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Birth During COVID-19: My Reflections on Being a New Father

By Stephen Grigelevich for Brain Arts Org

April 27, 2020

On Sunday, I was bird watching on Great Blue Hill, reminiscing on my days as a Boy Scout, and on my return to Nature. I was also reflecting on my unborn twins lying in my love Rebecca’s belly. They were due in early summer. But they came the next night, suddenly, on April 20th. 8:45pm: “I feel water running down my leg.” 9:00pm: “If you can walk, we can bring you to our ambulance outside.” 9:45pm: “In order to keep the babies safe, we are going to do an emergency c-section, and we will probably elect to do general anesthesia. Dad, you will have to wait upstairs.” 10:45pm: “Here she is. She is a little out of it because of the medicine, but she did great. We’ll come check back in when she feels more normal. Congratulations!” From water breaking to the twins lying in glass boxes, in under two hours. Crazy.

Our window view was our only real connection to the outside world for six days. The huddle of sandstone, yellow brick, and gray tiled buildings could feel ugly and looming, but instead they stand neat and crisp, and they feel containing. I see them, and I feel my cheek against my mother’s warm, red sweater. I cannot leave the building and come back, so I am here, all week, ordering every meal off the big white car phone with big block buttons (the ‘3’ keeps keeps getting stuck and yelling “beeeep!” so I have to hang up and dial again). I operate the wide, mesh shade for us with the chain pully, daily in room 567. Like a first mate rigging, and letting down the mainsail, I’m fixated on the task. I can feel the wind and look out on the rolling waves later. I can feel my stomach churn later.

The hospital culture is designed for expediency, precision, compassion, and risk management. This can feel warming and containing. It can also feel alienating. There is a truth that precedes our conversations with medical staff, air tight to an intersubjective process. Meaning is not cocreated. How the interaction feels will depend on our level of groundedness, our level of acceptance, our level of positivity, our level of faith in the medical system, but it does not change the interpretation of reality, as far as the system is concerned. Certain types of grief are not welcome. So we talk to family and friends, and find they aren’t always welcome there, either. Rebecca’s tears are barely able to reach the staff, who sees our twins’ predicted health outcomes as on the decidedly desirable end of a long spectrum of health measurement outcomes, far away from tragic memories of lost lives and extreme frailty. She must just need more rest, they say. Who can blame them for thinking this. The babies are in good hands. The hospital staff is phenomenal in their technical intuition. There is no power struggle between them and us. I feel respected as a father; they all look at me, often, during every conversation. And as we sit in the NICU with the babies on our chests, the nurses work their magic swiftly, deftly, with a vocational assuredness that I grew up seeing in my mother, a nurse. We feel taken care of

As they keep our babies alive and healthy, we squeeze onto Rebecca’s hospital bed to watch a nature documentary. Among the large pack of flamingoes, the gentle Englishman narrator explains, one baby flamingo isn’t able to gather the strength to make the journey, and it succumbs to the salty mud, trapped forever. It was not strong enough to survive, so it died. Our planet continues to be dug up, poisoned, ravaged, and burned. Only humans can do this, and only humans can stop our weakest ones from dying, and that is part of what our modern society calls love in action. And our twins are being kept alive and well. If they were flamingoes, would they die?

At any minute, I feel grief stricken. As Earth’s apex predators, with the modern medical system as part of our ecosystem, we have traded in the communal grieving that accompanies the death, loss, or sickness of our babies for the more solitary, existential grief of what could have happened but didn’t, of what we safely avoided and never have to think about, if in fact we to choose to never think about it. They are two little peanuts. I heard a nurse whisper, “you look just like daddy” before handing one to me last night. I am acting as another nurse for Rebecca, happily. The hospital handles COVID-19 dispassionately. No one is anxious, like in the grocery stores. Things feel so safe here, not like out in the world, scary. In here, I feel little again. I want my mom. Rebecca wants her mom. Tomorrow, we have to leave, and the twins will stay here for many weeks. We will visit one at time, never together, always in masks. And Rebecca will look down and still not be pregnant, but will still feel the kicking inside from time to time.

I love Rebecca for her strength. I love everyone for supporting us now. The world is on fire. But still, I cannot help my hunger, to bring these children into a pulsing, connected village, and to introduce them to the strange, miraculous, and deeply moving experience of being human.

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