A dear friend of mine recently used me as an example to her New York pals who were complaining about being quarantined in their tiny apartments. "At least you're not pregnant," she said and then went into detail about my life and its complex constellation of worries.
I'm seven months pregnant and my husband is in a war zone—I couldn't tell you which one because I don't know.
He's a trauma surgeon in the British Army on a mission with special forces. I have no way of contacting him other than by encrypted email. He can Skype me, but only if he can get his hands on a computer, if there's no bad weather scrambling the signal and if they're not on a communication lockdown due to a security threat.
When he left in January, coronavirus had not yet entered the lexicon or our Western environs. No one would have believed that two months later, the world would be in quarantine and that the 'safest' place might actually be on a self-contained base in a war zone.
Quarantined alone, I rattle and piddle around our house, looking for comfort. Usually, writing provides that, but not right now. Right now, I turn to ice cream most nights. Because I know that if I write, I risk exposing the parts of myself I don't want to show, the parts I'm afraid to see. And right now, I'm afraid of hearing the sound of my own whining. God knows we've all heard enough of the worries of everyone, the last thing I want is to add to the cacophony of complaints.
An acquaintance of mine who is 30 weeks along in her pregnancy posts on Instagram how sad she is to cancel her baby shower. I see her sadness, both its source and her voicing of it, as a petty luxury.
We all have our regular lives to contend with on top of the pandemic, what gives her the right to grieve so small a thing? Envy builds, bitterness grows. Then I remember something about 'comparative suffering'—the title of a Brene Brown podcast I bookmarked. Suffering is suffering is suffering. Mine isn't worse or more worthy than anyone else's.
Still, I would give anything to exchange my grief for hers. I bet my friends and loved ones with cancer or COVID-19 would, too.
It's a fascinating, bizarre, dreadful notion to know I will be giving birth to my first child during an unprecedented pandemic. But that's not really what worries me right now.
What worries me is that when my husband returns, he will go from one frontline to another. I don't know how any human can cope with that kind of pressure and stress. And because pregnant women are deemed 'vulnerable,' once he goes back to work at the hospital, he might have to be quarantined in a hotel until further notice.
What worries me is that I'll have to give birth to this baby boy without him, that I'll have to enter motherhood alone, that he won't get to hold his newborn son.
And those are the best of my worries.
My deepest, darkest worries are that he won't return at all. That something will happen to his base like it did his fellow military colleagues in Iraq just a few weeks ago. COVID-19 is a threat to my family, but so is a rocket attack.
I don't like having to admit that I currently carry a snarky sense of entitlement in the suffering department. Because no matter how bad you have it, somebody's got it worse, right? But that's dismissive and minimizing. So, how do I cope? How do I turn down the volume on my own anger and irritability? How do I let myself, and others, grieve openly for what's been lost and what's at stake here?
In the park across the street, there is a sapling all adorned in white blossoms. Its branches, aglow in the morning light, dance in the wind. Yesterday morning I watched a woman walk by, raise her phone to take a photo then quickly walk away like she'd stolen something. Did she feel ashamed to have come across something bright and promising in these so-called dark times? Dark or not, now is the time, if there's ever been one, to notice and allow for beauty. No need to feel guilty when it graces you.
That sweet sapling, an emblematic reminder of a new season and everything that comes with it, like hope. Attached to the end of each branch; a bud, a message. Life, and suffering, go on. Pandemics have the power to stop baby showers and who knows, maybe even slow raging wars. Whether I obsess about my worries makes no difference to Mother Nature, she is indifferent and unstoppable.
At seven months pregnant, my body knows this better than my brain and heart.
My baby, warm in my swollen belly, kicks, innocent and oblivious. I take a deep breath in. Tomorrow is on its way, no matter what. I take comfort in that. My hope, my out-breath, is maybe you will too.