Man Plans, God Laughs: Having a Baby During a Pandemic

headshot of Stephanie Tankel

We had a very detailed plan. We had talked through a number of possibilities, having watched the global pandemic unfold in New York City. Nearly all the questions had answers: yes, my husband could still join me for our baby’s delivery in the hospital. No, visitors would not be allowed at all. Yes, the mohel was willing to entertain different options and would do what made us comfortable. No, we would not be inviting the whole community to the bris, as we had hoped to do and had done for our daughter’s naming.

What about our toddler daughter – who would care for her while we were in the hospital? We are blessed with local parents. Should they take her? But they are also “high risk.” What about my brother? He’s local too, but he’s a pulmonologist and encounters COVID-19 patients daily.

We had a very detailed plan! That plan even included an induction date. Since both of our children were conceived via in vitro fertilization (IVF), using technology to “get him out” seemed no more extreme than using medical support to “put him in” in the first place! Our induction date was April 1. We figured that having a baby in the midst of a pandemic was, indeed, an appropriate “April Fools” joke and that we would embrace the date.

Well … “Man plans, God laughs.” At twelve minutes past midnight on Tuesday, March 24, my water broke. Suddenly, all the plans were up in the air. My gynecologist said we had time – but not too much. I called my father, a practicing physician working through the pandemic, and asked him to come to our home, so we didn’t need to wake our daughter. It would be okay, we told ourselves, for him to just sleep on the couch as we got a better sense of what was happening. My husband could come home as needed. Grandpa (my dad) wouldn’t need to have physical contact with our daughter, and we would clean whatever he had touched.

All birth stories have some degree of drama and uncertainty – even under the best of circumstances. When the world adds a layer of a global pandemic, things get even messier.

We were prepared for so much, especially since this is our second child. The bassinet was ready; clothing was washed and folded. We had diapers and ointment. I had even prepared a draft for the bris ceremony, carefully curating the flow of this ancient ritual. Obviously, I had also planned on the baby’s outfit (and mine)!

We never could have prepared for our reality. The “bris” never happened. Instead, our son was circumcised in the hospital on his second day of life. To this day, none of our family members have held our son; they will never know what it was like to hold him when he was only 5 pounds and 9 ounces and newly born. He has never seen their full faces; we visit from a distance, wearing masks. He probably does not recognize them at all as a result.

There are no visits from friends or community members. Walks outside in the stroller never involve passers-by admiring the new baby; instead, we get as far from one another as we can.

Maternity leave was a hybrid of postpartum haze and professional work, reimagining possible structures and budgets. As someone prone to speaking in hyperbole, for once, the term “unprecedented” was literal.

Anxiety and fear penetrated the fatigue and even the joy as every decision was plagued with risk assessment. Are we comfortable ordering in food? How can we ensure it is safe? What about food from friends? How can we protect ourselves and our children at this time? We joke to break the tension … but we also worry.

We never could have imagined this reality. On Tuesday, June 23 – just one day shy of his three-month birthday, our son laughed out loud for the first time. A loud and full-body laugh. It lasted an eternity, and it filled our home with pure joy. We have no idea when others will have a chance to see him light up like that in person.

Having said all of this, we are blessed. We remind ourselves daily that we are lucky. Our children are healthy; we are healthy. We can’t wait to celebrate our son’s eventual baby naming. Not on Zoom with physically distanced loved ones and community members – in person. Together. We cannot plan for when it will happen, but ask me if I dream about the readings, the food, even some decor … and the answer is yes. Because sometimes “man plans, God laughs” can be a good thing – I like to imagine that sometimes God is laughing with joy as God sees our faith, our kindness, our resilience, and our shared joy over being with one another.