It’s hard to believe any of us will ever forget the last year of living through the COVID-19 pandemic, and I feel the need to write down my experience. I need to remember what incredible challenges we all faced, what it was like to be pregnant during a pandemic, to be a mom, to give birth, to go to work not knowing the risks, to go to work despite of the risks, to test positive when you’ve been so cautious and careful for so long. Someday we will all tell our stories about surviving this pandemic. So here is my story.
….I was pregnant during a pandemic
In March 2020, I was about three months pregnant, having only just told my coworkers the happy news that I was expecting a second child in September 2020. As COVID cases grew and everyone started worrying about a possible shut down, I was nervous about being pregnant and not knowing how COVID could affect my pregnancy. But I also was a bit cavalier and figured that I would probably be just fine. I was strong and healthy and rarely got very sick from the usual illnesses that come with working with small children.
After our last day of in-person school on March 16, our school remained closed until June. During those spring months, our school went virtual, and while I was seeing our families daily on Zoom and Facebook Live, most of them had no idea I was pregnant. The Zoom box only shows so much! While in many ways it was wonderful spending my whole second trimester working from home, it was also so surreal and completely different from my first pregnancy four years ago. Normally being pregnant becomes such a public thing, everyone notices your changing body, random strangers say congratulations, every coworker and parent asks how you’re feeling at least twice a week, people ask to touch your belly.. But here I was at home, only showing my face to the world and while I wasn’t hiding my pregnancy, there was simply no one to to notice.
I returned to work in-person in July and spent the remainder of my third trimester adjusting to a new normal. I had to learn to sing with a mask on, to lead music outdoors, to adapt my sessions in order to promote social distancing, and to limit instrument sharing. Developing social skills is such an important goal for young kids, and I love creating interventions that encourage them to take turns and physically interact with each other. But this is challenging to do when the children are not allowed to high five each other, hold hands, trade instruments with each other, or play a drum together. Often I felt like my sessions were not “good enough” because of all the new restrictions.
But it was wonderful to be back out in public, to finally share my pregnancy with my coworkers and families and have two months of a somewhat “normal” pregnancy. But there was always a small fear of catching COVID, not knowing what it would mean for me or my family. Every day I changed my clothes at the end of the school day, worried I might bring home the virus to my family. I washed my hands and doused them in hand sanitizer at every possible opportunity. I only went to work and then back home; I didn’t go to any stores or playgrounds. And while I felt relatively safe, there was always that slight fear, the what-if. What if COVID endangered my pregnancy?
…I gave birth during a pandemic
September came and our beautiful daughter Eliza was born. I labored wearing a mask (thank goodness it was a very quick labor!) but I ripped off my mask as soon as the doctor put her on my chest because I wanted my daughter to see me, not my mask. We weren’t allowed to have visitors at the hospital, which honestly was a welcome change. And we got to go home a day early as well. Because of the pandemic, I chose to take a longer maternity leave then I had originally planned because it just felt unwise to expose my new baby to this scary virus when I had the support and the means to stay home and protect her a little bit longer. This also meant we decided to keep our almost 4 year old home from school as well in order to keep our bubble as small as possible. This meant that all my expectations of maternity leave completely changed, and I had to accept that this would be different. I expected hours alone with my little girl going to playgroups, meeting up with other moms, and bonding while my husband was at work and my older child was in school. Instead the four of us navigated those first four months all alone at home. We saw some family but mostly it was just us, figuring out our new dynamic as a family of four all day every day. And I am so grateful for those months of intense family bonding, watching our four year old become an amazing big brother, co-parenting and sharing all of the family duties with my husband, and witnessing our little family evolve.
… I tested positive for COVID ten months into the pandemic
I returned to work in January 2021 and less than three weeks later, I tested positive for COVID. The range of emotions after the initial news was overwhelming. I felt angry, scared, guilty, embarrassed, surprised, shocked, shameful. I paced around my house holding my 4 month old baby wanting to hug her for support but also wanting to bathe in hand sanitizer to get rid of any of the germs. In the end, I was incredibly lucky that my symptoms were relatively mild as I basically felt like I had a mild flu for about a week. I never lost my sense of smell or taste and never spiked a fever or had trouble breathing. And by some miracle the rest of my family continued to test negative, thanks to wearing masks and cleaning the house constantly.
After being so incredibly careful for ten months and hiding from the world to protect my pregnancy and then my new baby, it seemed like a cruel joke to then test positive. Friends around the country were posting their vaccination photos on social media, and it felt like we were finally making progress. I felt like such a failure for somehow not escaping the virus, that I didn’t do enough to keep myself and my family safe. I know personally I had quietly judged people who got COVID thinking they must not have been wearing a mask or went to an unsafe gathering or did something avoidable. Now I was one of those people that I had judged. I kept my positive results quiet for a few days and then finally shared my news on social media. The resulting online support was wonderful but most importantly, many people commented that they too were Covid survivors and maybe hadn’t made it public. Hearing about other people’s experience helped me process some of my feelings. This disease is so isolating and scary because of the potential of real danger to everyone, and since my symptoms were not life threatening, I also felt guilt for being so lucky.
And now just a few months after testing positive, I’m fully vaccinated. In fact, I received the first shot almost exactly one year after our school shut down in 2020. As I was waiting in line at the vaccination center, I took a moment to breathe and accept that the last year was overwhelming in so many ways. I was overwhelmed with the excitement of growing our family, overwhelmed with the unknown of working virtually from home, overwhelmed at the idea of returning to work not knowing how safe I would be, overwhelmed that maternity leave was nothing like I expected, overwhelmed returning to work after maternity leave only to go back home again, overwhelmed with gratitude that my family was ok, overwhelmed by finally getting a vaccine and doing my part to help curb the spread of this virus, overwhelmed that all of this happened in a little over a year. I am still overwhelmed by what we are all going through, but being able to look back and reflect has made it easier to process everything that happened during this last year.
…..How was your year?