Three years ago, I had a miscarriage. It happened while I was on a family vacation in California, causing my husband and me to trade wine tours and beach days for blood draws and ultrasounds. Then, two years ago, my textbook pregnancy took a high-risk turn, requiring months of bedrest, weekly scans and a long stay in the hospital. So if anyone knows the importance of being able to roll into an emergency room in the middle of a pregnancy crisis, it’s me.
And yet, in the eye of a pandemic, when there’s never been a worse time to leave home, let alone to need medical care, a dangerous thought has been burrowing in my brain.
Should we try to get pregnant again?
As my husband, Emmett, and I walk slowly up and down our block with our 18-month-old toddler in tow, I raise the question.
“Have you seen those articles about how people expect there to be a COVID baby boom in nine months?” I ask, by way of an opener.
“Yeah, and they’ll all name their kids Corona,” he laughs.
“Well, what do you think of that?”
He stops mid-stride and looks up at me. “What, you want to have a baby named Corona?”
“Maybe,” I say. I’m trying to be coy, but it comes out sounding vaguely threatening. Of course I don’t want to name this hypothetical infant after a global pandemic. Or a beer brand, for that matter. I’m a reasonable person.
Or am I? Because what reasonable person, given my medical history and the moment we’re living in, would ever consider this?
Good reasons abound to not try to get pregnant at this time, and I force myself to write them down, as if the act of committing them to paper could exert the same force as goal-setting or a daily to-do list. To record it is to make it real.
Imagine, I scrawl, how terrifying it would be to be in a hospital right now, every interaction tinged with the possibility of infection.
Imagine, I continue, being pregnant at a time when grocery stores are denuded of diapers and when the risk of eating sushi might pale in comparison to the risk of close contact with the person who delivers it to your door.
Imagine, I go on, adding another stressor to our already perilous days, much of which my stay-at-home-husband spends shooing my son away from the bedroom door behind which I now work.
Imagine, finally, bringing a child into this world. To do what? To cower in his or her home with the rest of us, hiding from an unseen killer?
“As the lucky among us retreat to our homes and watch the structure of our days dissolve, there’s nothing but time.”
I write each reason down dutifully, but they’re like invisible ink: wiped out, in an instant, by the compulsion to throw caution to the wind. I cast my journal aside and sidle up to my husband in the kitchen. “Should we just go for it?” I ask him.
What we do, instead, is talk about it.
It’s a ‘talk about it’ kind of time for the world at large. As the lucky among us retreat to our homes and watch the structure of our days dissolve, there’s nothing but time.
I wake late and lie in bed listening to conference calls on mute while we talk about trying to have a kid. At night, after our son has gone to sleep, we debate pros and cons while simultaneously staring down into our phones, absorbing our daily allotment of bad news. Work and parenting and the virus and my fertility have all mixed together into something formless and confusing, and it’s hard to understand what’s driving my desires.
My first thought, always, is what a productive use of time it would be. I’m at home, and could be for weeks or even months. Why not spend that time doing more than trying in vain to stop my son from climbing into my lap during Skype calls, watching bad TV, and devising increasingly inventive ways to cook rice? I could also spend it growing a baby.
I think part of me is also craving a countervailing force. A light in the darkness. Something to look forward to. I have persistent fantasies about emerging from my home when this is all over, after months of neck-up video chats with my co-workers. “Surprise!” I’d say, jubilantly cradling the beginning of a baby bump.
“At 34, I won’t be fertile forever. And if we wait, we’d be waiting for a return to normal that may never come.”
Or if it didn’t go that way, if this could-be pregnancy ended in another miscarriage, at least I could grieve privately this time. Unlike when I miscarried in full view of my 20-something brothers. Unlike when I stood up from a conference room table at work while pregnant and noticed I’d left a spot of blood behind on a chair.
These reasons -– productivity, positivity and privacy -– started small, but then they began to bounce back and forth against the walls of our cloistered apartment, growing longer like a game of Snake. Soon I was re-installing my ovulation tracking app. Soon I was considering tossing my Nuvaring in the trash. Soon I was not-so-casually Googling “giving birth during a pandemic” and learning, to my horror, that my husband might not even be allowed to come to the hospital with me. Each of these impulses is akin to standing on the precipice of a cliff and feeling tempted to leap off of it ― it’s crazy, but l can’t help myself. And maybe, I think, the persistence of this urge, despite the potential of draconian delivery-room restrictions, is itself a sign.
“While a baby might give me something tangible and explicable to pour all my anxiety into, it can’t bring normal back.”
My husband feels the urge-to-try as well, though his reasons are more rational, less virus-specific. It would be nice for our son to have a playmate, he says. At 34, I won’t be fertile forever. And if we wait, he adds, we’d be waiting for a return to normal that may never come.
And I guess that’s the crux of it.
Baby or no baby, normal is gone now. Everything ― even my apartment and my sunny street and the family walks we take up and down it several times a day ― feels chaotic and charged with menace. And while a baby might give me something tangible and explicable to pour all my anxiety into, it can’t bring normal back.
So we continue to stand on the precipice of that cliff. I read the news, pace around my living room, wave to my neighbours from shouting distance and make bargains with myself. The biggest one I’ve struck is this: If we do step off that cliff, I won’t expect a baby to make it all better.
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