I held my 2-day-old daughter in my arms, reclining in our hospital bed, and turned up the volume on the television. Savannah, beaming, was announcing Monroe’s birth, alongside Hoda, Al and Craig. “Welcome to the party, Ro!” Craig joked as one of our nurses smiled and congratulated us again.
Frank and I turned away, back to the business of attending to a newborn, before we saw the next stories: a report on the Grand Princess cruise passengers disembarking and a tally of 1,000 known cases and 29 deaths from COVID-19 in this country.
We had known the coronavirus was an issue, of course. As the chief White House correspondent during the Trump administration, I had been covering the White House briefings with then-Vice President Mike Pence and talking with sources daily about the government response to what was unfolding.
But on March 8, when I went into labor, it hadn’t hit that close to home — not yet. When I walked into the hospital a few hours after midnight in a hood and headphones to focus on my breathing, no one so much as mentioned anything about masks or social distancing. After Monroe was born, we immersed ourselves in that endless, miraculous newborn bubble with visitors coming and going, bringing gifts and balloons and food. My mom and dad drove down from Philadelphia; Frank’s sister drove up from Richmond.
None of us had any idea that within the week, the world as we knew it would shut down.
Frank, Monroe and I walked out of the hospital the day the president gave his Oval Office prime-time address, the NBA suspended its season and Tom Hanks said he had contracted the virus. It felt we were in a movie about the apocalypse: One day, everything seemed kinda normal, until suddenly it wasn’t. A well-meaning friend texted about a rumor going around — word of a national shutdown: “Get what you need now. Hit the ATM, etc.” While our 3-day-old baby snoozed next to us, Frank ran to the grocery store at 10 p.m. to stock up on canned goods. My parents, preparing to make another trip to see us, started wondering if that would be really be safe.
That’s why I’m so thankful my mother had the chance to hold Ro in the hospital last March. In the year since, my parents have only seen Ro one other time: outside, on our patio, from 8 feet away. That’s a painful sentence for me to write, although I’m conscious we’re incredibly fortunate to be healthy right now. Frank and I actually moved into our house mostly because of the guest suite in the basement. “Perfect for my parents to stay to help with our future kid someday!” I remember saying to Frank.
It’s been especially tough on my mom. She never expected to be a grandmother, and was ecstatic to find out she would be. The one time my parents visited over the summer, sitting outside in a sweltering D.C. heat wave for hours just to be able to wave at Ro from a distance, my mom wiped away tears as she was leaving. “Next time I see Ro, she’ll be walking,” she said despairingly.
In December, after working my shifts at the White House one week, I discovered I was a “close contact” of someone who had tested positive for the virus. I self-quarantined away from Ro, wearing a mask to breastfeed her and ate in a separate room from Frank. I deep-dived into CDC footnotes, looking for any guidance on what research showed might be safe. I tested myself every two days, breathing a sigh of relief only after two weeks had passed.
Being a pregnant woman or new mom can be stressful enough as it is: Nothing’s what it used to be. Add to that the layer of pandemic uncertainty and anxiety, and it’s no wonder research suggests many pregnant and new moms are struggling under the weight of it all.
The questions seem endless: If I get COVID, can I still keep breastfeeding? What if she gets COVID? What about the vaccine? Since she hardly ever sees other babies in person, how will this affect her social and emotional development? Is she getting too much screen time when she “visits” with the grandparents on FaceTime? Does it matter right now?
And how will I explain this all to Monroe when she’s old enough to understand? In my interviews with other pregnant and new moms for our series “Pandemic Moms” airing on TODAY and MSNBC as part of NBC News’ ‘Life After Lockdown’ series, that’s a question that has come up often. I think about how this has been a shared experience with the rest of the country. It wasn’t just new moms retreating to their “bubbles.” Everyone’s been hunkering down and staying in.
I think about the words I say to her every night as I lay her down to go to sleep: You are safe and you are loved. And I think about how one day, I might start the story of her first year like this: My whole life changed when you were born — and so did everyone else’s.
Watch Hallie Jackson’s reporting on pandemic babies and moms as a part of NBC News’ “Covid One Year Later: Life After Lockdown” series all this week and next on TODAY, "Nightly News" and "MSNBC Live with Hallie Jackson."