How Do We Tell Our Parents We're Pregnant Without Them Spiraling Into Covid Anxiety?
We’re concerned about their reaction in this weird, dystopian future in which we all find ourselves living.
My husband and I are delighted to be contributing to what might (?) be a post-COVID baby boom! Or so we thought ... because the pandemic isn’t over yet like we’d all hoped it would be and we are 6 weeks pregnant. We can’t wait to share the news with our parents except for one challenge we’re not sure how to navigate: A couple of them have (like so many people across the country/world) been put into a true state of anxiety over the pandemic, staying safe, keeping their families safe, and deep cleaning all. the. things. We are concerned that their initial elation at the news of becoming grandparents will quickly give way to a whole host of new concerns and anxiety about the health of us and our baby in this weird, dystopian future we all find ourselves living in. Not exactly the reaction we would want for them (and frankly that stress will probably run off on us, too).
One thing we’d like to try is arming them with (reliable, realistic) news sources about pregnancy and Covid, so any of those you can send our way — and any other ways to approach delivering this joyful/anxiety-inducing news for them — would be appreciated.
The Bearer of Good News
My neighbor across the street, and my neighbor down the street, and many other people I know have had babies during the pandemic. The coronavirus has snatched away many things from new parents, but most devastating has been the holding: grandparents, friends, relatives, total strangers holding our newborns for the eight seconds they are newborns, the 12 seconds they are infants, the 10 seconds they are toddlers. Inhaling the smell of the tops of their heads and their milky breath, feeling their silken cheeks, letting their tiny fingers curve around the tips of our fingers, cupping their wrinkled feet and impossible toes. Taking in all that perfection, and holding it.
WE ARE STILL UNDER ALL KINDS OF LOCKDOWNS WITH NO END IN SIGHT WTF. The Delta variant is really screwing up our move toward more holding.
I don't want to enable you spending a second of your time worrying about anybody else, especially people who are supposed to be taking care of you — which is everybody else right now.
You might be worried about whether your parents will be able to hold your newborn. But it sounds like you're worried about your parents being worried about whether they will be able to hold your newborn, and lots of other things.
Sure, I can send you oodles of reliable, realistic news about pregnancy and Covid. The advice will change within five minutes — and then I can send you more. And the advice may or may not assuage some of your parents' fears.
But here's the thing: I don't want to, because I don't want to enable you spending a second of your time worrying about anybody else, especially people who are supposed to be taking care of you — which is everybody else right now.
Your parents are entitled to their anxiety, but they are not entitled to your efforts to assuage it. You're pregnant. You have other things to worry about.
In case you protest — even if you protest that assuaging them will help you — your question might seem like generosity, but I sense something beneath it: concern that your parents' anxiety about Covid is going to eclipse you as the center of your story, and require a great deal of your precious, and ever-decreasing, energy. I could be projecting, but projecting is what I do! I sat with your letter, envisioning a weeping woman sitting down to write a first draft, exhausted and nauseous with the first flush of pregnancy, scratching out an angry epistle that goes something like: "I'M PREGNANT AND IT'S BEWILDERING AND EXCITING AND IT'S ALL HAPPENING IN MY BODY AND THEY'RE GOING TO RUIN THIS FOR ME." Then wiping her nose with her hand, taking a long look out a window, pulling out a fresh sheet of paper, and writing a second draft that shoves all that anger and fear down down down and lets only a little leak out in a parenthetical: "frankly that stress will probably run off on us, too."
Oh, it's definitely going to run off on you.
TBOGN, you don't need to spend any time — like, any time — trying to play whack-a-mole with your parents' Covid anxieties. And if you're talking about your partner's parents, you REALLY don't need to (and your partner needs to act like a defensive tackle and handle that sh*t). You have stuff to do! You have to figure out how to wear a nursing bra! You have to figure out how you're going to pay for parental leave! You have to protest at the U.S. capitol for universal child care!
But one thing you don't need to do is take care of anybody else for the next nine months. I don't mean you get to be a jerk (although you may get away with it!). You are growing a human being inside your body. This society and culture may have given you the message, as a pregnant person, that you are only fulfilling your duty as one of the baby makers of planet Earth. Perhaps you got that impression from the complete lack of support for the uninsured, the substandard care of Black and Indigenous birthing people, the separation of newborns from incarcerated birthing people, no universal job-protected paid parental leave, no universal child care, no diaper subsidies.
This is your chance! You have the best excuse in the world! Don't answer the phone; don't return texts; don't answer emails that suck the life out of you. Teach people how to treat you by how, and whether or not, you accept their behavior toward you.
But don't believe it. You are magic. This is a heady time full of love, and it just gets headier and more full of love. You are making life with your body, and all the other bullsh*t you had time for before — "close" friends who occasionally acted super annoyed with you in public, women who excused their husbands for repeatedly making passes at you, friends who tried to set you up with creepy motherf*ckers, friends who said racist shit to you in private, parents who required parenting — YOU DON'T HAVE TIME FOR IT. This is your chance! You have the best excuse in the world! Don't answer the phone; don't return texts; don't answer emails that suck the life out of you. Teach people how to treat you by how, and whether or not, you accept their behavior toward you.
How do you tell your parents you're pregnant? You tell them together with your partner, with all the excitement and pride and joy you feel. Tell them with the belief — because what else do we have? — that everything will be OK, and that if everything is not OK, you will get through it together. If a parent reaches out to you with fears and anxieties about your pregnancy and Covid, you are not obligated to absorb or assuage them. It's not appropriate for your parents to reach out to you for support on these issues, whether explicitly or implicitly. It's your body, your pregnancy, your child. You decide what you're comfortable with, and they will work around it.
If you're worrying already about your parents' response to your news, you may need to work hard to set and keep some boundaries. But that is your only job right now: to take care of yourself. Not them.
HEY CONGRATULATIONS!!!!! YOU'RE MF'ING PREGNANT!!!!!!
DON'T LET THE CORONAVIRUS WIN. ALSO YOU ARE THE STAR OF THIS SHOW, NOT YOUR PARENTS. THEY HAD THEIR TURN. YOU GOT THIS.
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Jenny True, aka Jenny Pritchett, is the author of You Look Tired: An Excruciatingly Honest Guide to New Parenthood (2021), available now from Running Press.