Today is the birthday of my eldest child, my daughter. This is not the first family birthday celebrated in coronavirus quarantine. Our older son turned 27 last week. We celebrated on our patio, with takeout Italian food. His sisters and brother-in-law-to-be came over and we all managed to hang out, six feet apart.
Birthdays bring on nostalgia, and last weekend I thought about my son’s birth. After having lived in a string of small apartments with two children, we were finally in an actual house, albeit at 1,100 square feet, a small one. But we had saved up enough to put down a modest down payment. We were on our way to home ownership for the first time in our lives. It was a good feeling bringing our baby boy home to our house.
My firstborn’s entry into the world was much different. Similar to now, I was under a stay-at-home order of sorts when I had her 34 years ago. I was eight weeks from my due date back in 1986 when, at a routine OB visit, I was told that because of the condition of my cervix, I needed to immediately seek bed rest. At the time I was working full-time. (With three more kids to follow, it was, incidentally, the only time I would ever work full-time and have my own work-related health benefits.)
I drove home from the appointment, stopping at the bank and the grocery store, because who knew when I’d be able to get out again, and then came home and lay on the couch, poring over the bed rest section of What to Expect When You’re Expecting. I waited for my husband to come home (this was in the days before cell phones) to tell him the news. At a mere 24 years old, adulthood and marriage were still new to me, and now I was facing complications with my very first pregnancy. It was scary times.
Bed rest was not fun. Back in ’86 and only married for a year, my husband and I lived in a one-bedroom, one-bath apartment, with a cat. We had a living room, a kitchen with a small breakfast area, and that about covers it. How I wished in those days for a place with a balcony or patio on which to stretch out in a lounge chair in the fresh air. Rather, our apartment was cramped and dark, and the only outdoor space was a well-traveled walkway that our seven other apartment-dwelling neighbors would pass through from the street to the alley.
The way our unit was situated, there was no direct sunlight at all in the apartment, save for a tiny triangular bit that fell on our opened door. At the top of the stairs leading to our and our closest neighbor’s apartment was a landing only big enough to stand on and place a couple bags of groceries or a laundry basket while unlocking the door. No room to prop even a modest-sized chair in order to sit outside.
I was thankful to be upstairs at least and not on the ground floor, staring at a fence or the alley-side parking lot. At least I could see a single tree in the property next door and an occasional bird perched in it, along with blue sky.
Inside, my one and only physical position was horizontal. Before leaving for his volunteer job at the historical society and then his actual night job as a courier, my husband would pack me a brown-bag lunch, typically consisting of a sandwich, yogurt, and fruit. He’d also leave something similar for me to eat for dinner. On the weekends, he would make dinner, which often was hamburgers, spaghetti, or soup.
I could not drive and could only leave the house to see my doctor and go to the hospital for stress tests to check on the welfare of my unborn child. My entertainment was the few books I had around the house, the daily newspaper, my journal, and the television set. We did not have cable–just four local stations and PBS. We did not even have a remote control, so I would coincide turning the channels with trips to the bathroom or to get another pitcherful of water from the fridge. My only company was our cat, who shared our lumpy, used sofa with me.
Our sole, avocado-green phone was in the kitchen, attached to the wall of course. I didn’t even have the convenience that a portable landline brings. The phone, fortunately, had a long enough cord to stretch to my spot on the couch, but I would still need to get up to answer it or dial.
My friends from work came by one time and brought a pizza and salad. That was the only face-to-face socializing we did. Easter fell during my time of bed rest, and my family, including my newborn niece and her two-year-old sister, came over and had dessert. I stretched out as best I could on the couch while surrounded by 11 people in our small apartment living room.
The night my daughter was born, my closest friend in town was over. My husband cooked up some hamburgers (what else?), and we hung out. She brought over an outfit for the baby-to-be. It was great seeing a friend. When I emerged from using the bathroom, my water broke and I realized I was in labor. Three-and-a-half hours later, my daughter was born. The birth was fast and fierce and painful, and I barely saw my baby before she was whisked off for a night in the NICU.
Those seven weeks of bed rest remind me of this time of stay-at-home orders, except it was much more difficult. Despite what some people are feeling, this isn’t a bad era to be stuck at home. We now have multiple TV sets with remote controls and access to all sorts of entertainment, from thousands of TV shows to new-release movies.
We have cell phones, a futuristic concept in the ’80s, on which we can chat or text at all hours of the day and night to anywhere in the world. We have tablets on which to read a best seller at the touch of a digital button or two. We have social media to see what our friends and even celebrities are up to, which, at this time, is not much different than what we also are doing. Coronavirus, in some ways, has become the great equalizer.
We have laptops and desktops and the Internet to do schoolwork and paid work. We have access to a world of information, including how COVID-19 is spreading. We can leave our houses on foot to take a walk or by car to take a drive. We still have access to food from grocery stores, which remain open, and health care if we need it. Most of all, we have time. Time to bond with family, time to read, time to work on household projects or crafts, time to contemplate life.
Not being able to go anywhere we want at any time because we’re stuck in our homes or stuck in a bed is an annoyance–yes, a major annoyance, but still just an annoyance. As long as we’re not sick or dying, we have a lifetime to make up this time we are all at home. My daughter lived to become an intelligent, kind, productive member of society. She and I got through those seven weeks of bed rest together, and we’ll all, each and every one of us, get through however long coronavirus keeps us indoors. I promise.