My husband and I recently made the difficult decision for him to move out of our house and into our friend’s little mother-in-law apartment. No, the hours of household quarantine didn’t drive us to each other’s throats — we hadn’t yet even been cooped up together that long. Rather, he moved out because he’s a doctor actively seeing patients with COVID-19, and we decided it was in our family’s best interest that he not risk exposing me or our son.
Many other first responders and health care workers across the country have had to — or will have to — contemplate the same decision. They realize it’s likely not a question of whether they will contract the virus but when, and they want to limit their families’ exposure as much as possible, especially if a member of the family is at higher risk.
High risk includes someone like me, as I’m pregnant with our second child.
Still, despite being temporarily separated from my husband, I know that I’m lucky. He’s not working in a hospital intensive care unit but serving patients in his family medical practice and at urgent care. I’m on a group text with other partners of doctors who are also solo parenting through the pandemic. I work for an incredible company that is very understanding of my parenting predicament. My neighbor installed a home security system for me. My parents live nearby. When he’s not working, my husband grocery shops for us and leaves fresh produce on our doorstep so I need not take that risk myself. I live in the beautiful state of Maine, so my kid, our dog and I can romp in the woods or by the ocean without seeing another soul.
Like every other parent in the world right now, though, I am nonetheless struggling with how to talk to my kid about what’s happening — why he can’t go to preschool or why he can’t invite his friends over to play. (I’d give my kingdom for a Very Special “Daniel Tiger” episode in which a global pandemic comes to the neighborhood and everyone has to stay inside for three months and we slow pan to Mom Tiger crying alone in the pantry, shoving banana bread into her mouth.) And I’m struggling with how to explain to him where his Daddy is and when Daddy is coming home — an impossible concept for a 2-year-old to comprehend.
There are other things I hadn’t counted on when we decided that my husband should self-isolate elsewhere for our safety while he continues to see patients. The other day, I woke up to a lot of vaginal bleeding and know that I needed to get to my obstetrician as quickly as possible. But my obstetrician won’t let my toddler come into their office right now, so I had no other choice but to ask my parents to break their own isolation and watch my potentially virus-shedding child.
My fetus is OK — my prescription was, somewhat hilariously, to “reduce stress” and “rest” — but I then had to spend two weeks anxiously watching my parents to see whether they would become symptomatic. “I feel like my choice may have signed my parents’ death warrant,” I texted my pandemic parenting group at the time about my decision. “Doesn’t feel like you had much of a choice,” they replied.
My days right now are full of apologies: I apologize to my parents because I’m worried we’ve put them at risk to try to mitigate my risk. I apologize to my kid because he wants to play with me and I need to be on a conference call. I apologize to my clients because there is a kid screaming in the background of said conference call. I apologize to my dog because I don’t have the time or energy to walk him as much as he wants. And I apologize to my husband because when he calls me at the end of his day, I’m usually asleep.
I want some apologies, too. I want an apology from the Trump administration for its negligence in preparing us for this pandemic and its suggestions last week that we ignore medical advice and roll back social distancing early. I want it to apologize to the state leaders who are left to make hard decisions with no leadership from the federal government — especially to my own governor, Janet Mills, whose calm and transparent handling of this crisis should serve as a model to other leaders across the nation.
I want an apology from all the people who are hoarding N95 masks or selling them at $20 apiece. I want an apology from every single person who isn’t abiding by their states’ rest-in-place orders right now.
And I want action. Every health care worker and first responder in this country needs all the personal protective equipment that would’ve been recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during any normal respiratory infection epidemic — and they needed it last month. People like my husband are putting their own health at risk by seeing patients — stories are already emerging about young, healthy doctors in critical care because of complications with COVID-19 and young nurses who have died — and they deserve all the protections we can give them. (That is why, when I don’t have a toddler demanding I read “I Love You, Stinky Face,” for the 593rd time of the day, I do work for Physicians for Human Rights, who are demanding that the Trump administration invest in adequate protective equipment immediately.)
People ask me what I’m most looking forward to when this is all over, and, of course, I’m looking forward to my husband coming home, to going out to restaurants, to sending my son back to his incredible preschool and to making plans for play dates and concerts in the park. But the thing I am most looking forward to is the time when every single choice we make — from asking for a grandparent’s help with child care to going to the grocery store — doesn’t feel like a life-or-death decision for somebody.
Before he moved into self-isolation, my husband said, “In four months’ time we are going to look back on this time and see how hard it was but be proud of how strong we were.” And I hope he’s right. I hope that, in four months, the world will look like it did four weeks ago. I hope that I will deliver a healthy baby and that my husband will be by my side when we meet that baby for the first time. I hope that our friends will all be healthy and home with their families. I hope those who work in small businesses will have jobs to go back to. I hope that we will have flattened the curve soon enough.
Because if the worst keeps happening, to my family and to others, then no apology will be enough for any of us.