It’s not new to say that being sick while you have a baby really, really sucks. But it does. I got knocked down hard with a stomach flu and could barely lift my head off the pillow the last couple days. I felt nauseous, weak, dizzy and faint. Thankfully, because my wife is also still home (more on that later), this was mostly fine. Breastfeeding while sick, though, is tough. I checked and rechecked a few times that it was okay to breastfeed (it is – the breast milk transfers antibodies, not this sort of sickness – thank you mother nature!). It’s also exhausting – when you’re already dehydrated from being sick and struggling because of nausea to drink enough water to replenish what is lost, breastfeeding makes it that much harder. You know it’s bad when you find yourself reflecting fondly on that time you were in the hospital after your c-section and you had IV fluids to help you recover from nausea and nurses to help with the baby.
At the point yesterday evening when I thought maybe tomorrow, maybe, I would be able to sit upright for more than 30 minutes, the wife suddenly became overwhelmed with a wave of faintness and had to immediately sit down. It just so happened that this occurred at the very moment she was changing Baby O’s diaper. She held on til I got to the changing table and we traded places – I gave up the rocking chair where I was doing my best to “participate” in the diaper change by singing songs and the wife sat/collapsed into it. And from that moment on I became the well parent and she became the sick parent. Mercilessly, I did wake up today able to do more than sit upright for over a half hour – I was able to get everyone food, do all the diaper changes, carry Baby O wherever in the house he needed to go, and beyond.
It was scary last night as we faced the prospect of us both down for the count with an uncertain-to-doubtful capacity to care for our son. As we went to sleep at 730pm we brainstormed people we could call on to help and were prepared to call one of our moms to get on a 4 hour train and come down early in the morning.
While it’s confidence inspiring to get through these moments – and for each of us to know we can take care of not just the baby but our partner too simultaneously – it’s also very scary and sad for the times when this isn’t the case. Being home sick together represented a kind of privilege already. We both have good leave policies from our work and going back will return to good sick policies. And we have a similarly flexible support system. I played out in my mind how easily – through horrible circumstances or just scheduling coincidence – one of us could be on our own and unable to get the help we need. And that our social structure as a country perpetuates and demands this kind of razor thin margin of error in care for our families is maddening. That our public health collectively – and the security of our children individually – is a privilege not a right. It’s a privilege I want to take for granted.
There is much more to say on this topic, of course – for many more posts when I am not sick, and from many other voices in other places. For now, I note that today my home state legislature began consideration of a state-wide paid family leave policy that I very much hope moves forward as one step in the right direction.
And on the topic of things I hope for, I really, really hope Baby O stays free of this nasty bug as he has so far! And that the local CVS restocks a gatorade in any flavor but grape. And that the wife can get out of bed tomorrow. And that it’s still warm out when we are finally able to leave the house again.