“My face was the only unmasked face he saw for the first hour of his life.”

I began my maternity leave a week early. A week before my due date, I should say, to give myself some time to decompress from the insane few months of work I had endured. Instead, I had one day off and then went into labor that night. We arrived at the hospital at 1 A.M. and we didn’t see a single soul besides the hospital staff at the COVID screening station. My husband pushed me in a wheelchair he found in the breezeway, and they looked at my white face as my husband explained that I was in labor, bleeding heavily, and needed to go up to labor and — labor and delivery immediately. They slapped a surgical mask on me and whisked me away, my husband following after he went back outside to park the car.

I remained masked the entire time, except when I had an oxygen mask on instead. My son was born at 10 A.M. Healthy, pink and screaming. My face was the only unmasked face he saw for the first hour of his life. He was perfect and here, and suddenly all of my pandemic anxiety was shifted to him. It was the beginning of our beautiful, stressful baby bubble.

The next twelve weeks were mostly blissful. We had the new parent struggles, but we were happy in our baby bubble. We only took my son to the pediatrician, and on long walks where we dip into a driveway or roll into the street if we passed somebody who didn’t do the same. I’d always imagined my maternity leave would include mornings on the back porch with my friend, who was another new mom, sipping coffee in the sun while our babies nap next to us. I imagined walking around Target with him in a stroller, strangers stopping us to peer in at his fresh baby face, browsing baby clothes because he was outgrowing his current wardrobe. He’s eight months old and I’ve never done any of those things. He’s never interacted with another baby before. None of my friends have ever held him. His own grandparents have only briefly held him, masked outside. I wonder if we’ll grow up stunted in some social way, having never shared a toy with a baby his age or even interacted with anybody within thirty years of his age. I wonder if he’ll be closer with us, or if he’ll want to distance himself even more when he grows up because we spend all of our time together right now.

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