Two weeks away from introducing a new human to this world, I have had an unusual amount of time to reflect, as have many people who have been self-isolating in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic that is ravaging our species. However, unlike many other pregnant women in the same predicament across the globe, I am fortunate to have access to good health care, am financially stable, and have a safe home with all the amenities with which to provide me (and baby) nutrition, comfort and emotional stability. I have a strong supportive network of family and friends who are checking in daily and offering their help, and I have a loving, caring husband who can work from home while taking care of me, and is ready to rush me to the hospital when baby decides to make his/her debut. In other words, I know I am lucky.
While I hope baby also stays bunkered for another couple weeks, in order to grow strong lungs in case this virus does align with predictions and infect a large percentage of our global population, I somehow sense that baby is in no hurry to poke his/her head into our reality, intuitively knowing that the womb may be the safest place for him/her at the moment.
People have been messaging me, asking if I’m concerned or worried for the sake of my baby’s health. Although there has been no conclusive evidence that coronavirus is any more dangerous to a fetus or a newborn than to a healthy adolescent; because the virus is new, of course I realize there are unknowns, and that it is best to stay home and safe, and reduce all risks of infecting myself or the baby.
Mostly, I’m worried for the health of all humanity.
What does particularly concern me, however, is the changing social environment into which our baby will be born, where strangers greet one another from six feet away, if they dare to venture outside at all, where the first human faces baby encounters at the hospital will be shrouded in masks, and the only people who will be holding him/her for the unforeseeable future will be mommy and daddy.
I realize this is the norm for many societies, with or without a pandemic, particularly in rural areas like where I grew up in Summit Township of Erie, Pennsylvania, where geographic distance prevents true village living, and where families thrive in relative isolation. However, this was not the reality I had predicted for our baby. After many years living abroad, first in an actual village in Ghana, then small close-knit communities in the Virgin Islands, where communal life is the norm, and where the welfare of the entire community relies on interdependence--I grew to dislike the “stranger danger” I observed in some American children, and couldn’t help but perceive their shyness as disrespect.
In both West Africa and the Caribbean, the social custom of greeting passerbys and saluting your elders is adamantly upheld. In fact, in Ghana, if a youth passes by an elder without saying “Good morning,” whoever is around will swiftly chastise the child and insist on a greeting. A communal jury is always watching, to ensure the children of their village are upholding custom, and more importantly, learning good social graces.
My husband Adam and I are new to our present geographic location, Hawaii, and I was already sad that we would be away from family and the close circle of friends we had in the British Virgin Islands, where we had wanted to start a family, before being displaced by Hurricane Irma of 2017. Still, I have tried since our arrival here in August 2019 to forge new friendships and bond with neighbors, hoping that our child would have many hands to hold him/her, and many aunties and uncles to keep him/her on the straight path. Now COVID-19 has made that impossible, limiting the goodwill of even our most physically proximal family and friends to a phone call, or at best, a video-chat.
The value of communal love for a child is not just sentimental for me, it is research-based. Experts tell us that newborn babies thrive off of nearly-constant physical contact, that it affects not only their social, emotional development, but can actually affect their physical growth, and the development of their brains. Constant physical contact with a baby between just two parents is impossible--even for the most ardent--who cannot hold their child for hours on end. That is when normally grandma or aunty swings in to the rescue and sweeps the baby into her arms, as mommy or daddy takes a nap, or showers, or simply uses the loo. In Ghana, I never saw a baby sitting or lying alone; there was always an aunt or cousin or neighbor to hold the baby, or carry the baby in a wrap on his/her back. This may be why I also never heard a single baby cry, and believe me, I listened and looked for it, astounded by the high volume of babies, and zero volume of baby cries.
Thanks to COVID-19, an entire generation of babies are being born right now who are unknowingly being denied this basic human benefit. And while there are much greater issues to worry about, including hundreds of thousands of people being infected with a virus we know very little about, and 27,000+ poor souls that have already been taken, I cannot help but begin to consider all the lesser, but pervasive, byproducts of this virus, and how, for the new humans now entering the world, this virus may present a reality starkly different than the one a mother may wish for her child.
Still, I consider myself, and our baby, lucky. And mostly, I worry for the health of all humanity.