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By The Way

It was supposed to be a pregnancy full of travel. Instead, I spent it in lockdown.

(Illustrations by Olivia Waller/For The Washington Post)
Staff writer

The first time I canceled a trip because of the coronavirus, I felt a little dumb, a lot overcautious and kind of ashamed. It was early March, and New York City — where I lived until last year — had a small but growing number of confirmed cases. Plus, I had a train ticket, a dirt-cheap hotel reservation and Broadway shows lined up for a birthday getaway.

But then my husband and I talked it out. And we agreed: If we went to a potential hot spot for an unnecessary trip and got sick, and something happened to the baby, we would never forgive ourselves.

Writer Hannah Sampson and her husband, Kenny Malone, walking on a trail in Washington in early May. (Kenny Malone for The Washington Post)

I had hoped for a pregnancy full of getaways: no extravagant babymoons, just short and sweet trips to visit family and friends and a few of the places we had come to love over 10 years together. I wanted the warmth of my parents and siblings; the cheer of lifelong friends; the comfort food of Miami; and the sunsets of Florida’s Gulf Coast. I wanted to tell our little girl that she visited Disney World before she was born and take pictures for her scrapbook. I wanted to fill my heart while she grew.

Even after canceling that first trip, I held onto hope that others would still happen. I insisted stubbornly, foolishly, that we would still go to the Florida island where we got married for our fifth wedding anniversary in May. But one by one, every plan changed. No family visits, baby showers in our Florida and Pennsylvania hometowns, or quick weekends in New York. Instead, getaways consisted of walking our dogs on quiet trails, exploring new-to-us streets in the neighborhood on increasingly swollen feet and occasionally sitting in a wide open field nearby. Instead of going to that island for our anniversary, we found a live camera feed and watched the sun set on the beach from our couch.

The writer enjoys her anniversary dinner in front of a live stream of the sunset at Anna Maria Island on Florida's Gulf Coast. (Hannah Sampson for The Washington Post)

I had looked forward to traveling during this time because the couple years I spent trying to get pregnant often felt like their own lockdown. Schedules revolved around doctor’s visits, injections, acupuncture, blood draws and procedures that left me dazed and in pain. I had already spent a season avoiding work trips and family visits to South Florida because of the Zika virus, which is known to cause birth defects.

The news that I never expected to hear — that a round of IVF had actually worked — came a couple months before the first reports of the novel coronavirus in China. During those pandemic-free months, I was mostly preoccupied with how sick I felt and how nervous I was about any possible complications.

But now I’m grateful to have fit in queasy Christmas visits to Florida and Pennsylvania, a sunset-filled few days in Los Angeles in January, and a long February weekend in New York, where I spent part of my time writing about the virus. In March, after canceling plans to go back to New York, we decided to take a last-minute drive to Rehoboth Beach. Delaware had no confirmed cases yet and was cold enough to keep crowds away, so we felt fairly safe walking on a mostly empty beach and eating in half-full restaurants. We washed our hands obsessively and watched “Contagion” nervously in our hotel room.

The couple in Santa Monica in early January. (Kenny Malone for The Washington Post)

Since the week we returned from that trip, we have isolated in our D.C. apartment, even as many states started to open back up. The coronavirus is still so new that information on how it affects pregnant women and babies has been scarce. We were reassured by some small studies and terrified by anecdotes. We decided to play it safe and stay home, both for ourselves and the people we loved who would be at high risk of complications if they got sick. To avoid even the smallest risk that I would test positive at the hospital and have to deliver without my husband, our lockdown grew even more strict four weeks before the due date.

The world has had to bear so much tragedy in the past few months that my own disappointments have mostly faded. I still have a job, writing about travel (or the lack of it). We can work from home and create a safe bubble, still making memories over FaceTime and Zoom. So many people are suffering unimaginable loss; a few missed trips barely register on the scale. And for a while anyway, when no one was even daring to take a road trip, our misery in isolation had a globe’s worth of company.

Still, sometimes I can’t stop the tears. Travel doesn’t just mean vacation; it enables physical connection. I couldn’t be home during a family member’s health scare. I wasn’t able to get back for a funeral. I have never felt so far away or so helpless.

But when I talk to our daughter about this time, I will leave out the nights I cried myself to sleep from fear about the future and from missing my family so much it hurt. I’ll try to forget the mornings I struggled to get out of bed, and the guilt I felt when I couldn’t shake a cloak of sadness.

Instead, she’ll hear that her cousins in Florida prayed for her every night, and her oldest cousin in Illinois knitted her a scarf. I’ll tell her how her aunts sent care packages, and that when her grandmothers mailed handmade treasures, they doubled as hugs.

I will show her photos from the day my colleagues and friends in Washington showed up in masks with signs and balloons, Pitbull on a speaker and key lime pie in a bag, to throw a surprise socially distanced baby shower in the parking lot. I’ll remember how I ordered my favorite cheesecake from New York City and did a happy dance with the first bite, and promise to one day take her there to try it herself. I’ll explain why, in the pictures from this time, our hair was really, really long and we sometimes wore masks.

The writer on a walk with her dogs, Charpie and Zadie, in Washington in late May. (For The Washington Post)

Mostly, the stories will be about how her parents took long walks at night, when everyone else was inside, and talked about her — what her name would be, how our dogs would love her, what we needed to do to make sure she was safe. How the promise of her arrival was the beacon that guided us when nothing else was certain. How despite everything that was happening, we were still in awe of the luck that was bringing her to us.

We still don’t know, as we await her arrival any day now, when our families will meet her, if we can work out a plan to take her to see them in a way that keeps everyone safe. I watch the country reopen and new infections spike, and I worry all over again. I wish our own moms could be here to help us through the haze of new parenthood.

One day, hopefully before too long, this little girl will see her mother’s favorite beach and her dad’s childhood parks and get to know all the people who loved her before she was born. When it’s safe, we’ll show her the world. And now we know, more than ever, to teach her to never take any of it for granted.

Editor’s note: Hannah and Kenny welcomed their daughter on Friday, July 10, 2020.

Read more:

Airlines tried social distancing on board. For many, that experiment is ending.

A woman went into labor midflight. Two Carnival cruise ship nurses stepped in to deliver the baby.

Private jets, chefs and coronavirus tests: This luxury ‘summer camp’ wants to take the kids off your hands

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