2020 was a rough year overall. We were in near-isolation from March 12th onward, not wanting to take any chances with Covid. We only saw family via Zoom. I had a few gatherings with friends in our backyard with the proper amount of space between us. That was it; I can probably count on one hand the number of people we had meaningful face-to-face connections with once the pandemic really exploded in the United States.
By February of 2021, I was in a very bad place mentally. After nearly a year of isolation and remote learning, I had reached a breaking point. Yet, we turned a corner shortly after that. Vaccines became widely available. Ger and I both got our shots and I no longer feared that one of us would die of Covid. The schools re-opened, first in a hybrid model and then back in the classroom full time.
Then Delta swept through the nation, but we still felt relatively protected. Theo got his vaccine in September and Quentin got his as soon as Pfizer became available for kids over the age of 5. We still took precautions: wearing masks indoors (Illinois later reimposed the mandate, regardless of vaccine status), avoiding large congregations of people, and avoiding indoor dining.
But we also enjoyed seeing family and friends again. I gave huge hugs to people I care about. I felt comfortable going into grocery stores, visiting my dentist, and pretty much any errand that I would have done pre-pandemic.
Throughout the months of 2021, our minds have always been on our unvaccinated children and how to keep them safe. Yes, the data suggests that most kids get mild forms of the virus, but we are still cautious. We don’t want our kids to fall into that small percentage that end up in the hospital and we don’t want them to infect other kids or other people.
We had plans to celebrate Christmas. First, a dear friend of mine was going to visit from New York. This has been a long-standing tradition (with the exception of 2020). She visited in May of 2021, so it wasn’t like we had gone two years without seeing each other in person, but it felt nice to continue our Christmas gathering. Then my parents were going to visit, arriving on New Year’s Day and staying for a week.
I use the past tense, because our plans have now changed. The Omicron variant arrived.
In about a week’s time, enough information emerged to make us nervous. First, data emerged about the variant’s huge transmissibility—even more so than Delta, and Delta gave me pause. Then reports came out that the variant evaded vaccines, with efficacy among even boosted individuals being reduced to 75%.
Most of the messaging from the administration and health experts has been similar: If you’re vaccinated, you are protected. You can live your life, which includes continuing with your holiday plans.
But our family is not fully vaccinated. Autumn is too young for the vaccine.
My friend and I talked about her trip. We talked about wearing masks in the house if the Omicron situation worsened (it did), or having all of us take at-home Covid before her arrival, to keep Autumn protected. Finally, she decided to cancel her trip.
And I let my parents know that I thought a trip was too risky, with the crowded airport being a major factor. In the span of about 48 hours, I first saw a report that holiday travel is higher this year than it was in 2019 and then saw a report that airlines had canceled over 100 flights due to Covid impacting their flight crews.
If it weren’t for Autumn, I wouldn’t be so cautious. But the information available seems to be that there is a good chance that if any of us come into contact with Omicron, we could easily contract the virus—even with our vaccinated status. And Autumn is like a wide-open target.
I’ve wondered more than once if my caution is somewhat fueled by the fact that she is my rainbow baby. After she was born, I spent at least the first six months of her life waiting for the other shoe to drop. The journey to her birth had been full of so much heartbreak that I kept thinking something bad was bound to happen.
Yet I balance these thoughts against the realities of parenting during a pandemic, and specifically with the risks to an unvaccinated child. No one knows the long-term effects of Covid. We know that some people suffer from Covid side effects long after contracting the virus. For all we know, a child who contracts the virus—especially without vaccine protection—could experience issues decades from now.
As our holiday plans have dwindled back to “just us” I’ve tried to tell myself that this is temporary. Within a few months, I expect the Pfizer vaccine to become available for children under 5. If we can keep Autumn protected for that time period, I’ll breathe a sigh of relief.
I also fear that I’ll feel so defeated if she does get Covid before her vaccine, something that seems to have a much higher likelihood with the Omicron variant. I’ll likely feel that all of our precautionary efforts were wasted. That I failed to keep my baby safe.