Covid-19 has brought with it fear, tragedy, uncertainty, and a complete change to our lives. We have spent time in quarantine, sheltered from the world. During our pregnancy with Elliott, I absolutely hated this situation because we did not know until far along in our pregnancy if both Mark and I would be allowed in the delivery room. After so many years of being shut out from pregnancy and shut out from a normal pregnancy, it was so disheartening to be making plans as if only one of us could be present, while also not being able to live our normal lives and our normal distractions and self-care.

Mom and baby at cemetery - Parenting After Loss: The Bubble Chapter 2

Author’s Personal Collection/Michelle Valiukenas

Even once we got the go-ahead that we could both be there, we knew that there would be nothing really normal about our experience. Due to our own paranoia as well as consultations with pediatricians, we created a small bubble of people that were allowed to interact with Elliott in person. Being new parents and feeling incredibly isolated, that has meant that we have so many people who were rooting for us who have yet to have met our little guy except through pictures or virtually. But, it also meant that we had a wonderful excuse to keep people out, to not fear that Elliott would catch something before his vital vaccines occurred, and to shut out a world that would see us as parents to only one child. It became our normal, even though we knew that there was nothing normal about the arrangement.

I wrote a few months ago about our figurative bubbles at a time where we were still living in the limbo of wondering when we would get vaccines and not being able to picture a world in which Elliott could get vaccinated. But, now my husband and I are both vaccinated and serious progress is being made on vaccines for children so our bubble is changing once more. While the last year-plus has brought a lot of mourning–of not getting to have a normal birthing experience or a normal bringing baby home–now I feel a sense of mourning that the air in the Covid bubble is starting to leak and this bubble is going to burst again and there are so many new decisions and fearful situations that we will have to encounter, some of which I will highlight here.

Having a third child

As Elliott approaches his first birthday, we are beginning to talk about whether we try for another child or make the decision to say our family is complete. Several weeks ago, it seemed like we were both leaning towards saying we were done. We couldn’t imagine bringing a child into the world where we did not have a plan to protect a child from a global pandemic. But, now that research shows that if a pregnant person is vaccinated, they pass antibodies down to the baby.  This has been a game-changer because now it feels like we could realistically bring a baby home with at least a level of protection. Add to that the news this week that Pfizer is planning to ask the FDA for approval of the vaccine for children 2 to 11 in September of this year and it starts to feel more possible.

But, the decision is far from simple. Every decision made on this front brings fear and grief, some to different levels.  If we say we are done, there is a grief at not having another child, grief at a bedroom that was supposed to house a second living child would then be empty and a reminder of our losses. If we say we want to try again, we have to be willing to take on the fear, anxiety, and terror of a pregnancy after loss. If we try again, we have to make the decision as to whether we use a gestational carrier or we try for me to get pregnant this time. Either of those two options also feels scary. For me, using a gestational carrier means that I will grieve never being pregnant again. Me being pregnant likely means a very long 40 weeks which would end in a planned early c-section due to Colette’s birth and therefore a possible NICU stay. While it is amazing to be in a position that we can now see so many possibilities, as opposed to just a few weeks ago when it seemed like our only real option was to close the chapter on kids, it is also terrifying and creates an anxiety of uncertainty.

What the world sees

When you limit your bubble to just a few people, almost all of which were with us when Colette died, everyone knows the story and so you do not have to deal with the questions and the comments that every loss parent hates. I can count on one hand the number of times I have been asked if Elliott is our first or if we are going to “try for a girl.” I know that this is a benefit of Covid and while it is strange to say that I am grateful for something that occurred in the middle of a deadly pandemic, it has created a safe haven.

But, now, as that safe haven looks more and more like it’s being chipped away, I dread the questions and comments I will inevitably hear. I have hated the how many kids do you have or how old are your kids questions and now I have to prepare myself for a world in which I will be out in public and forced to hear these once more. Because although my vision of our family as it should be right now is two kids, possibly three, or even four if Sweet Pea had made it to term and was in fact twins as we suspect, to the outside world, we look like parents to an only child and perhaps an oldest child if we have another child.

That I will not be able to protect Elliott the same way

The last 10 months has been a lot of Mark and me in a cocoon with our little guy and a few visits every week from the close family we have allowed in. While we are sad that Elliott has not seen so many friends and relatives, we also know that we have been given the opportunity to shape our world and Elliott’s world in any way we can. We don’t like him to have much screen time (no judgment to parents who feel differently, it’s just us personally), bar important events like the election or the Capitol riots, and we can control that. I personally like to make all of his food (again totally just me and what I want) and I specifically limit it to only organic foods (again totally my own personal issue). But, as the world changes and we let go of some of that only in our house and only with us feeling, does that mean that we have to let go of these restrictions? And if so, how does that feel? Will relinquishing some control be okay or will it make anxiety worse?

While we are so incredibly grateful to be vaccinated and find ourselves angry and sad at the devastation that this global pandemic has caused, we also know that if it were not for quarantine, we would not have had this opportunity to ease into parenting our first living child in a world that does not feel very safe, in a time in which we are still mourning our losses and questioning why they happened. We just hope our entry back into normalcy, or whatever that looks like now, doesn’t feel so triggering and difficult.

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