for Covid in March when she was 33 weeks pregnant. When her symptoms worsened, doctors recommended that she have a C-section, and our son was born that evening. I was not allowed to be with her in the hospital. I don’t think I have ever been as scared as I was that evening, fearing the worst and not being able to do anything about it.

The C-section was successful in taking pressure off my wife’s lungs and she recovered and was able to come home four days later. Our son was in the neonatal intensive care unit for the next 22 days. Neither of us was allowed to visit him. The nurses did their best to help, sending pictures and making Zoom calls, but it was still a very difficult time.

He is now 1, and happy and healthy. But the circumstances of his birth affected us profoundly. — Christopher Brown, Covington, Wash.

Having a baby during the pandemic was very stressful and isolating — I wasn’t sure if the hospital was safe; I wasn’t able to have my mother as my doula. But it was also healing. No visitors there or later at home meant no stressful visitations, hurrying to get dressed or trying to host. I was able to heal physically much quicker than after my first pregnancy.

My baby was a salve to the grief of the pandemic. I often cried over him, and when my husband offered to take him, I’d clutch him close. His love was pure, his smile without fear, his needs simple. That said, I was in weekly therapy for a while to help manage my postpartum depression. — Diane Kerstein, Seattle

‘It’s been a joy, sandwiched between fear and sadness’

My entire pregnancy and the first four months of my daughter’s life were spent in isolation. I have loved experiencing pregnancy and new motherhood this way. My husband and I are both introverts, so the opportunity to just nest at home has been an unfettered joy, and we’re honestly dreading re-entry into the world.

That isn’t to say the last year hasn’t been difficult. My husband is a physician and a frontline worker, so the stress of seeing and responding to so much illness and death has taken a toll on him mentally. But I’ll always look back on this period as a highlight of our lives, when it was just the three of us with nowhere to go and nothing to do except bask in each other’s company. — Eli Penberthy, Normandy Park, Wash.

It’s been amazing. After maternity leave, I was approved to work from home. My baby was born Sept. 29 and I’ve never had to pump or give her a bottle. When I had my two teenagers I was working part-time and finishing college. Life was hurried. I’m grateful for the experience I’m having now. It was isolating at times not to be able to spend more time with family and friends, but it was worth the trade of not having my baby in day care. — Mary Johnle, South Dakota

Our baby was born last April, just as things were getting bad here. But there has been one big benefit: My husband has been able to spend so much time with our baby. It’s been a joy, sandwiched between fear and sadness. He only got to see our first baby for a few hours after work and on weekends. This time he’s able to be more involved and I’m incredibly grateful. Lockdowns, quarantine, isolation, even the toilet paper shortage were much easier to handle. — Loreley Dravland, Augusta, Ga.

‘I don’t know how I managed to accomplish anything’

We had our baby at the end of April, when the pandemic was new and people were still wiping down their groceries. This was our first baby; we had no clue what we were doing. We had no help at all in our house. I met with a lactation consultant over Zoom. We watched YouTube videos to figure out how to give our baby a bath, found diapering tricks on mommy Instagram handles. I scrolled obsessively while my baby was cluster-feeding. It was brutal. — Leah Sarna, Bala Cynwyd, Pa.

I was laid off from my job at a law firm during my maternity leave (over Zoom with a sleeping baby on my shoulder). The days at home with an infant and two older kids to look after were some of the longest I’ve ever had. I am one of the lucky ones who has found work again during this pandemic, and I’m also very lucky to have care for my children outside of my home now. But the days are scattered and draining; drop-offs and pickups and remote school and masks and little additional support for fear of greater exposure to the virus. — Kate Pichon, Chicago

Our daughter turned 1 at the beginning of April 2020, just as the pandemic was worsening. I’ve spent almost the entire year juggling work and child care with my husband, who also works from home. It has been surreal. I don’t know how I managed to accomplish anything. We want another child but are so burned out that it may not happen. We are 35 and 36 so we need to decide soon, and it breaks my heart that there might not be another. — Tessa Cheng, Vancouver, British Columbia

‘I don’t think I would have survived if it weren’t for the stay-at-home orders’

I had twins in June 2020. I was able to work from home for the last trimester and for the first six months of their lives. I don’t think I would have survived if it weren’t for the stay-at-home orders. I was able to carry them to 38 weeks and I’m still pumping, all because of the work flexibility. We have two older children, 5 and 3. With those two I had to rush to get out the door every morning and pump daily at the office. — Kristin Roberts, Auburn, Ala.

Paternity leave is important. And since I was spending so much time at home anyway last spring after our son was born, I wound up taking less time off than I might have otherwise. Flexible work made it relatively easy to come and go. I also appreciated that my team didn’t bat an eye when I turned up to all-hands meetings holding my son on my shoulder, something I don’t think I ever would have imagined doing in our prior life. If the baby was taking a nap and Mommy was focused on her own things, I’d find time to hop on a call or respond to emails. That was the best setup for me. We all need to find what’s right for our family’s needs. — Jonathan Wasserstrum, Westchester County, N.Y.

‘Although I’m a doomsday-ist, I have found hope for the future’

I was told three years ago that I couldn’t conceive and we had decided we didn’t want kids anyway because of the climate and this cruel world. But lo and behold, my daughter showed up and we couldn’t be happier. Although I’m a doomsday-ist, I have found hope for the future and new motivation to do whatever I can to tread lightly on this earth and to teach her to do the same. — Meaghan Brady Portland, Ore.

I am 26 and pregnant — an unplanned pregnancy at that. To say I was apprehensive at the thought of a child is an understatement. Yet somehow, despite the physical and mental strain of carrying a child, I feel more hopeful about the state of our future than ever. It has brought me into a much more peaceful state. I will be bringing a biracial child into this world during a pandemic and in the midst of racial unrest, yet I know there is hope in all of it. — Celine Flores-Robinson, West Monroe, La.

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