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Homebound with Newborn

Illustration of two birds singing to their newborn in a nest the words

Homebound, just a little while longer. Hopefully.

I remember reading about the coronavirus outbreak in mid-January, after it had made its way to places outside of China. At the time, it seemed like most people on this side of the hemisphere were taking it lightly, if they were thinking about it at all. I had been practicing some form of isolation for a few weeks, having given birth at the beginning of the year, and was still in that new parent haze. Still am. There was a lot of scrolling up and down my phone in the wee hours, reading the news, and revisiting the same articles on newborn development. There was a lot of Netflix watching. There was very little sleep.

Then news reports on the outbreak became more frequent, more frightening. The number of deaths associated with the virus kept rising, and when the death of Dr. Li Wenliang was reported it began to feel like we were living in one of those pandemic apocalypse movies. I kept pushing for us to watch Contagion (which we haven’t yet, because it’s now too real), Outbreak, World War Z (which we did watch, because it’s just Brad Pitt being Brad Pitt, and, well, zombies).

My daily routine, if you can call it that, didn’t change much following the calls for social distancing and sheltering in place. I spent most of 2019 traveling back and forth between Chicago and Fort Worth, and by mid-November was pretty exhausted and also eight months pregnant. Winter had come, and the traveling had to stop for a while. There were still a lot of clinic visits, so I’m grateful for having gone through all of that before the pandemic. I feel for those who are currently pregnant and worrying about this on top of everything else.

Still, I hoped that by this time I would feel ready and be able to go back to campus, visit this or that museum with the new kid, and just get back to life in general. I don’t see any of that happening anytime soon. We were lucky to make our first trip to Fort Worth since the baby was born at the beginning of March. There were already clusters of the virus in most states, and we worried, but the trip had to happen. I had not visited my parents since November, and they had not been able to make it up north due to my mom’s health condition. She was diagnosed with ALS five years ago, and while she’s as lucid as ever, she’s no longer mobile and needs a ventilator to help her breathe. This is the only time I have ever been glad that my mom already has a small ventilator at home. She’s the one I worry about the most. Her body just wouldn’t be able to take it. But she needed to meet Elena, or I desperately needed Elena to meet her abuela before this all got out of hand. And that it did, very quickly. Elena smiled as soon as we brought her in the room and my mom started making faces at her. We were cautious. There was a lot of hand and face washing. There were fewer hugs and kisses, though Elena licked my mom’s face once. It’s been over two weeks, and for now she’s alright, stable at least. We just can’t visit her again until this gets better. We videochat over WhatsApp. It breaks my heart every time.

There’s been a lot of videoconferencing lately, over all the possible apps. WhatsApp, Skype, Google, Facebook, Zoom, Webex, Blackboard. I had already been working remotely, something I’m even more thankful for now, but I’ve had more online meetings in the past two weeks than ever before. Still, the transition has not been as jarring for me as I’m sure it has been for many other graduate students, who are figuring out how to lead discussion sessions online while tending to their own studies. Checking in with colleagues and other folks who are trying their best to keep it together amidst the chaos has made this prolonged isolation less, well, isolating.

My partner and his brother talk to each other every day, more than they ever have since living apart. Sometimes they do mad libs, and I join in. We try to keep in touch with our friends and family who find themselves sheltering in place alone, or who continue to be at greater risk as essential workers. The other day I joined a Zoom call to celebrate a one-year-old’s birthday “party.” It was supposed to take place at the park nearby.

I wonder how the world will look like on Elena’s first birthday, nine months from now. Some days I wake up more hopeful than others, and my anxieties vary by the hour. Keeping up with the news has not been all that helpful, so now I’m limiting my news intake to the early morning and evening, as opposed to panic-inducing scrolling every ten minutes. None of it is very reassuring, but people are showing up for their communities: through local networks of mutual aid, sharing information and resources, dusting off their sewing machines and distributing facial masks, supporting small businesses and artists anyway they can. My hope is that we’re able to get through this, as a species. That we’re able to mourn the losses with a greater awareness of our responsibilities to each other, and that this shows up at the polls in November.