Walking through my neighborhood yesterday evening, I passed three house parties and a crowd of people, masked and unmasked, dressed up and waiting to get into a restaurant. My baby is due this month, and I’ve been painfully aware of all of the possibilities that await us at the hospital if we test positive for covid at the time of delivery, or if there is another shutdown. The baby could be taken after birth and put in isolation, or I could be given pitocin to speed up the process in order to free up medical staff, making contractions stronger and harder to manage without medical intervention. I’ve said I’ll have my baby on the sidewalk outside rather than have him or her taken from me, but then again, why shouldn’t they do everything to protect the baby and themselves? Skin-to-skin contact is vitally important to newborns, but the consequences of not protecting them from a deadly virus loom large as well. These impossible questions have circled my brain for months, and bends the mind to know that I live on the same planet, let alone the same street, as the people I heard doing keg stands last night. What is it about witnessing my neighbor’s irresponsibility that makes the weight of my own choices feel heavier?
I left my role at our family’s small business earlier this spring, since we didn’t have anyone to watch our two young children, but even with the giant sacrifices we’ve made so far and the spikes in our county and around the country, the parties still somehow haven’t stopped. Our neighbors went out yesterday to celebrate a birthday, friends traveled out of state this weekend for a graduation gathering, and online, I see pictures of my friends standing in line at theme parks and taking selfies on family vacations to the beach. Every time I think maybe I’m making this up, I’m reminded all over again of the dangers. My pregnancy message board is full of stories of women giving birth in masks, getting c-sections after being induced, or having to isolate from their babies. And even though I know that it’s not necessarily their fault (I mean, the theme parks are open, after all–why shouldn’t they feel as if they could go?) I’m still hurt by their choices.
I don’t talk about this much outside of my own family, but when I do, I tend to hear people downplaying, dismissing, or blaming the outlandish numbers on lifestyle. “Yeah, but it’s only really severe in the elderly,” or “Okay, yeah, but a lot of the people who are dying have underlying conditions.” The worst, perpetuated by some of the holistic circles I run in, blame the dead for their unhealthy choices: “The REAL problem is chronic inflammation! If they didn’t want to die, maybe they shouldn’t have eaten as many cheeseburgers.” Besides my belief that the elderly, the sick, and the poor deserve our compassion, not our judgement, and that unnecessary death is a hefty price to pay for, say, being over 60, it also doesn’t address the other consequences of this crisis. I became pregnant even before the virus hit Wuhan, and so I have a compromised immune system. When my baby is born, he or she will have a tiny immune system ill-equipped to handle even the common cold. Am I to blame for being a part of Team Vulnerable? Is my baby?
Mothers do whatever we must for our children. Researchers have found that the amygdala in a mother’s brain–the part that perceives threats and is responsible for protective behaviors–swells to up to twice its original size after birth. With my boys, I felt I had to protect them from the normal, modern-day threats: crib death and car accidents. Now, I feel a need to protect my family from the very village who are supposed to help me raise them. Now, my family and friends have become the threats. And the loneliness of this responsibility is crushing me and many others as they party on.