My Pandemic Baby Is Turning One - and We All Deserve a Cake
Updated: Mar 31, 2021
“Is he waving bye-bye?”
The question stopped me in my tracks. Slack-jawed beneath my mask, I locked eyes with my son’s pediatrician. Nine months into the pandemic, a new wave of sadness rolled over me as I realized that my baby had not once received a kind wave or smile from a stranger. He’d never been inside a grocery store, and the waving milestone had not so much as crossed my mind.
“It’s OK,” the doctor responded to my silence. “He probably doesn’t get out much.”
If this pandemic was a baby, he’d be about the same age as my son.
My Colton Dean was born in a hurry on March 27 in Los Angeles, induced a week early for fear of overrun hospitals, a mysterious, deadly virus, and the potential that birth partners could be banned from delivery rooms at any moment. Businesses were shuttered, an ominous “stay home” order was in effect, and not a shred of toilet paper was stocked across the entire U.S.
From a hospital bed overlooking the twinkling lights of the Hollywood Hills, Colton entered the world with hardly a peep. He’d had a time getting through the birth canal and it seemed like all he could do to just look up at me with his tired eyes and bruised face. All my fears about being exposed to Covid-19 in the hospital were instantly pushed aside by crippling guilt over forcing my son, who was moving in slow motion, to comply with pandemic reality before he was ready.
The next day, we were wheeled out with a few bottles of formula, four paper masks, and orders to stay under strict quarantine for the indefinite future. With almost no reliable data about the virus and newborns, there was no room for risk. It felt like we had been cut loose from a parachute and were in free fall.
Our first days together were equal parts joyful and terrifying. As a second time mom, I had imagined a breezy fourth trimester free of all the new-mom jitters. Playdates with my 19-month-old daughter and not-sweating-the-small-stuff were on the agenda, but I was swiftly presented with a new reality. Motherhood has a way of doing that, even in non-Covid times.
In the weeks that followed, I lay curled up in a tiny corner of my king-sized bed, with crisp white sheets growing dingier and milk-stained by the day. I drifted in and out of sleep as I watched and listened to Colton’s breaths from his bassinet, squeaking in and out. I recorded dimly-lit videos and emailed his pediatrician with new worries almost daily. When he was quiet, I jolted up in a panic. Had I lost him?
Through the wall of our living room, I could hear my husband and toddler throwing all screen time limits out the window, surviving on a loop of Frozen and Frozen 2: a double feature between breakfast and nap, with another before bed. Hearing “Into the Unknown” immediately draws me back to that time. A messy mix of rose-colored nostalgia and another terrifying dimension.
We sanitized the many deliveries that arrived, worried that each one could be a trojan horse for Covid to enter our home. We had so little reliable information about the virus or how it spread, and no way of knowing when we’d return to any semblance of normalcy. In the meantime, we FaceTimed. (All. The. Time.) Grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends cooed over a palm-sized screen from thousands of miles away, hearts aching on both sides of the call. In lieu of newborn photos, we sat on our front steps while a photographer snapped our first family-of-four shot from a safe distance away.
Then, slowly and all of the sudden -- my baby boy grew. He became a living, breathing reminder of the passage of time, which so often felt like it was at a standstill within the walls of our home.
Like the changing tide of pandemic culture, Colton had evolved from a delicate newborn to someone stronger. Spring turned to summer and the weight of his growing body finally felt sturdy enough to safely venture out into our new, socially-distant world.
Armed with guidance from the CDC and our doctors, Colton began meeting local friends and family members, greeting them with outstretched arms and a gummy grin. I felt guilt creeping in, again, for depriving him of the social interaction he so clearly was thriving on -- as if quarantining was my choice. I wondered if he could sense smiles underneath the masks, or if all Covid babies might develop a super power for reading people on their eyes alone.
Then, the lightness of summer faded. Fall arrived with sharp uptick in case numbers and fatigue -- both from the pandemic and a crawling, climbing, curious baby. Some days, I hid alone in a corner and sobbed because it was the only thing I had energy to do.
By winter, the first doses of a shiny new vaccine offered a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. A frigid reminder that this pandemic will end, and so too will Colton’s babyhood.
As 2020 drew to a close, the promise of a new year felt more loaded than ever before. There I sat in the middle, utterly conflicted between wishing time would speed up through the end of this global nightmare, but also longing for it to freeze so that I could hold and savor my sweet infant a while longer.
Even in a pandemic, babies don’t keep.
The building blocks of Colton’s life, and mine as his mother, are intricately woven together with Covid-19 now and forever. I hope that someday it will fade from the defining chapter of his story to an early footnote, but that each page to come has been fortified with deep love.
When Colton was born, we called him “our bright spot.” During the darkest days of lockdown, his was a light shining more brilliantly than anything I’d seen before. One year in, it still blows me away.
But what moves me to my core is this:
While we’ve all been keeping six feet apart, Colton has been gifted with the innate instinct to reach out and wrap anyone he meets in a tight, euphoric embrace. Since he could hold himself up, he’s made it his mission to hold on tight to others, too, squeezing with every ounce of might from his head to his toes. Those bear hugs are his way of showing happiness and love, and they are absolutely everything to me.
Many milestones may have been missed over the last year, the Covid baby books may be bare, and social norms may be delayed, but I have no doubt that my children can feel just how much they are loved. That makes everything all right in our world.
With my son’s first birthday now approaching, frankly, all pandemic parents have earned one heck of a cake. We may not be out of the woods yet, but we’ve collectively endured a full year of trauma and joy, gaining strength we didn’t know we had. On this anniversary, I celebrate all of us.