21 Days from the Old to the New Normal, Week 2: “Really? That seems crazy” to “Yes, obviously,” within days. (Over and over.)

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Part 1 of this series is here

Saturday, March 7

This day was not quite three weeks ago, and it feels like forever. We were supposed to have arrived in India to spend three weeks with our family, but woke up at home in the U.S. after canceling at the last minute. Instead, we went to my older son’s basketball playoff game (they won!). My younger one had practice that night. We were grateful the kids could focus on being in the playoffs after all, to soften the blow of not being with their family in India. At that point, no one was questioning going to small sporting events or gathering kids and families outside of schools.

Moday, March 9

Governor Raimondo declared a State of Emergency. My kids went to school—there was no formal talk of school closures yet. Articles were coming out about New York, saying closing schools there would be a last resort because of all the children who would not eat if they were not at school. This and many other stories began to reveal what this pandemic tells us about ourselves—much of which activists have been screaming into the wind to no avail.

We were starting to see the ramifications for our pregnant patients. Visitor restrictions were applied—one support person only for labor and birth. We were successful in advocating for doulas to be recognized as part of the care team and not subject to visitor restrictions. But of course not everyone can afford a doula (hopefully this will change—see below!), nor is that the preferred support situation for every woman. We had our first patient sobbing and devastated at being forced to choose between having her partner or her mother at her birth.

At that time, most of the concerns we heard were related to the visitor restrictions. In the coming weeks, more and more of our prenatal visits would be dedicated to supporting women not just through crushing disappointments, but also through fears and very real grief over the burdens this pandemic has placed on their pregnancies.

Tuesday, March 10

This was the day I saw the first graphic about “flattening the curve.” (At that time, we were using this information to understand the cancelation of huge events like conferences and festivals, rather than the suspension of public life as we know it.) This was also the last day I hugged someone outside my family, something I’m grateful to remember. I remember it because it was such a good hug, and because right after, we looked at each other and said “We probably shouldn’t have done that.”  The fist and elbow bump thing was just becoming the new norm.

That happened during one of the last public events I attended—a press event to honor grants awarded by the City of Providence to expand access to doula care in pregnancy and birth. That night, I attended my very last public event—a House finance committee hearing in support of state legislation for Medicaid and private insurance coverage of doula services. It was a packed hearing—standing room only for those waiting to testify.

I was glad to be able to give testimony on behalf of our chapter of the American College of Nurse-Midwives (ACNM), since I was in town after all. I don’t think anyone in that room gave a thought as to whether we should really be there, at a proceeding held by the State and attended by the Mayor with his toddler in tow.

Within days, a public assembly like that would be unthinkable.

Wednesday, March 11

My first 24-hour on-call shift at the hospital since I got back on the schedule. In the morning, I was wondering if the babies would see fit to stay put in their uteri just for a couple hours in the evening so I could scoot out for my younger son’s basketball game. No matter. At 3:30, I got the text that per the City Parks and Recreation department, games were postponed until further notice.

Breaking news:

NCAA March Madness to be closed to spectators (only it didn’t happen at all). Senate Blocks Emergency Paid Sick Leave Bill.  NBA Season: Cancelled (WHOA). And the horrifying reports from Italy—doctors in the impossible, heartbreaking position of having to decide who was most worthy of intubation—were coming in. The epidemiologists said we were on track to be in the same situation within a couple of weeks. And two weeks later, this is what New York is beginning to look like. It appears New Orleans is next.

Thursday, March 12

On my way out in the morning, I just happened to see an N95 fit-testing station set up in the hospital hallway. I was sleep deprived and already leaving an hour late, so I almost didn’t do it, thinking I’d get to it later—can you imagine? I asked if I really needed to, since I knew my size and haven’t had any big weight changes since the last fitting. They said yes, anyone who hasn’t been fit tested in the last year should do it. I’m so glad I did. I got ONE precious N95 mask out of the deal—they give you the one they used to fit test you, since otherwise they would have to throw it away. So I put it in the paper bag, to be saved in case I really need one and there are none available, not really thinking that could actually happen.

Fast forward for a moment…as it is now, two weeks later, the latest COVID-19 bulletin from my employer says that all patient care staff are to wear regular masks even when caring for patients who are confirmed COVID-19 positive. Yes, even the symptomatic ones who are coughing. N95’s are now reserved only for use during aerosolizing procedures. Meanwhile, yesterday in New York, a 48-year-old nurse died of COVID-19 in a hospital where the staff is using garbage bags for PPE.

Here. In the richest, “greatest” country in the world.

Also that day, in our little microcosm… there was more and more general talk of avoiding unnecessary gatherings. Basketball rec league decisions had been made for us, but the first practice for AAU season was set for the weekend. We were starting to wonder if we felt in good conscience we could send our kids, but it wasn’t yet cancelled. Those few days were characterized by a lot of scenarios like this, weren’t they? With people having different alarm thresholds for just about everything and no one knowing what was necessary or best, under-reaction or overkill.

I dreaded the possibility of telling my boys, “It’s still happening, but you’re not going” and the meltdowns that would surely ensue. I felt both guilty and ridiculous for being preoccupied with such petty, inconsequential concerns when people all over the world were in such desperate, traumatizing, life-or-death situations. And yet, I still had to continue parenting and managing the day-to-day stuff with my kids.

Friday, March 13

At work that day, I did a few GYN problem visits, but mostly prenatals. We had started postponing annual preventive care visits. None of the women I saw that day happened to be close to term, but I was struck by how none of them asked about COVID-19. I had to bring it up to find out what they knew and if they were taking any precautions. Data was limited (still is) and the CDC hadn’t yet placed pregnant people in the higher-risk categories with people age 65 and over and those with certain underlying conditions. They now have, but even before that, we obviously wanted to prevent pregnant women becoming infected, for many reasons. The patients I saw that day didn’t seem to have it on their radar quite yet.

It was an odd place to be as a midwife. There is excessive fear in our culture around pregnancy and especially birth, much of it unfounded. It’s pretty much my mission to take the fear OUT of pregnant women. And here I was trying to put some in—if not fear, at least vigilance.

At the end of the work day, it was announced that all providers and staff were to wear regular surgical masks for all patient care. Due to a nationwide supply shortage, we were to wear the same disposable mask for two consecutive work days (This would soon change to “until visibly soiled or nonfunctional.”)

That afternoon, the Governor announced the schools would be closed the following week (soon to be extended of course) and issued guidelines to avoid gatherings of 25 or more and stay home as much as possible. This was clearly the right move for larger gatherings of people in all age groups, and it made clear what we were supposed to do about smaller gatherings. Because as long as we were still putting hundreds of kids together in school buildings, how did it make sense to cancel a birthday party or a basketball practice with less than 20 kids? I felt relieved when the school closure and related guidelines brought the clarity we were all lacking: the clarity that said, “Yes. Seriously. It ALL stops.”

Also? I was thanking God for my husband’s foresight to cancel our India trip. The Indian government closed their borders on the 12th. No flights in would surely mean no flights out. If our flight to India on the 6th had been scheduled for just a day earlier, we would have gone and we’d be there indefinitely as we speak. Today, March 27, is the date of our now canceled return flight back to the U.S.

By that day—Friday the 13th— it was beginning to sink in that a precaution may feel like an overreaction in any given moment, and it would likely become a no-brainer within days. That’s what kept happening. Over and over.

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P.S. Along with all the alarming information and constant change, here are a few things that gave me LIFE that week:

Elizabeth Warren and Kate McKinnon

All the Gen X love, but especially this: Gen Xers, Unite! Or Don’t. Whatever.

Wash Your Hands, by Dori Midnight. Soul salve. I keep going back to it.

Part 1 of this series can be found here.

(Part 3 to follow…)

© Camille Williams and Wake Up, Mama! 2020

21 Days from the Old to the New Normal, Week 1, India: to go or not to go?

Saturday, February 29

We were all set to fly out in six days for a three-week trip to visit family in India. My husband says, maybe we should cancel the trip. Me—really??  I had been among those asking, early on, “Is this really that different from the flu?” I was beginning to realize it was more, but still–India was nowhere on CDC’s radar. He says, look into it, I’ve been reading and I’m worried this virus thing is going to blow up. I called the airline to check it out. We could change our tickets, but it would be cost-prohibitive—no advantage over abandoning our current reservation and having to pay full price for a new one later. We decided to wait it out and make a final decision as late as the night before.

Over the following days, the news reports ramped up and people were talking more about international travel restrictions, but there were no new countries added to the handful on the CDC’s no-no list. We talked about worst-case scenarios, which seemed to be a) we get stuck there and b) self-quarantine for a couple of weeks on return, if India got added to the warning list while we were gone. The former seemed highly unlikely (ha!), the latter more of a concern, but not the end of the world. We asked several trusted friends, some of them health care providers, what they would do. All agreed canceling seemed like overkill.

We decided we would go if it was still OK per CDC guidelines as of our departure time. A friend texted me, “Please send me a selfie of your expression following the 100th coronavirus joke/comment about your travel plans,” but really, no one was batting an eye. At that time, only some business travel was getting canceled—most people were carrying on with their personal trips.

Thursday, March 5

While packing at 10am, I was on the phone with a friend and my husband beeped in for the third time in 10 minutes, so I tell her I don’t know what he wants, but I better answer this. He says, “We’re not going.” WHAT??  Are you sure? Travel advisories still haven’t changed. Nothing on the CDC website or in the headlines about India.

Yes, he’s sure. He got a call from a friend who works in a public health role there who just came from a meeting with WHO and various Indian government and public health officials. There was grave concern for an impending explosion of cases and resulting overwhelm of the health care system and other infrastructure. His friend advised we cancel the trip.

I was skeptical, but ultimately trusted my husband’s strong belief we needed to heed the advice and cancel. I got on the phone with the airline and rates had plummeted, so we were subject to hefty change fees (airlines hadn’t started waiving them yet) but at least there was no fare difference.

 

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Image description: text thread of conversation about changing airline ticket dates to August.

 

(“PTSD music” refers to the same five songs they had on a loop 16 months ago, when I was on hold for hours, frantically trying to change the flight dates of our last trip to India, the day my father-in-law died. Same exact torturous five songs.)

It was done. We would go in August (but will we?).

Alongside heartbreak and anger over Elizabeth Warren’s exit from the presidential primary, the next couple days were a strange reordering. It was a bit of a process, shifting gears from preparation for a 3-week trip halfway around the world to being at home and seeing what would happen next (still having no idea how radically things were about to change). Comforting disappointed kids. Giving back vacation time and getting back on the work schedule for outpatient and hospital shifts. Preparing ACNM testimony for the doula reimbursement legislation House finance committee hearing, which I would be able to do after all. Putting the boys’ rec league basketball playoff games back on the calendar—the bright spot for them. Thinking about things to do close to home during the boys’ spring break from school. When my dad found out we weren’t going, he said, “I’m going to take the boys to see Blue Man Group.” (since canceled of course, like everything else).

Friday, March 6

A few hours after were supposed to have flown out, my employer sent an email “discouraging” all personal travel, domestic or international. Later that same day, South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin was canceled. Like, the whole thing. Whoa. Of all things, that was the moment I knew we were in for some kind of wild ride.

That email and that event cancelation on the day of our planned departure were the first confirmatory signs my husband made the right call canceling our trip. Many more would follow. I started looking to him and one of my friends as bellweathers for where we’re at and at any given moment, and what’s coming. Their alarm bells are a few days ahead of mine, and proven accurate.

(Weeks 2 and 3 to follow…)

© Camille Williams and Wake Up, Mama! 2020

Being a Parent on Day 1 of Trump’s America

Donald Trump makes a point

When it started to go bad Tuesday night, I sat on the couch with gathering dread in the pit of my stomach, like millions of Americans. I was sobbing before the deal was sealed, already terrified and angry that it could be that close. The first coherent thought that crystalized within the fog of disbelief and terror was, “Oh my God, how will we tell the kids in the morning?” Continue reading

India Travels and Writing: Why My Real-Time Blogging Plan Didn’t Happen

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“Sometimes the passion of life is happening at too great a volume to be simultaneously regurgitated.”—Amanda Palmer.

I’m fairly new to blogging. I started this one 7 months ago—a move that was way out of my comfort zone but very necessary. Luckily for the people in my life, I am torturing them a little less with long emails now that I have a proper outlet for my writing.   I’ve ignored the abundant blogging advice to avoid writing on multiple topics in favor of a tight focus.   So far, it’s been easy to avoid writer’s block since I’m writing about whatever I want.

That is, until recently when my family and I took our fifth trip to India—our first since I started writing.   Continue reading

Belonging, Where You Least Expect It

IMG_6557By the time we took our most recent trip to India, our fifth, this radically different and magical place had become familiar to me. I am used to the color, the beauty, the tragedy and the chaos. I am used to the horse drawn carts alongside huge top-loaded semi trucks, free roaming livestock, and entire families on motorcycles all together on busy main roads. I am used to seeing roadside barbers and bicycle carts carrying anything you can imagine, including furniture, and the hustle-bustle of the street markets that photos and video can’t capture. I am used to seeing slum shacks and pigs and cows foraging in giant garbage piles in residential areas as women walk by wearing the most beautiful, colorful clothes. My husband no longer gets a sore arm from me hitting it every two seconds, saying, “Oh my God, look at THAT!”   Continue reading

An East-West Love Story’s Strange Beginning

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In 5 days, my husband, our two boys and I leave for India. This is our fifth trip, our third with kids in tow. The picture above is G and I the day we left for our first trip to India together 13 years ago.

As I make lists, run errands, and get out suitcases, scenes from previous trips always play in my mind. This time, that first trip is coming back to me the most. Continue reading

More on Ritual: 6 Favorites that Make Our Lives Better

In my last post, I wrote about a prayer ritual from my husband’s religious tradition that I do every day. Since then, I’ve been thinking more about the role of rituals in my and my family’s lives. It’s kind of funny that I’m writing about this, because I used to hate the word “ritual.” It conjured up vague but frightening images of biblical animal sacrifice. Or something. Either that, or it was synonymous with routine, which I used to equate with boredom and rigidity.  Either way, I had no use for it.

I love the word “ritual” now. This was a gradual change, and I never noticed or thought about it as it was happening.   Without ever planning it that way, I keep adding rituals to my life one by one, and now they are my spiritual container, my guideposts. Initially foreign and even a little bit forced in some cases, with time and repetition, most of them have become part of me now—as comfortable and familiar as a favorite pair of broken-in shoes.   They are reliable reminders to focus on what really matters. On the harder days, they help me hang in there. On the best days, they create more joy in our lives.   Continue reading

The Gift of Ritual

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Sometime during the year after Boy 2 was born, depression snuck up on me. I had experienced several bouts of it since adolescence, but it took a while for me to figure out what was happening since it came on gradually and I had some legitimate stressors to pin it on. Once I finally accepted that it was more than just situational stress, I got some counseling.   Just as important, I thought about lifestyle changes I could make—more exercise, a regular meditation practice, etc.  I was talking with my husband, Gurpreet, about that and he said very definitively, “You need to do prayers.”   Continue reading