I Had A Baby And Worked Hard To Keep Her Safe During The Pandemic — Now I Can't Let Go

by Samm Burnham
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Restrictions have finally lifted. My older kids are back at their camps this summer — they are playing sports without masks and having playdates with friends. I am vaccinated. I can grocery shop without worry, wander Target with a coffee, and attend a spin class. Fortunately, I did not lose anyone to COVID; in fact, I gained my fourth child.

I found out I was pregnant with a perfectly amazing little girl just two weeks before the country went into lockdown. I held my breath for thirty-eight weeks, isolated my family, attended prenatal appointments alone, and labored in a mask. And I did it! My family and I stayed COVID-free, my baby arrived without issue, and we have remained healthy. And now, life is finally returning to normal again. So, why do I feel so upside down?

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It is like there is a tidal wave in my chest — one that I keep down by distracting myself —completing the daily tasks of motherhood and focusing on the present moments with my kids. And then in the middle of unwrapping a string cheese I will remember a moment from last spring when I was home alone with the three kids, debilitatingly nauseous, navigating remote schooling, isolated from family and friends. I think about attending my anatomy scan the day after the CDC released its report stating that pregnant women were at increased risk for COVID complications, and I remember how impossible it felt trying to navigate my fears while keeping the rest of my family both safe and sane.

I remember the impossible burden it placed on me, as a wife and mother, to make decisions for our growing family that others did not understand. The weight of carrying another life and the need to make sure my unborn baby was safe as the entire world was in crisis, everyone dealing with their own anxieties, expectations, and needs. And in these moments, when it all unexpectedly comes to the surface, I choose to focus on the string cheese. I complete the task and then I move on to the next task, because to unpack all the feelings — to actually face them and acknowledge the fears and sadness that come with all of it — feels like something I can’t handle just yet.

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Social situations feel strange, but I am sure that is not unique to me. I feel happy that I am comfortable enough to attend events, and host gatherings at my home — but I have moments where I feel suffocated. Sudden, random moments where I want to scoop up my four kids and run inside to hide. I do not know what prompts them, and I work through the feelings for my kids, but still — they exist.

I am clinging desperately to my now eight-month-old daughter. I call her my emotional support baby. She stays very close to my chest, always, and I am only comfortable leaving her with my husband — while I could easily leave my other children at this stage with family or friends. It’s just that I worked so fucking hard to keep her safe for so long, and I do not know how to let go. I do not know how to believe that anyone else is capable of keeping her as safe as I can, but I am working on it. There is a different (not more, or less; just slightly different) bond with a baby who grew inside of you during a global pandemic. And I am different because of that baby.

Someday I will work through all the tidal waves of feelings. Or maybe I won’t — maybe they will just wash away slowly over time. But for now, I am still a little off. I’m a little upside down and different and not okay. But I am going to give myself permission to live here for a bit — and I would like to offer that to you too — because, holy shit, that was hard. And moving past it isn’t easy.