I gave birth at the start of a pandemic

As if becoming a parent wasn't hard enough.

A baby lying in a cocoon staring out the window at the world

“So far, our son experiences the outside world through a window, watching the light bounce between buildings, instead of reflected off water and trees,” writes Crosscut reporter Melissa Santos. Her son was born just as the coronavirus pandemic began. (Melissa Santos/Crosscut)

The printed announcements celebrating our son’s birth remain tucked away in a folder, sidelined by worries and “what ifs.”

Could the virus be spread through the mail? Could we inadvertently ship sickness to our friends and family in our attempt to share our pride with the world?

Out of an abundance of caution, we never sent those birth announcements, which are adorned with photos of a baby born at the start of a pandemic.

So far, our son experiences the outside world through a window, watching the light bounce between buildings, instead of reflected off water and trees.

For a new mom, the scariest thing about COVID-19 has been everything we don’t know about the disease.

When I went into labor, it was two days after the first U.S. death was reported, only a few miles from our Seattle home. At the time, kids appeared to be safe — maybe.

Yet it soon became clear that the novel coronavirus can ravage people young and old. And it is too early to know whether our newborn son has an underlying condition that could make him more susceptible to the virus’ potentially deadly effects.

For us, that has meant figuring out parenthood without many of the support systems I was told would prove essential to our well-being and success.

The La Leche League meetings that came highly recommended by other breastfeeding moms? Canceled. Same for another parent group in town.

Melissa Santos and her baby
The writer and her newborn baby, Eli. (Melissa Santos)

By the time my son was 2½ weeks old, I could no longer see a doctor or lactation consultant in person because of the rampant spread of the virus. My appointments were shifted to phone visits, sometimes with people who had never met me or my son.

I felt adrift and sleep deprived, wading through conflicting advice about how to feed my baby.

By week 3, I felt broken. After one particularly daunting call with a nurse practitioner, who gave me brand new and different advice about breastfeeding, I burst into tears. I asked my husband to take the baby as I hung up the phone, because I was sobbing too hard to hold him.

“It wasn’t supposed to be this way,” I told my mom that day over the phone. She wanted to come visit and help, but by then, stay-at-home orders were in effect in both of our states. We agreed she had to stay away.

My excitement at coming home from the hospital in early March and seeing the trees in bloom — “We have a spring baby!” I told my husband at the time — soon faded. As health officials began advising stricter social distancing precautions, I realized I might not stroll with my son under the blossoms after all.

Most of my friends and family have yet to meet my son. I’m not sure when they will.

Still, we are lucky.

I haven’t lost my job, even as the economy crashes around us.

I am not doing this alone. Single parents face worse hardships. Leaving your baby at home while you brave the possible contagion of a grocery store, for instance, is only an option if you have a second set of hands.

I didn’t have to give birth by myself, in a hospital that is like a war zone. People who are pregnant today have new worries to contend with. During labor, I wasn’t afraid of becoming infected while at the hospital; the pandemic was too new. My husband and mom were able to be with me in the delivery room. That hasn’t been the case for everyone, as hospitals in recent weeks have enacted policies limiting visitors.

Most importantly, we remain healthy. My husband, who is in medical school, was supposed to work at hospitals for several weeks during the height of the pandemic. Those rotations have been canceled.

If he were going to work each day at a hospital, he could have gotten sick, brought the virus home or even died. Some health care workers already have.

I still don’t know when I might take my child on a walk in the park. Maybe we are being overly cautious, but it's hard to know for sure.

I do know that, eventually, my son will walk under the cherry blossoms.

He will always be my spring baby — including next year, when Seattle bursts into bloom again.

little baby touches hand through glass
Baby Eli reaches out to say hello to a visitor. (Donna Blankinship/Crosscut)

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About the Authors & Contributors

Melissa Santos

Melissa Santos

Melissa Santos is formerly a Crosscut staff reporter who covered state politics and the Legislature.