No one can predict a pandemic. But if I could have, I've asked myself many times if I would have done things differently after my baby was born last November.
Due to a NICU stay and respiratory issues, my newborn didn't meet her grandparents right after she was born last fall. My parents came to visit when she was a few weeks old, but at the time, I didn't let them hold her—it was flu season, and our pediatrician had told us to be extremely careful with newborn visits. A few weeks later, my husband's parents' visit ended up getting canceled at the last minute.
Flu season doesn't last forever, I thought at the time. My parents and in-laws were perfectly fine agreeing to postpone visits till February or March—when the flu would be less prevalent and everyone would be good and healthy, or so we thought.
In March, we got sick. Really sick. The coronavirus was making headlines and some cases popped up in the Midwest, where we live. My husband was at work and people were coughing. A few days later, he got a high fever and chills, and was sicker than I'd ever seen him. A few days after that, my older kids got sick.
As I tended to my boys with high fevers—listless, dehydrated—our pediatrician told me to force liquid down my 4-year-old's throat with a medicine dropper because hospitalization for dehydration wasn't safe in a pandemic (even though, in non-COVID times, that's exactly what he would have done).
We never got tested because it wasn't available in our area. I read the headlines and cleaned, and cleaned, and cleaned. I'm OCD. Not in the casual way that people like to joke about, as in: "She's so OCD about how clean her house is." I'm OCD in the way that my brain behaves, with compulsions and fears about what might happen if I do (or don't) follow through on what my brain says is important. A big part of my OCD is triggered by germs, and let me tell you, a pandemic hasn't helped that.
I disinfected everything that I could; checked the kids' temperatures every hour.
The baby never got a fever, but she got a racking cough that kept me up for so many nights. In moments of quiet, I could still hear the beeping of the NICU, and I was terrified we'd be back to the hospital, this time for COVID.
We got better, and as the state shut down, we settled into a forced at-home life. We FaceTimed with my parents and in-laws a few times a week in the early days of the pandemic. It would be over by summer, we said, and we'd get together in person.
Thanks to my OCD and my health issues (I also have chronic health problems and autoimmune disease, and have learned the hard way that getting the flu or any other virus can make my life miserable for weeks or months), my parents and in-laws are understanding. They've never tried to pressure us to forgo precautions.
All spring and summer, I watched others go back to normal life, like there wasn't a pandemic going on. Grandparents hugged grandkids on Instagram. People had family gatherings and birthday parties.
We went to my parents' house once for an outdoor, socially-distanced visit in May. They came here for the same sort of visit in June. They still never held the baby. My mother-in-law has MS, and while we could've had similar socially-distanced visits with them, complicated logistics made a visit impossible.
It's now September, and the reality is that my 10-month-old won't be physically hugged by any of her grandparents until she's well over age 1.
I know that my baby won't ever remember or be bothered that a pandemic happened when she was so little, or that her grandparents had to wait so long to hug her. She FaceTimes with them and smiles, but it's hard for me to realize that when she meets them in person, they will effectively be strangers. She won't have photos with them as a baby like her brothers did.
But as someone who's gotten very ill due to the actions of others, I can't turn around and be that person to someone else.
So I unfollow, or mute, or simply sign off when my social apps show me people who are getting together—sometimes, without apparent regard for the urgent advice being given by public health officials, scientists and doctors. There are safe ways to do it, but for us, it just hasn't worked out. My dad can't isolate from the public enough because of his job; my mom lives with my dad. My mother-in-law's disability prevents her from coming to us, and we simply can't risk—even with all of our caution—taking COVID to her.
I can't—and won't—let the sadness over delayed visits with grandparents be more important than protecting their health or ours. I can't believe the events of this year, but I can make choices to help us get to the next one.
While I would never choose this FaceTime life, my kids don't really have a concept of time. They know they can't hug their grandparents right now because there are too many sick people. But we also talk about the great things we'll do with Grandma and Grandpa and Nana and Poppy when the sickness is done. For now, that is enough.