During the uncertain first months of quarantine, ELLE.com asked several novelists to chronicle their new normal with a tribute to the person helping them get by. The results—heartfelt and harrowing—are presented here as a grateful salute to those who kept the world spinning in the year’s darkest moments.
This morning, I enter the obstetrics practice wearing maternity leggings, an oversized T-shirt, and a mint-green kerchief knotted over my nose and mouth. “Hi, sweetheart,” says the administrator at the front desk. She’s wearing a surgical mask. The waiting room is empty. We’re in the third week of New York’s stay-at-home order to try to flatten the curve of the coronavirus pandemic; businesses are shuttered, roads are bare, people stand six feet away from each other in the lines in front of grocery stores. Sirens keep going by. Brooklyn Methodist Hospital, around the corner, has orange triage tents set up outside. I squeeze hand sanitizer into my palms while the administrator takes my name. “You can go straight back,” she says. “We’re not having patients wait up here any more.”
It’s my twenty-ninth week of pregnancy. I crossed into the third trimester during quarantine, working from home, reading the news, trying and failing to imagine what this city might look like by the time my child is born into it in June. What will next month hold? Next week? No one seemed to have any idea. Shut inside my apartment, I spent the hours leading up to this appointment refreshing projections on ventilator use and daily deaths. After the hospital system where we’d planned to deliver announced that “no visitors including birthing partners and support persons are permitted” for people giving birth, I cried for two days. The idea of having our first baby alone, without my partner, without anyone we love…it had to be borne, but I couldn’t bear it. Our doula set up a video conference to let us know she’d be exclusively offering virtual support for now. I sobbed into my pillow while my partner rubbed my back. He put his mouth close to my ear for comfort: We don’t know what’s going to happen, he whispered, things might be totally different by the time the baby comes, and no matter, what we’re going to get through this. I promise we’re going to be all right. But I had lost all perspective. I was curled into my body, the alien swell of it, so scared and sad that I was out of reach. Really, what was I crying over—a changing birth plan? Meanwhile, our friends were sick. Thousands of people were dying. My partner kept whispering and the fetus flipped inside me and the city made its hushed quarantine noises out our windows. I didn’t want to hear or feel any of it. I just wanted to lie there and feel sorry for myself and weep.
A medical assistant meets me in the back of the office. She says, “Go ahead and step up on the scale.” She leans close to slide weights back and forth, adjusting pound measures, waiting for the scale’s beam to balance. “All set,” she says. Her voice is gentle behind her mask. The last time I was here, this same assistant drew my blood. The needle went in painlessly. “You’re really good at that,” I told her then, and she laughed and said, “You’re the third person to say so today.” She’s good at everything she does. In only a few weeks of coronavirus caution, I’d forgotten the kindness, the courage, of a relative stranger putting their body next to yours in order to care for you. She sits me down to take my blood pressure. When the cuff around my arm tightens, it’s like a swaddle. I’d forgotten the experience of someone who doesn’t know you choosing to make you feel safe.
Healthcare workers around the country and the world have been putting their lives on the line in order to fight this pandemic. At the end of March, Spain reported that 14% of its confirmed 40,000 coronavirus cases were medical professionals. New York doesn’t collect occupation data when testing, so it doesn’t have its own numbers to report, but a 48-year-old nursing manager at a Manhattan hospital was one of the earliest in the city to die from the disease. His colleagues spoke out about their daily exposure to the virus. Medical staff here are working without personal protective equipment or rest. At one point, an emergency push alert popped up on my phone: “New York City is seeking licensed healthcare workers to support healthcare facilities in need.” That need is desperate—New York’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, told reporters: “Our health care workers have been through hell. It has been war-like conditions.”
Yet the staff at my obstetrics practice keep putting on their masks, coming to work, risking themselves in order to help others. They are patient, they are generous, in the midst of pandemic. In an examination room, I sit by myself, playing with the knot on my kerchief. Then the doctor comes in. We chat about the virus, the weather, the hospital where he spent this morning delivering babies. I lie back on the table for the ultrasound. In an instant, there’s the baby on the screen in front of us: the globe of his skull, the two smooth sockets of his eyes, his vertebrae linked neatly into a long chain, his arms raising and lowering. I have been so scared and sad these days, but to be here puts my worries in context. If we are in these people’s hands when we are sick, or hurt, or giving birth, then we will be lucky. They are doing every single thing they can for us.
The doctor isolates the sound of the baby’s heartbeat. It thumps while we listen, a steady ocean sound. The lower half of the doctor’s face is covered but I can tell by his eyes and his voice that he’s smiling. “Perfect,” he says. “Just perfect.” Lying back, I have to look in wonder at the fetus in my body, our bodies in this office, the office in Brooklyn, Brooklyn in New York, the city in this nation, the nation in this frightened world. All of us wrapped inside what protections we can access. All of us trying to take care of each other, and these healthcare workers showing us the way.
This content is created and maintained by a third party, and imported onto this page to help users provide their email addresses. You may be able to find more information about this and similar content at piano.io