The first month of
the pandemic was also supposed to be the month I got pregnant, but my clinic
closed and plans changed. Doctors and nurses needed personal protective
equipment to tend to patients with covid-19, not women with recurrent
When the clinic
reopened several months later, it turned out my husband and I had only been
delaying yet another loss: In late August, he obeyed the medical center’s
strict coronavirus protocols by waiting anxiously in the car while I
trudged inside, masked and hand-sanitized, to receive a miscarriage diagnosis
alone. I searched the ultrasound screen for the rhythmic beat of a heart, and
then accepted that whatever had once been there was now gone.
But that was 2020 for
you, consistent only in its utter crappiness. For every inspiring video of
neighbors applauding a shift change at the hospital, another video of a
bone-tired nurse begging viewers to believe covid was real, it wasn’t a hoax,
wear a mask.
For every protest
organized by activists who understood racism is also a long-term crisis, an
appearance by the Proud Boys; for every GoFundMe successfully raising money for
a beloved teacher’s hospital bills, a bitter acknowledgment that online
panhandling is our country’s version of a safety net.
Millions of citizens
stood in line for hours to vote for the next president and then endured weeks
of legal petitions arguing that their votes should be negated. The basis
for these legal actions were conspiracy theories too wild to be believed,
except that millions of other citizens believed them.
And that was 2020 for
you, too: accepting the increasingly obvious reality that the country was in
peril, built on iffy foundations that now buckled under pressure. My loved ones
who worked as waiters or bartenders or physical therapists were choosing
between health and paychecks, and even from the lucky safety of my
work-from-home job, each day began to feel like watching America itself arrive
at a hospital in bad shape, praying that doctors or clergy could find
something they were able to save.
Is there a heartbeat?
You want the answer
to be yes, but even so, it was hard to imagine how we would come back from
What kind of
delusional person would even try to get pregnant in this world? In my case it
would never be a happy accident; it would always be a herculean effort. And so
it seemed I should have some answers.
How do you explain to
a future child: Sorry, we can’t fix climate change; we can’t even get people to
agree that we should wear masks in grocery stores? How do you explain the
frustration of seeing brokenness, and then the wearying choice of trying to fix
it instead of abandoning it? How do you say, Love it anyway. You’re
inheriting an absolute mess, but love it anyway?
I found myself asking
a lot of things like this in 2020, but really they were all variations of the
same question: What does it mean to have hope?
But in the middle of
this, scientists worked quietly in labs all over the world. They applied the
scientific method with extraordinary discipline and speed. A vaccine was
developed. Tens of thousands of volunteers rolled up their sleeves and
said, Try it out on me.
It was approved, and
a nurse from Long Island was the first American televised receiving it. Her
name was Sandra Lindsay, an immigrant from Jamaica who had come to the United
States 30 years ago and who had spent the last year overseeing critical care
teams in back-to-back shifts. She said she had agreed to go first to show
communities of color, long abused, brushed-off or condescended to by the
medical system, that the vaccine was safe.
Here was hope. And
more than that, here was hope from a woman who had more reason than most to be embittered:
an exhausted health-care worker who knew too well America’s hideous racial past
and present, who nonetheless also knew there was only one way out of the
tunnel. Here she was, rolling up her own sleeve, and there were the lines of
hospital employees ready to go after her, and there were the truck drivers
ferrying shipments of syringes.
I can’t have been the
only person to watch the video of those early inoculations, feeling elated and
tired, and to then burst into tears. I can’t have been the only person to
realize that even as 2020 revealed brokenness, it also contained such
astounding undercurrents of good.
The scientific method
works whether you accept it or not. Doctors try to save you whether you
respected public-health guidelines or not. Voter turnout was astronomical
because individual citizens realized they were all, every one of them,
necessary pieces in a puzzle, even if they couldn’t see what the final picture
was supposed to look like.
The way to believe in
America is to believe those things are passed down, too.
Sometime in October,
a couple of months after my last miscarriage — when the country was riding up
on eight months of lonely and stoic birthdays, graduations, deaths and weddings
— I went into the bathroom and saw a faint second line on a First Response
pregnancy test. It was far from my first rodeo, so I knew better than to get
excited. I mentioned it to my husband with studied nonchalance, I told him that
I’d test again in a few days but that we should assume the worst would happen.
Two weeks after that,
I had a doctor’s appointment, and then another a week later, each time assuming
the worst, but each time scheduling another appointment anyway, until
eventually I was further along than I’d ever gotten before — by one day, then
three days, then thirty.
I am not a
superstitious person. I don’t believe that good things always come to those who
deserve them. I believe that stories regularly have sad endings and that it’s
often nobody’s fault when they do, and that we should tell more stories with
sad endings so that people who experience them know that they’re not alone.
But 2020 has taught
me that I am, for better or worse, someone who wants to hope for things. To
believe in the people who developed vaccines. In the people who administered
them. In Sandra Lindsay. In the people who delivered groceries, who sewed
masks, who have long cursed America’s imperfect systems and long fought to
change them, who still donate $10 to a sick teacher’s GoFundMe.
At my most recent
appointment, the doctor’s office was backed up in a holiday logjam. I sat in
the exam room for nearly three hours while my husband again waited anxiously in
the car. I texted him sporadic updates and tried to put hope in a process that
so far had not seemed to warrant my hope.
It all felt
precarious. The current reality always feels precarious.
And yet there we all
are together, searching for signs of life, hoping that whatever we emerge to
can be better than what we had before, and that whatever we build will become
our new legacy. The sonographer finally arrived and turned on the machine.
There was a
heartbeat. There was a heartbeat.
Written by Monica Hesse