My husband and I learned we were expecting our second child in June 2019. He had always wanted a second child a few years apart from our first, as he and his sister are. Like many hopeful couples, we had struggled with fertility issues and we were both grateful for this blessing.
But after our initial excitement, I thought to myself, “I have to be on maternity leave again.” I was already dreading those 12 long weeks. Henry, my first son, was a colicky baby and suffered from acid reflux. Since my husband didn’t have paternity leave, my mother offered to come help us adjust to our new life. She stayed for four weeks and was a godsend. Between trying to breastfeed, pump and save milk to return to work, clean up the unbelievable amount of spit-up, maintain the household chores and take care of a newborn, it felt like too much for me. I never felt the bond so many women talk about. Maternity leave for me was not relax and recover. It was survive or die, or so it felt to me.
So, when Jackson was born in mid-February, I knew my mental health was at stake. We’d moved back to Columbia to be closer to family in late 2018. My mom graciously offered to come and help again. I had planned brunch dates with Henry, outings at the library and coffee with friends to get out of the house and maintain my sanity. Some of my closest friends promised to come visit. I felt secure that this maternity leave would not be a repeat of my first. We had a support system in place.
Thankfully, I’d had a few weeks to recover from the delivery — much easier the second time — and adjust to chasing a toddler while carrying a newborn. My mom and in-laws were supportive and helpful, giving me time to rest, play with Henry or catch up on household chores. I appreciated hearing them goo-goo and ga-ga from another room in my house.
And then COVID-19 hit.
At first, I was one of the many people who thought it wasn’t worse than the flu. But then Seattle and New York saw skyrocketing cases, deaths and despair. The City of Columbia issued its stay-at-home order followed by the state of Missouri. My mom left frantically, worried that domestic flights would be canceled. “Quarantine” and “social distancing” were not part of my carefully constructed maternity leave plan. Instead, we had to decide if we would still visit with my in-laws or take our toddler to daycare to maintain his normal routine.
At the bottom of the list: How would I take care of myself? So much for the long-awaited mimosas and brunch at the Meriwether Café in Rocheport. Jackson and I couldn’t meet other moms with newborns with the library shut down. I couldn’t treat myself to coffee with a friend when Lakota wasn’t allowed to let people dine in. Maternity leave was turning out worse the second time around.
After leaving my postpartum check-up — I bombed the anxiety test and requested an IUD because I wanted to avoid a third maternity leave — I knew I needed a new plan or I would feel like I was failing motherhood again. But what could I do during a pandemic that had shut down the entire country?
I’m a list-maker, so naturally, I started one. I asked my husband to help me find time to exercise. I requested family walks when the weather was nice. I relied on text messages and video chats to friends and family just to see a new face and hear a new voice. We took car rides around town and held dance parties in our living room. Still, I needed something more to keep myself sane.
I knew returning to work was an option and wanted to try part-time. Since everyone was stuck in their house during stay-at-home orders, I kept thinking I could work from home, feel a sense of accomplishment and get paid in the hours I wasn’t wiping spit-up off my floors or changing my shirt. It also granted me the opportunity to talk with other adults. From my perspective, it was a win-win situation and certainly helped me mentally.
Staying optimistic was a saving grace for me. I tried to identify a few things each day I was grateful for: a sunny day, a hot shower uninterrupted by baby cries, a grocery store that actually had toilet paper in stock.
I also found that being stuck at home with my husband and newborn brought us closer. While he worked from home, he had a first-hand glimpse into how difficult it can be to care for a colicky newborn 24 hours a day. Life at home wasn’t just reruns of “The Office” or sleeping when the baby slept. Him being home also allowed me some extra time for self-care, which I desperately desired. Whether it was an additional five minutes to finish folding laundry or a 30-minute reprieve to read the next chapter in my novel, he tried to give me breaks to help maintain my mental health.
Looking back, the last three months haven’t been easy. We’ve been challenged, but I am happy we’ve bonded as a family and I am grateful for our health and financial stability. And as we learn what life will look like after this pandemic, I hope one day we’ll laugh as we read Jackson’s baby book, reminiscing what life was like during quarantine.