My baby was born in early November, and was in the NICU for almost two weeks because he was six weeks early. It is not a secret this is the worst flu season ever, so we have been concerned.
We were asking the nurses about family get togethers over the holidays, and how to mitigate the germ-fest. Could we go out to public places? Could we visit family? Could we have a newborn photographer come to the house?
They all said, “Having a newborn this time of year is tough, but having a preemie? Well you’re basically going to be locked inside.” Not what I wanted to hear with a newborn and a toddler at home.
But he was a preemie, so I wanted to be mindful.
I did not leave the house. Repeat. I did not leave the house with him for weeks (maybe months) except to go to our parents’ houses or to the doctor or for a drive through coffee to combat those sleepless nights. It was too cold to go for walks and taking him to the mall or a crowded public place was definitely not an option.
I also didn’t have anyone over. We even decided to skip newborn photos. I couldn’t be sure that the props were clean enough, and that the stranger coming into my house was not just getting over a cold or something. While I wish I had those photos now, at the time, it didn’t seem worth the risk.
I became hyper-aware of germs—airborne and on objects—including my toddler.
We had hand sanitizer in every corner of the house. And should have bought stock in antibacterial soap based on how much we were buying. I was shocked at how, when you really think about it, all the things you touch are exposed to germs.
My brother would come to visit off a train from Manhattan, and I’d make him change his clothes at the door. My brother and sister-in-law came off a plane and they had to shower before they came over. I would bring my own pen to sign at the bank drive through. I would cringe when I heard someone cough or sneeze within a five-foot radius of me.
I would hand sanitize multiple times during a drive through coffee transaction. Hand my card. Sanitize. Get card back. Sanitize. Touch my coffee. Sanitize. I felt a little crazy while doing it, and was not blind to the looks I was receiving. But if my baby needed me to pop the pacifier back in his mouth, I wanted to make sure my hands were clean.
And forget about my petri-dish-preschool-attending toddler. I think I gave him a complex during this whole ordeal.
Anyone who walked in the house, he barked orders, “Shoes off, coats over here, and wash your hands.” These are all good life skills, right? ?
I toyed with the idea of pulling him out of preschool for flu season. But in the end, I felt that would have done more harm than good, for all of us. He loves school, and was learning so much. We just took extra precautions.
My mom would pick him up and wipe his hands immediately. Most days, she would shower him and wash his clothes at her house, so when he returned home, he was clean. We made sure he did not touch the baby’s hands, or kiss him on the face. I hope I have not permanently turned him into an OCD little human. But I could not bear the thought of my baby getting a fever and having to be admitted to the hospital.
Being super germ-conscious can feel really isolating.
Aside from the drive through attendant at my local coffee spot, and my parents, I really didn’t see anyone. We were in true hibernation mode. I know it was for the safety of my son, but I yearned to even just go out to the grocery store, but instead opted for Instacart. I wished I could go to the mall to buy some new clothes for my postpartum body, but instead the Amazon delivery guy became my new best friend.
Although I was lonely, and got stir crazy after a while, it served as some really great bonding time with my baby. Without distractions from the outside world. Without a revolving door of visitors. We lingered longer over snuggles. Plus, I allowed my post-C-section body to heal. I value that time we had together tremendously—just the two of us. And that time was about him, not about me.
And so goes motherhood. The needs of your tiny humans come first. From now, until the end of time.