TENNESSEE — I peed on 10 different pregnancy tests on Sunday, December 6, 2019. I was hoping that I’d get a positive. My then boyfriend/now husband and I were trying to have a baby, and we had been having a go at it for about three months. I was pissed it hadn’t already taken. I pride myself on being patient, but I think I’m probably not patient at all, I just tell myself I am.
All 10 of those sticks showed up in my favor that night, and my pregnancy journey was officially on its way. That was when I thought I was having a normal pregnancy, in a normal year filled with normal problems — before masks and distancing and shutdowns and COVID and toilet paper shortages and constantly having to hear “Now, more than ever…” in every fucking commercial on TV.
I live in West Tennessee, but I do a large part of my work in New York City. I perform in and also compose musicals (among other things), and when the pandemic began in China, it seemed like a non-issue here in the USA. By the time the virus was really kicking off in China in January of 2020, I was in NYC working and every morning I’d turn on the news to see various things happening around the world.
I was staying at the Intercontinental Hotel on 43rd Street and 8th Avenue in Manhattan, so my TV channel options were somewhat limited, But they had the BBC, my news channel of choice.
My BBC News choice has as much to do with the fact that I lived in London for three years as it does with what news they actually show. I prefer international news cause it makes me feel a little bit better about the news “bubble” we live in here in America.
And all of the news that day revolved around this strange, new virus coming from Wuhan, China. Was it created from some random man doing an Ozzy Osbourne on a bat? Was it created by the Chinese government to destroy America, whilst taking out EVERY OTHER COUNTRY along the way? To me, it seemed like a pretty fucking steep risk to take if China was trying to destroy America.
Anyways, I was pregnant, traveling and working on a new musical in New York. Certainly, a dream come true in many ways. A child I have prayed many days for is growing inside of me. A dream job, playing a dream role in a workshop. Getting to work first hand with a dream creative team is also something I continue to pray for since the entertainment industry is equal parts fickle and fleeting. And doing it in New York City, where we know “If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere,” is also a dream.
I was enjoying every moment, keeping my pregnancy to myself because I was still only in my first trimester. I was going for long walks in the morning, eating cleaner than I had in many years — no booze, no caffeine, not even an Advil for fear of fucking up this precious fetus. But at that time, I was still being social, we all were, because we could!
Our last three days of the workshop, half of the 40 or so people in the room were sick as a dog with the flu but STILL coming to work and we were all breathing and coughing and laughing and singing on each other. To think back to this now, it seems improbable!
I flew back to Tennessee on Jan. 18, with everything in New York still hunky dory. I was exhausted after a few weeks of working and being preggo, with morning sickness out the wazoo in New York. I stayed in bed for a few days after I returned.
Things were getting less and less normal, but it didn’t fully eclipse us until the day before my husband and I got married. We got engaged during my work trip in January (Jan. 11 to be exact) and set our wedding date for Saturday, March 21, 2020.
On Friday, March 20, 2020, our mayor made the official announcement that our city would begin to shelter in place on Monday, March 23. By this time, we had reduced our wedding attendees to immediate family, the 6 people in our wedding party, our Pastor and his wife.
Our town had slowly been starting the quarantine and mask wearing by mid-February, and we decided that the safest option for pregnant ol’ me would be to live-stream our wedding via Youtube for those who didn’t make the small list.
As I put my wedding dress on that Saturday morning, I felt ready to begin this new journey as mom, and now, wife. I felt ready to do whatever I needed to do for my new family to keep us safe and healthy. But what that would really mean, as the months and rest of the year unfolded, took me by surprise, and most of the time left me in a puddle of my own tears.
Even though I rarely ever talked out loud about it, I have had baby fever since I was about 19-years-old. I chose work over my personal life for over a decade before I was willing to put my selfish work needs aside and finally procreate. And during that decade I would daydream about what my baby shower would be like, what that first visit in the hospital from the grandparents (my parents) would look and sound like, certainly it would be full of laughter and tears of joy!
These were now things that I would not get to experience. These were things that would remain mere daydreams. Colton, my husband, let me cry many days and nights as I yearned for any sign on the horizon or normalcy. I was stuck indoors, protecting my little one from this unknown and all consuming virus, but I was incredibly lonely.
I hadn’t felt this lonely since I first moved to London in 2009. Back then, I would force myself to eat dinner in a restaurant cause it would force me to have some sort of human interaction. But at the same time it would make me feel awkward as people would stare at me, 22-years-old at the time, eating by myself. I once had a woman ask me on her way out if I was OK and if I had been stood up on a date. Ugh, insult to injury… “No ma’am. I’m here alone, by choice.”
This quarantine felt like that: annoying and intrusive. I wanted to share my huge belly with the world! I wanted people to watch me grow! I wanted to be in public and squeal when my son would kick me! I felt like I had earned these things, but I wasn’t getting them.
I walked three miles almost every day, partly because my doctor told me that it would help me in both my delivery and recovery, but I also did it to distract myself from the monotony of quarantine.
One of the few days I broke form was when I decided to throw myself a baby shower in the form of a live stream concert in order to cheer myself up. I’ve been a professional singer and songwriter since I was 18 but I’ve been singing on stage since I was six, and if one thing can cure my fucking depression, it’s singing at the top of my lungs!
I rallied my band together and sang my heart out at 35 weeks pregnant. It was amazing and exhausting! At one point while I was belting my heart out, I truly thought I might explode.
I invited a handful of very close friends to be in the audience, one of the attendees being my doctor, who has also been like a big sister. She squeezed me at the end of it and told me that I was great, brave and loved. These words and encouragement helped, but still my heart was hurting.
I was so proud of this little boy I was growing, I was so proud of how well I was caring for both of us, but I felt like no one knew! I made it 39 weeks — when the baby is finally, fully developed and ready to be born at any time — and we discovered that he was huge! So huge, in fact, I was told that a C-Section was now going to be how he would enter the world.
Colton and I had spent nine months prepping for natural birth in a birthing center with my midwife and all of the oxygen and deep breathing in order to birth my son. Now, not any more: Surgery here I come!
Xander, my son, was high risk for shoulder dystocia, and I decided that the various injuries (or in some horrific cases, death) that could happen to him in the delivery process were not worth it. We scheduled the delivery, got our Covid tests and quarantined for those last few days until we met our sweet baby boy.
On Wednesday, August 12, 2020, we entered the pre-op at St. Thomas Midtown Hospital in Nashville at 8am to the sounds of a newborn one station over being suffocated by her mom who was incorrectly nursing her new baby.
The nurses calmly comforted this delirious mom while getting the baby’s breathing back on track, and my husband and I just held our breaths listening to what was happening around us. My doctor, Holly, suddenly appeared through the curtain of our station saying, “Well, that’s one way to start the day!” and hugged us both to shake off the scariness of what we just heard.
I know in that moment, both Colton and I thought, “Please God don’t let that happen to us”…
Off I went to get my spinal, and before I knew it I was dry heaving into a small bowl as they balanced out my drugs and blood pressure in order for the operation and delivery to begin. The smell of burning flesh filled the room. Colton squeezed my hand. I was breathing and crying and retching.
Suddenly, my blood sugar balanced out and I could focus on what was happening. There was a lot of tugging and pulling. Lots of notes and orders being passed between the doctors and nurses. Then, at 10:34am, there was a deafening cry, the best noise I’d ever heard. My son was finally here! The nurses gave a collective “Woah” at his size.
He was screaming and he was alive! And I felt relieved. I was crying and crying and could finally see the product of all those lonely days and nights in quarantine. They were necessary to make sure that we made it here. Here to where my child is alive with all of his fingers and toes. With his lungs working and brain functioning. With his ability to scream and cry as perfectly as ever, as if he had always been doing it.
I began to realize what this quarantine (and virus) has really been. It has been a moment for all of us to come to terms with what is truly of value to us and what isn’t. What we’re willing to risk and what we’re not. What we really need to survive and what we can officially do without.
For some people, the risk was not wearing a mask, but for high-risk people like me that has never once been an option during this pandemic. And now that he’s on the outside and no longer in the protection of my womb, the need to protect him is an even more difficult task.
Trying to balance making sure my son is well adjusted to other human beings than myself and my husband is the first challenge. We spend most of our days playing and reading and singing in the confines of our home.
I wish I could be less paranoid but his little immune system is still building, and the risk is too great. This is where the loneliness and longing sets in… I know if things were normal he’d be a social butterfly. We’d play pass the baby at Christmases and birthday parties and get-togethers — those that we are forbidden from holding right now.
My husband and I are now vaccinated and anxiously waiting for the rest of our neighbors and region to catch up. Until then I will try to quiet my feelings of sadness for these early days that I’m having to keep to myself, because at the end of the day, we see ourselves as lucky.
We know way too many people who lost everything last year. Whether it was a job or a loved one, 2020 did not hold back on ruining peoples lives. Having our healthy little boy is all we can ask for at this point.
And the days when I’m fucking down in the dumps, I think of my great-grandmother who lost three children in the pandemic of 1918. I cannot begin to imagine what she must have felt, endured and navigated as she tried to keep her other children alive, while grieving the ones she lost.
Sometimes I’m not even sure that story gives me hope, but it gives me perspective. The kind of perspective I need to keep caring for my family, fighting for our health and the safety of those around us.