Mom Talk: Waiting Out A Pregnancy And A Pandemic
Written by Anne Zimmerman
Photography by PHOTOGRAPHED BY MARIA DEL RIO
Long days that are hard to distinguish from one another. Worry, anticipation, the unknown. Today, writer Anne Zimmerman beautifully explores the connection between those final days of a pregnancy and the drawn-out weeks and months of being locked down due to COVID-19, specifically during the seemingly endless month of May. Anne is the author of An Extravagant Hunger: The Passionate Years of M.F.K. Fisher, and is currently at work on a memoir about her fraught relationship with her mother-in-law. She teaches in Stanford University’s Continuing Studies Program and lives in San Francisco with her three children.
May. The month when my middle child, Leon, was born. Four years ago, before his birth, May was a long month that I always wanted to rush through. June and its spoils (summer picnics, summer strawberries, summer!) was the payoff for enduring thirty-one days of late spring.
I’d always wished to have babies in the fall, so when I discovered I was pregnant, a May baby was hard to wrap my brain around. But as I grew more pregnant, and the month of May grew closer, I began to slow down and notice different things. There was the bright, clean light that filtered through the linen curtains when I woke up in the morning. The delicate pink plum and cherry blossoms on the trees as I lumbered with my daughter to the park. There was the grass (so green!) and the sky (so impossibly blue!). The world seemed fresh and new and beautiful and I, with my perfect round belly, was a part of this rejuvenation.
But one thing about May stayed the same: its string of seemingly endless days. My due date fell somewhere in the middle of May. My mother arrived early in the month and together with my husband and toddler daughter, we waited. And waited. And waited for something to happen.
And that’s where this May, the may of the pandemic, the May of shelter in place, begins to feel like May 2016 and the time spent waiting for a baby to arrive. Each day, my husband and I wake up and eyeball each other as if to say, “anything change?” But nothing—or nothing much has changed. Sure, there are small hints at progress. The fava beans in the CSA we recently subscribed to herald spring. The face masks my mother sewed from my dad’s old shirtsleeves are a harbinger of a future with more movement and physical contact. But mostly things are exactly the same. The days blur together and are agonizingly slow. My moods go up and down, I snap at the kids and try not to cry at lunch time. I dream of my yoga mat but when I’m offered a few minutes of solitude, all I can do is lay on my bed and swipe through the filtered representations of other people’s quarantine experiences.
One night I creep into Leon’s bedroom to watch him sleep. His hair is getting too long. We didn’t have it cut before San Francisco was ordered to shelter-in-place, and it’s been growing since early January. There’s a scribble of blue marker on his right temple and dirt above his mouth. I feel like the best and worst mother in the world. My child is a sticky, creative mess. My child is in need of a haircut, a bath, and a regular preschool routine.
The softness of his sleeping face reminds me of what he looked like as a newborn. And that’s when I realize that I’ve been viewing this May as a punishment: Thirty-one more days of distance learning, a tiny shared back yard, and outdoor “adventures” experienced within the confines of our urban neighborhood. But to him, May is a gift—literally! He’s at home with the people he loves most in the world, he eats huge bowls of oatmeal every morning, and then does mostly as he pleases all day. At the end of the month he’ll turn four. He’ll be, really and truly, a big boy.
I think back to his birth. The labor that wouldn’t start and then wouldn’t progress. On the day before he was born I took one last bath. I stared at my enormous belly, and became suddenly worried that I hadn’t felt the baby move. At my midwife appointment later that morning, I begged for an induction.
While there are interventions that can (or sometimes need) to be done, part of the reason that labor and delivery is uncomfortable is that there’s no way to speed it up. My midwife told me to take a walk in the neighborhood, to stop for something to eat. It was the Friday before Memorial Day and the city was mysteriously silent and empty—not entirely unlike it is now. My husband and I walked in circles around the same small park and shared a beer and a sandwich at a BBQ joint. By the time I was modeling expensive handmade clogs at a boutique a couple of blocks from the hospital, I was having trouble talking through my contractions.
After all the waiting, Leon was born quickly and peacefully on the twenty-eighth day of May. And the moment they placed him on my chest, wriggling and wet, all the waiting and suffering I believed I’d experienced in my late days of pregnancy became worthwhile.
Now, I think of those holy moments right after Leon was born and wonder about this May. Can I make it to the end of this month? If I do, will things even look any different, or better, for my family? We don’t really know. And once again it is me, his mother, who will have to endure the long days of waiting, the inevitably painful expansions and contractions. I stare at him and vow to slow down and notice different things. To dwell less on the uncertainty and confinement.
And I do. The sky, it turns out, is just as blue as it was four years ago. And the grass, it’s just as green. But this year it grows longer than normal—cutting it isn’t an essential activity. We walk three blocks to the open space near our house and Leon rolls down the hill over and over. “I’m alive,” he yells. “I’m alive!”
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