I believe that Covid-19 is real, that it is far more dangerous than the flu, and that we should flatten the curve. As a family, we are social distancing from everyone, including extended family. We’re trying to wear masks when we get take-out or get groceries. I believe that the quarantine is constitutional. I believe the protests, especially as mass gatherings, are reckless and ill-advised.
I am, however, worried about the quarantine fallout.
I am worried about the parents with colicky babies, and their babies. For these, the cost of social distancing is not foregoing a trip to the salon, or racking up hours of boredom and Netflix binges. Colicky babies don’t stop crying because of a global pandemic. Colicky babies can cry for hours a day. They can take short naps and they can wake through the night and they can refuse to nurse or take a bottle.
For a month when Jeffrey was newborn, starting a few weeks after he was born, nearly all he did was eat, sleep, and cry. Fortunately, it took him several hours to nurse throughout the day, during which he would sleep fitfully while I held him around me on the boppy. The rest of the time, he was at best antsy and clingy, at worse inconsolable. Our neighbors, who had a little girl themselves, heard him cry so much they came by to see if I had tried gas drops, or putting him in a swing, or turning on the vaccuum. I cried and held Jeffrey while he arched his back, taking in sharp breaths between squalling, piercing bursts, and the mom told me it wasn’t going to last forever, the constant crying. Jeffrey wouldn’t even remember it.
But I remember it, and I worry for those mothers and fathers and babies. Having a break is as important for these families as the ability to go to work is. These parents are at serious risk for self-harm, mental illness, and marital strife. Babies in that situation are at a much higher risk of being neglected or abused. Colicky babies are at a serious risk for Shaken Baby Syndrome, which can happen in an instant even by otherwise loving parents.
Many families with young babies may choose to completely socially distance to protect their family, but many others may have just lost the very supports that were allowing them to take care of their families, emotionally and physically.
I’m worried about single parents. I have never been a single parent. I have often felt an awe and respect for single parents. Right now, though, I can’t imagine how hard it is for a single parent of one or more children, without the help of school, without the help of friends or family, without the ability to blow off steam at a park or playground or store, all while needing to work. I don’t know what being a single parent looks like right now; I’m sure some are doing very well. But I am just as sure that some are suffering, and that some children are suffering terribly because their parent is stretched to the breaking point, and that child has lost all of their friends and supports.
I’m worried about those with disabilities and chronic health issues, as well as parents with children who have special needs–because of social distancing as well as the virus. My husband has spastic quadriplegic Cerebral Palsy, which means that his entire body is affected. He can’t drive, he has swallowing difficulties, and his body wears out throughout the day. We have two young children. I have my own real limitations and low stamina, and my body is still recovering from a taxing pregnancy. We have built our life around supports–preschool and cleaning help and childcare help.
We are surviving–Michael went from a three hour commute (at a job he loves) to no commute, and we’ve been able to manage. We also have a roomy space and great indoor activities. We have the ability to get take-out frequently and spend more on groceries. I don’t have any other responsibilities. Had this happened when we lived in a smaller space, when I was having more health issues, when Michael had more demands on his time and energy…we would not be okay.
You might think that people with health issues are being taken care of, because the people who support them are under “Essential Services.” Sometimes, that’s true–but here’s the thing. People with health issues and disabilities often do NOT get all of their supports through formal channels. People with disabilities are creative. They have goals that often don’t mesh with available disability-care systems. So they make their own support systems, for cooking or cleaning or self-care or transportation or communication or anything else. And I worry about the people who have lost the informal supports that they truly needed.
I’m worried about the unemployed and uninsured. I’m worried the mentally ill. I’m worried about those who are in abusive homes with no reprieve and the increase in domestic violence, and I’m worried about those who are in homes that used to be safe but have become unsafe.
Of course I don’t have all the answers. The virus is a real threat. I do not think we should abandon the quarantine.
But I hope we can mitigate it, even as we try to mitigate the pandemic. I hope we can come up with third solutions–with new jobs, with new ways of doing business, with better testing, with better tracking and the possibility of targeted flexibility. I hope we consider more options for childcare, or can come up with mostly safe recommendations for community support. Who knows how long this will last, or if it will relapse after a time.
I think we should look harder at what we’re up against with social distancing so that we can take care of more people even as we mitigate the spread of Covid-19. This virus attacks the already vulnerable members of our community, but so does social distancing. If we’re really “in this together,” that needs to mean more than sharing memes about toilet paper or quarantine haircuts that do not even touch the surface of what some people are going through right now. Getting through this together needs to mean more–and maybe even, in some situations, physically distancing a little less.