I have never lived through a pandemic, but I’ve been in this place of uncertainty and fear before. When I was pregnant, I was labeled high-risk and spent five months in bed. I’m talking not being allowed to get up for more than two minutes to shower. I timed my meal breaks to coincide with going to the bathroom so I wouldn’t make any unnecessary trips and risk a miscarriage. Every day I lived with the terror of losing someone dear to me, my baby. I was lonelier than I had ever been in my life. My husband worked around-the-clock to make ends meet, often coming home late in the evening. I barely left the house, and I saw almost no one. I don’t love digging up those memories, but the lessons I learned have come in handy.
As Tom Petty says, the waiting is the hardest part. My friend texts me that she is sure life will never return to “normal,” that we will live like this forever, masked and distant. I respond, “What is normal, anyway?” We have suffered a collective trauma, and it will shape who we become, much the way bed rest changed me. Even after my baby was outside of my body, I lived with the long-term emotional effects of that experience and worried daily about my son’s survival. All I could do was watch the seasons pass, and that is how we will get through this long winter, by waiting. I tell my friend that though it is impossible to imagine, there will be a time when we hug each other and sit in cafes and laugh together over plates of warm food again.
Little routines and rituals become more important than ever. As my world shrunk ever smaller, I began keeping a faux schedule. Every day, I got up and showered and changed my clothes before getting back into bed. In the afternoons, I moved to the couch to look out a window in a different part of the house, and occasionally I lounged on the deck, which I pretended with all sincerity was a yacht complete with concierge service that was forever mixing up my order: A bag of prepackaged baby carrots instead of a martini, how could they? I’d shout to no one, “What does a girl have to do for decent service around here?”
I found my candy television show, “The Nanny,” which blessedly had multiple seasons. The mansion where the main characters lived allowed me to escape my old dilapidated farmhouse for a solid 23 minutes every day.
I struggled, but I also began appreciating small moments. I became good friends with my neighbor, and she often invited me over to rest in her backyard instead of mine. I looked forward to the UPS man like he was the lord and savior himself with packages of books and food my mother shipped, and soon we became friends.
My one regret was that I didn’t ask for professional help. I was worried so much about the life growing inside my belly that I could not find the energy to reach out for a rope to keep me from drowning in my own depression. I didn’t think I deserved it, and at the time, I didn’t have the funds to waste. These were excuses because I didn’t want to face the horror of what could go wrong, what was going wrong with my pregnancy, and I didn’t want to be a burden to anyone.
Now with winter lockdown a real possibility, these uncomfortable feelings are flooding back. I instinctively want to stuff them down. But this time, I’m better prepared emotionally and physically. For one, I can take longer showers, and two, I have a few more tricks up my sleeve.
While on bed rest, I indulged my guilty pleasures. I kept a toy store plastic tiara nearby and put it on my head when I needed to feel … something. I spent hours looking online at designer handbags I couldn’t afford, and my No. 1 addiction was lip gloss. Opening the cap and applying it to my lips became a ritual. I’d pucker and then blot, and remember myself for a single moment. Trivial? Sure, but that was the point.
I played the long game. I could have gotten up and left the house anytime at great risk (not only to the life growing inside me but to my own). I could have taken a chance, thrown caution to the wind, and told myself I only live once. But I knew that if I stayed the course, there was a better chance that I and the people I loved would get through this unscathed. I had little control over the final outcome, but what I could control — staying home in bed — was up to me.
As we head back into lockdown already shouldering pandemic fatigue, scared of the unknown toll this will take on us, I order a $5 bottle of bubble bath. I stand on the patio with a steaming hot cup of coffee and feel the strong winter sun on my face before the chill makes me head back indoors. I close my eyes, imagining the aromas in the steaming bowl of beef stew I’m going to make my son for dinner. I hang a bird feeder outside my office window and watch the birds rejoice. It is all we can do.
Five months of bed rest where the fate of my child hung in the balance taught me about seasons and time, rituals and waiting and waiting some more when all you want is to pull your hair out, run and feel something, anything other than what you are feeling. Pure joy and exhilaration will come again. But right now, it’s going to be a long winter. Pucker up and get your lip gloss.
Aileen Weintraub’s writing has been featured in The Washington Post, HuffPost, AARP, Glamour and other publications. Her middle-grade book “We Got Game! 35 Female Athletes Who Changed the World” is available for pre-order. Her next book, “Knocked Down: A High Risk Memoir,” is forthcoming in 2022. Follow her on Twitter at @AileenWeintraub.