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April 22, 2020 5:02 PM EDT
Anna Schuettge is a pediatric nurse practitioner and lactation consultant in Philadelphia

During a quarantine outing to our local park this week, my toddler son ran around kicking his big red ball. I watched him chase after it and then collect treasures to share with his Elmo doll sitting in the stroller. And I yearned for him to have a playmate. Not just any playmate—a sibling.

Many of my friends told me they felt a switch flip when their kids hit 15 months and all of a sudden they felt ready to do it all again. For me, 15 months came and went with no great change. So did 18 and 20. For a brief moment, my husband and I thought we were happy having our one wonderful child. But in the early months of 2020, as my son’s second birthday drew near, we were hit by a feeling of readiness that was forceful and unwavering. Remembering how special it had been for both of us to grow up with a sibling close in age, and wanting the same kind of companionship for our son, we had planned to try for another child this spring.

Then COVID-19 happened. Between overall economic uncertainty, fears over our own job security and a new reality in which it’s unsafe to even visit playgrounds, the prospect of bringing another child into the world became more complicated. Will this pandemic last three months or two years? When we come out on the other side, will we have the support of four healthy grandparents and the assurance of two full-time careers? With the passing of my 35th birthday this month, I’m now considered geriatric when it comes to pregnancy. Will I be able to conceive when this is over?

I work as a pediatric nurse practitioner and lactation consultant, and I have witnessed firsthand the profound anxiety of having a baby in this moment. Moms are being discharged from hospitals more and more quickly to reduce the possibility of exposure to the virus, forced to forgo round-the-clock postnatal care. They are coming home to houses devoid of loving friends and family and home-cooked meals.

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Women nearing their due dates had no way of knowing they’d be delivering in these circumstances. But armed with both birth control and evolving scientific information about this virus, I have some ability to predict whether I’ll carry and deliver my next child during this pandemic. If going to the grocery store is risky, why would I choose to have my IUD removed and make regular visits to health care facilities (beyond what my work requires), with the goal of being admitted to a hospital—arguably one of the scariest places to be right now?

And so my husband and I have decided to wait. Millions of people have lost jobs and struggle to afford housing and food. Thousands upon thousands mourn family and friends lost to COVID-19, or grieve losses unrelated to the virus but for which the comfort taken in normal rituals is not an option. I acknowledge that having children five years apart rather than three—if we are fortunate enough to have another—is, in the greater context of today’s crisis, a privileged problem to have. Still, I am giving myself space to feel the loss of the family life that I had envisioned.

In recent weeks, two close friends have brought new babies home, and I’ve found myself watching with longing as their toddlers became big brothers and sisters. I look at my family of three and feel the absence of that fourth person—one who has yet to even be conceived. I regret that we didn’t try sooner and can’t help dwelling on what it will be like to wait to grow our family until we feel safe again, whenever that may be.

Our son is a shining light in these dark and uncertain times. He is fascinated by dandelions and fire trucks and endlessly entertained by the suburban town to which we have been confined during this time of quarantine. He’s totally fine—happy and thriving. But he doesn’t know that if not for a pandemic, he might have had a close-in-age sibling.

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