Abigail Beckman’s daughter was born 17 months ago, during the pandemic. Beckman, who hosts Morning Edition on KRCC in Colorado Springs, wrote an essay about her isolated pregnancy and her fierce attempts to protect her new baby from the virus. "...The morning after I took three frantic pregnancy tests in our guest bathroom, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. It felt like a big 'screw you' from the universe after enduring several health problems and months of trying to conceive."
I should remember everything from that moment. The few seconds—or was it longer?—before the sound. Before she cried. Before the child I had carried for so long took her first breath.
But I don’t.
Maybe I shouldn’t beat myself up about it. I put unrelenting pressure on myself throughout the entire pregnancy. A first baby’s hard enough, but my husband and I had her during a pandemic.
In fact, the morning after I took three frantic pregnancy tests in our guest bathroom, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. It felt like a big "screw you" from the universe after enduring several health problems and months of trying to conceive.
My husband experienced our first sonogram from the car over a video call. He wasn't allowed into the doctor's office. We announced the pregnancy in a parking lot during a socially-distanced coffee meet-up with my family - no hugs or hands on my stomach - just awkward congratulations from at least six feet away. I started working from home and as long as I stayed seated during our video meetings, I could've hid my pregnancy from coworkers entirely. I didn't get to rifle through shelves of maternity clothes or gently touch tiny buttons and buttery fabrics to find an outfit to bring her home from the hospital. We couldn't attend birthing classes, learning to breathe rhythmically and laughing alongside other couples, comparing symptoms and belly size.
Everything changed so fast. The surreal experience of expecting one’s first child made all the more surreal by our circumstances. We were alone in our house for months. Alone with a growing baby that I couldn't let myself truly enjoy because every day was groundhog’s day... combined with the added fear of me or someone I love contracting a new and deadly virus. And that left a lot of room for spiraling thoughts of doubt. A vise wrapped around my insides. I rarely let myself enjoy the journey my body was taking out of fear that I might jinx the whole thing because I didn’t deserve this gift.
Was I eating enough leafy greens? How much water did I drink? Was my bathwater too hot? Did I sleep on the wrong side last night? Oh shit, I took Pepto Bismol and this random blogger I discovered while I couldn't sleep says it’s bad for the baby. Did the baby move enough today? Why hasn’t she hiccuped yet?
Not to mention the questions that ran through my head about what kind of world this little baby would be born into. Did I want to subject her to climate change, war, the ever-changing political landscape turning friends into acquaintances and amplifying silence at family dinners? I have friends who have chosen to forgo having children altogether for these exact reasons. Were they smarter than me? How would I shield her from the callous nature of teenage girls? Oh God...teenage boys...the original pandemic that’ll never go away.
What would the world turn her into? What would it take away from her?
The decision to become a parent is one that sets you up for a whole lot of hurt. Deep hurt. A kind of pain that even when everything is going right, the fear that it could always turn wrong. It hurts.
And when my baby was born - when she took that first breath and ventured out into the world - that fear took hold of my entire body. My mind. My nerves. My bones.
If you ever want to feel like you don't know how to do a single damn thing - have a baby.
At times, I felt totally unhinged. This urge to tackle, punch, and rip the throat out of anyone who held her for more than a few minutes. An unyielding desire to protect her.
It goes against logic, but I wanted her back inside my body. She was safe there. Sure, I was happy to cradle her tiny frame and count her delicate fingers, but while she was in my womb no one was bringing germs or making proclamations about what she would be or who she looked like.
She was mine.
I knew her.
No one else did.
I didn’t want them to.
But this was the moment I'd been waiting for, right? Sharing her with my loved ones. Introducing this perfect symphony of organs and flesh and me and my husband to the planet.
I cried as I stood in the shower while my in-laws held her in our living room. They had on masks and respected everything I had asked for. But what if? What if? What if? What if? For months I felt like I would vomit anytime someone came near her. It was the same feeling you get in your stomach when you have to slam on the breaks.
Her first breath was a split second. A tiny gasp followed by a grunt and a short, piercing wail.. This precious being that had lived inside of me, that I'd sustained and loved and been so afraid to lose, had made her roaring announcement of arrival to the world.
My Mom caught it on video on her cell phone. She was one of two masked visitors allowed to be at the hospital. My husband was the other. If she’d asked if I wanted her to document the baby’s birth, I would’ve said no.
She apparently believes it's better to beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission. Go figure.
But I’m glad she didn’t ask. Now I can experience it. Even if it is second-hand and from a slightly different and very unflattering angle.
I think I know why I don’t remember, though. That messy split second was the moment she became vulnerable to everything outside my control.
Can you really control a pregnancy? No. But it feels a lot easier than trying to control the entire world. And that’s what I’m doing now.
Because that breath - the one that filled her lungs - the swell of air that came flying back out in a torrent of fury...it opened her up to something beyond me.
Breath is scary. More than scary. Especially right now. It’s horrifying. During a pandemic, it carries an imperceptible secret about whether someone’s been wearing a mask and staying safe, or if they could possibly pass on the virus.
I don’t want to keep my little girl from inhaling and exhaling. From running through the park. From being around people at the fair, at the grocery store, at the mall. From experiencing the world.
But what do I do when that breath - the one I waited for and hoped she would take - feels like the one thing that can take her away from me?
I hold mine. And I don’t exhale.