In two weeks, E and M will go back to school – this year separate schools – without mask or vaccine mandates, distancing, cohorting or any other Covid prevention measures. I’m steeling myself for a return to a campus with a staff, faculty and student population of about 70,000, where we are expected to be fully open ‘to pre-pandemic levels,’ meaning again, no mask or vaccine mandates, no distancing, no smaller classes, no prevention measures whatsoever.
Three of the four of us are fully vaccinated. One of us is only eight years old and therefore ineligible for a vaccine. Nine years ago at this time, I was just barely pregnant with him, terrified. The anxiety of those nine months trying to hold him inside and keep him safe with absolutely no idea how I was supposed to do that has never left me. And now here we are, reassured that Covid doesn’t affect children, children don’t get really sick, they don’t die. But some do. Some have.
I remember being told by doctors when pregnant with M that the ‘odds were really in my favour.’ But they said that the pregnancy before, too, and they said it for my pregnancy with Anja, who was conceived after two miscarriages. I remember laughing bitterly with friends here, the babylost, about odds. The odds are good, we’d spit and chortle. Not for Medusas like us. We knew that the odds meant someone always lost and that someone could be us as easily as it could be someone else, and for fuck’s sake, why is it okay for us to pass odds off as if it’s okay if it happens to someone else at all?? ‘Kids don’t die from Covid.’ But some do. Some have. And they have lost everything to the odds, and so have their families. Their mothers, fathers, siblings, grandparents. Fuck the odds.
Here we are. Nine years later. This kid I held my breath for for nine long months. Tall and gangly and whip smart and witty even if most of his jokes are fart jokes. What do I do? How do I assess these odds, the risks? I’m not an epidemiologist but I’m no dummy and I can see the calculations that are being made: how many people can we sacrifice to opening up? What is an ‘acceptable’ loss? Maybe if you’ve never lost someone that you never should have lost – not like a grandparent to a great old age, but like a child who doesn’t get to grow up, or a spouse who doesn’t get to see their child grow up – maybe then you can be okay with this, thinking, well, the risk is low and I can feel comfortable going to a football game, a concert, a crowded classroom. But when you’ve been on the losing side of the odds, when you’ve already had the experience of calling a funeral home to arrange the cremation of your child, how do you do this? How?
When I was pregnant with M and trying not to lose him one of the hardest things for me was not really knowing what might help in that effort. We never knew why Anja died. So many of my friends never knew why their babies died. How could we keep them safe if we didn’t know what was killing them? Not knowing is driving me nuts now, too. I feel like there has been a total abdication of responsibility onto the individual once we are vaccinated: now you decide what risk is acceptable to you. But I am not an epidemiologist. I am not a Covid modeller. I am not an expert in children’s respiratory disease. And he is not vaccinated. How is this okay? How is it okay to expose all of our children under twelve to a virus that has already killed so many?
I can’t take comfort in the odds. And I never thought I’d ever in a million years think maybe he was safest when he was inside my baby-killing body, but these days now I’m wondering.