“You’ve been through worse.”
That’s what my best friend told me when I called her in mid-March, crying, because schools were closing due to coronavirus, and I did not know what I was going to do. How was I going to work, shut in a two-bedroom apartment in New York City with my husband and kid?
It was true – I had been through worse: I endured four years of infertility, 10 doctors, nine rounds of IVF, four miscarriages in three countries, until we had our daughter, who is now almost 5 years old. Aside from being in shock that I had to go through this, I felt like my life was on hold, and nobody understood what I was going through. I felt sad and alone most of the time — and yet it finally ended with the birth of our daughter .
Now, almost four months into this nightmare of Covid-19, coming out of lockdown but still social distancing, I realize that almost everything I learned during my infertility experience helped prepare me for parenting during a pandemic. Read on for my top tips.
Live with uncertainty in the present
When I was going through infertility, I did not know what was going to happen. I didn’t know when my next appointment would be, if I could attend my friend’s birthday party, or even plan a vacation —and I certainly didn’t know when or if I would get pregnant!
Turns out this experience prepared me for parenting in these uncertain times. My daughter is asking endless questions: “When will the pool open?” or “Will I be able to have a birthday party?” and, above all, “Am I going back to school?”
I don’t know. I really, really don’t — and, honesty, nobody does. But I don’t go as crazy as I used to with the uncertainty. Instead, I try to distract my daughter and focus her on the present, like, “Let’s go see Grammy today! Maybe she’ll buy you a toy!” (Don’t judge me! Sometimes grandma and bribes are sometimes the only way to go!)
Maybe do sweat the small stuff
When my life seemed like one long doctor’s appointment (lasting four years!) it seemed hard to look forward to anything. That’s why the tiniest thing — a stop at my favorite bakery, a new harmonica, a new episode of Grey’s Anatomy — kind of got me out of bed. I like to tell my daughter things to look forward to the next day. Whether it’s playing on the beach (with those new sand toys Grammy bought) or baking cupcakes, it plants a seed of joy in my daughter’s mind.
Lower your expectations
When I was going through infertility, it felt nearly impossible to write a book or even an article. My brain seemed solely focused on my body, asking, Am I creating eggs? Will this sex lead to pregnancy? How are my embryos doing in the lab? Will this embryo take? As the months stretched to years, I no longer cooked four-course meals or did much beyond brushing my teeth and putting on clothes to go to the doctor. And that was good enough. I was trying to make a baby.
Now, there seem to be moms who have doubled down during the pandemic and are enforcing the no-candy, no-screens rule. Thankfully, I’m not friends with any of them. Recently, I was on the phone with the friend and she could hear the sounds of TV in the background. She asked me what my daughter was watching. “It’s called ‘I Don’t Know and I Don’t Care,’” I said.
At this point, all I want is for my daughter to be alive, healthy, and somewhat sane. If she knows how to operate YouTube and all my subscription channels, so be it.
No one’s opinion matters
“Just relax and you’ll get pregnant!”
People loved to tell me that, along with other miracle stories of someone they’d heard about. People have so many opinions and you can’t listen to any of them because they’re not usually helpful and sometimes can be hurtful. (“I guess four years really does make a difference,” a friend said when I cried to her that my younger sister was pregnant before me.)
That younger sister, who now has a son five months older than my daughter (yay!), recently got flack from her friend because she was seeing us during the pandemic. (He said we were selfish and causing the spread.) Everyone has an opinion on what you should do — if you should wash your groceries, meet with friends, send your kid to camp, and so on.
Of course, unlike infertility, which is literally nobody’s business, I understand that when it comes to coronavirus, we are all responsible for each other. Yet, given the lack of leadership on this front, it’s up to us to make decisions for ourselves, within acceptable medical and social guidelines, of course. From the beginning, my guiding principle has been preserving my daughter’s sanity — and mine — first and foremost.
The other day an acquaintance called. “I haven’t spoken to you in months,” she said, and proceeded to launch into her latest drama. Like most of us, she was focused on her relationship woes and whether or not she should move out of New York. But as soon as I could get a word in, I begged off the phone. See, we aren’t that close, and right now, between parenting, working and living at home full-time with everyone, I need all the peace and quiet I can get.
In normal times, I love to have a million balls in the air — entertaining for Shabbat, setting up a million playdates (for our daughter and us) and fielding phone calls from friends as well as strangers who need fertility help, too.
But during infertility, I learned I needed to save my energy and my attention for only what was absolutely necessary. These past few months of homeschooling, even though we couldn’t go anywhere, I haven’t had the energy to keep up with so many of my friends — even the moms I used to see at drop-off every day! Everything about this is draining. And there’s nothing more that I like to do than put my kid to bed, and start binge-watching Grey’s (starting from season 1.)
Protect your relationship!
After one of our many fights during infertility, my husband Solomon used to say, “What is the point of fighting and doing all this if there’s no ‘us’ left after?”
I’m not one of those women who will dress up in Saran Wrap to greet my hubby at the door, and I already told you that these days I prefer “Netflix” without the chill, but we still have to preserve our relationships so that when this is over there will still be an “us.”
Some people have big houses to take space in. We borrowed a friend from Israel’s apartment so my husband and I could work in shifts. And when they gave it up (to stay there) we made mandatory out-of-the-house time so the other could have space. Absence makes the heart grow fonder!
Save the meaning of life for another time
After a miscarriage or another failed IVF cycle, I would be devastated. But I would try not to go there — as in the Big Picture, why God hates me, or what’s wrong with my body, or how I ruined my life by finding my husband too late. What’s the point of all these lamentations? They wouldn’t get me pregnant any faster.
There is a time for asking the big questions, like what do you want to do with your life, or where do you see yourself in five years. But now? Now is not the time. Now is the time for me to figure out where I want to be for the next coronavirus lockdown until there’s a vaccine — and how to make that happen as soon as possible.
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