In mid-March, two days before what had seemed like an overreaction to a novel flu became, overnight, a necessary global freakout, I discovered I was pregnant. A week later, Gov. Jay Inslee shut down the state. I was visiting my parents in Vancouver at the time. We knew quarantine was serious; we didn't know this was the first day of a full year when we would not touch or share a meal with anyone outside the family. We ate ham sandwiches, watched an owl flap from a skeletal maple into a thicket of cedar, and I announced I was pregnant. My mother's first reaction was to hug me, but already her embrace had a hiccup, a quick pause where she remembered and tried to follow new social distancing rules, then said to hell with it and squeezed me tight. Her second reaction? To ask if the pregnancy was an accident.
They say there's no good time to have a baby. The year 2020 wasn't a good time for anything except Black Lives Matter protests, baking bread, Zoom bombings, and being a dick about wearing a mask. Sam and I decided not to say anything about the pregnancy on social media and to tell our friends in person as much as possible. We wanted privacy; thanks to quarantine, we got more privacy than we wanted. Some faraway friends probably still don't know about our baby (if that's you — hi! Surprise!!). Those whom we did tell often reacted the way one does when a friend says she's divorcing a spouse nobody liked, offering cautiously supportive words like, "being pregnant right now must be stressful," until Sam and I confirmed that yes, we did this on purpose, and yes, we're happy about it. "What a leap of faith," they then said. "What an act of hope."
It's mid-December as I write this. Not counting hospital staff, our son Cy has met about 15 people and been held by only five. His whole world was my body; now it's our house, the Centennial Trail and our neighborhood sidewalks — the only places we feel safe taking him while COVID infections skyrocket. He hasn't met half his grandparents or any of his aunts, uncles and cousins. He hasn't met his eldest sibling.
Cy's world right now is narrow, but also deep. We study his face to see who he resembles and find his siblings, his father, my father, me. We see people we can't see in person — his uncle who lives in London, his grandfather who lives in Chicago, his great-grandfather (and namesake) who is dead. When my stepkids' mother holds Cy, she searches his face, goes back in time, finds her grown-up babies in my baby. Outside: the election, racism, depression, the virus. Inside: time folds. It's 1998, 1963, 1937, 1985.
Throughout my relationship with Sam, fragments of the secret language he shares with his older children have floated through his conversations with me. Sometimes I miss those years when the kids were little — years that aren't mine to miss. Now, Sam recites Mother Goose as he used to with Paul and Adri, time folds, and I see their baby faces focused on their father, enthralled just like Cy. Right after I gave birth, I thought I could remember how my mother felt when I was born, how my father felt when the OBGYN held up my mother's uterus and said "Look! It's heart-shaped!" before sewing it back inside her. What I feel for Cy, I imagine, is how my parents feel for me — a love rush that has, among other things, relieved me of being the center of my own world. Time folds and folds again. It's 1982, it's 1954, it's 1907, it's 2020. Soon it will be 2021.
By the time you read this, Cy will be about 10 weeks old and I will be thoroughly certain of what all parents already know — the clichés are true! He is a miracle, like every baby. He is sublime and sacred and special, like every baby. 2020 tried to drown us with fear and rage and resentment; it also produced this perfect new person.
There's a verse from the Book of Hebrews that I loved as a child and still carry with me. It says, "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen." Winter is always dark in Spokane. This winter, as it cuts us off from each other with cold and snow and sickness, will be especially dark. If having Cy was an act of faith, what did we hope for? My short-term hope, at least, is sayable: that the light will get longer, that people will take the COVID vaccine and wear masks, that one spring or summer or fall day in 2021 — when Cy can hold his own head up and flash that smile he's working on right now, the one that knocks us over — quarantine will end, and we'll finally be able to introduce this kid to the wide world of people we have missed so much. ♦
Kate Lebo is the author of the cookbook Pie School and the poetry chapbook Seven Prayers to Cathy McMorris Rodgers. Her first collection of nonfiction, The Book of Difficult Fruit, is forthcoming from FSG in April 2021. In 2012, Lebo and her husband, Sam Ligon, started Pie & Whiskey — raucous literary events featuring pie, whiskey and readings about those eponymous things. Together they edited a 2017 anthology called Pie & Whiskey: Writers Under the Influence of Butter & Booze.