The following account has been edited for length and clarity.
We took the pandemic very seriously right from the outset. My husband’s brother was stationed with the Navy in Beijing, so we’d been following the pandemic very closely since January. My daughter, Rosie, was 7 months old in March. Babies under the age of 1 are considered in the high risk category. My parents are in their 70s, and we’re very close with them. They used to watch my daughter once a week, and we decided right away to have them stop coming over.
My father is a retired doctor, so we’ve always been hyper-aware of germs and washing our hands, and after you have a newborn, you’re just crazy about wiping everything down. I ordered masks right away. We stopped going to the grocery store. We had everything delivered. We took the stay-at-home orders very seriously.
We were only leaving our house to go for a walk. Sometimes, to maintain distance, I would push Rosie’s stroller into the bike lane or the street. You make these decisions every time you go out: Is the danger from an oncoming car or from all the people around us walking their dogs who aren’t wearing masks? We do our best, but you can’t always stay six feet apart on the sidewalk.
I remember going to bed on Thursday night, May 21, feeling a little more tired than usual, and I had a little bit of an upset stomach, but nothing significant. And then I woke up in the middle of the night and I definitely felt a little bit of chills, but not so much that I even got out of bed. When I got up in the morning, I was positive I had a fever. So I took my temperature and it was 100.5 — low, but definitely a fever. I was immediately terrified.
I called my health-care provider at 7 a.m. Because I had the fever and I was also breastfeeding, I was able to get scheduled for a test at noon that day.
The test was really scary. It was pouring rain, and there was this person approaching the car wearing full PPE. It really hit me in that moment: This is what a global pandemic is. There are sick people, this woman is testing covid-positive people all day long, and she’s putting herself at risk. On every level, it suddenly felt really real. They give you this piece of paper when you leave the test that says, “Based on your history, we suspect that you are covid-positive.”
After the test, I pulled over, and I just started hysterically crying. I was so scared. How did this happen?
They recommend that you self-isolate. By that night, my fever was gone. But I stayed in my room. I began to think, “This was just a fluky thing, just bad timing to have a fever.”
When I woke up in the morning, I felt fine, I had no fever. I never had symptoms again after that. But then I got a call from the Kaiser covid care team, and they said, “You tested positive for covid-19.” My husband was shocked. We both cried. I’m thinking that I don’t know if I can live with myself if I gave it to my daughter. My husband immediately disinfected every single thing in the house, washing all of Rosie’s clothes, every one of her toys, everything I could have touched.
We figured of course my husband had it, of course I’d given it to my daughter. It was just a matter of — are we both going to get really sick? If we both get really sick, who is going to take care of Rosie? You start thinking about your life insurance. You’re thinking, “Thank God I did my will.”
My thoughts were oscillating between complete panic to helplessness, a lack of control. I also felt really dirty. I got in the shower and just was scrubbing myself. The idea of having a deadly virus in your body that could kill other people — that felt like a psychological nightmare.
It was also really surreal because it was Memorial Day weekend and the weather was so beautiful and there were so many parties. That Saturday night, from my vantage point in my bedroom, I could see three different parties on rooftops across the street from me. They were playing beer pong. I wanted to scream out the window, “What the hell are you doing? I have covid! Go home!”
My husband obviously had to get tested, so that was the only time I did come downstairs, because I had to watch Rosie. They told him to not take her in the car seat, because when you take the test, it can release the virus into the car. So that was the worst. I changed my clothes. I washed my hands a thousand times. I put on gloves. I’m trying to stay six feet away from her as she’s on the floor playing and looking at me very curiously. She took a tumble because she wasn’t a good crawler yet, and I was not sure what to do. Do I go pick her up? Should I let her cry? Nothing felt right.
My husband tested negative. He was so certain that he got a false negative that he insisted on getting tested again. He tested negative twice. My brother and sister-in-law got tested, too, because we’d seen them outside in that socially distant way. No one spreads this intentionally. But the total lack of control is probably the thing that is the most humbling. You can do every single thing right and still wind up on the wrong side of the virus.
For days I was just stuck in my room, waiting. It was a dark time. My daughter and I shared a wall. I’d hear her crying. I felt so torn. Especially when you’re nursing, your body is screaming, “Go get the baby!” And your mind is like, “Stay here, stay here.”
I was so stressed out that my milk started drying up, which was really sad. I would pump, but get so little, and I felt so badly. It was the only thing I could give my daughter, and I couldn’t even give her that.
The first question everyone would ask is, “How do you think you got it?” The doctors asked, too. The inability to answer that question became paramount. All I did was try to figure out the answer, so that all of this could get tied up in a neat little bow, so we’d know what behavior to avoid going forward, what the lesson is. I explained every single thing we did: We disinfected our UPS packages. We quarantined our mail for four days before we touched it. The doctors said they were seeing this all the time — other people who had been completely isolated like we were and still wound up covid-positive.
I didn’t tell many people because I was surprised at how people rush to judge you : “Oh, you made different choices than I did.” That’s human nature. You try to separate yourself to figure out how you could not be that person. Some people would ask, “Was it a false positive?” But my antibody test results just came back positive.
After a week apart, I could finally be reunited with my husband and daughter. That morning on the eighth day, Rosie woke up and I ran in there, and she smiled at me, and it felt like such a relief. I felt so overwhelmed with pure joy. I was worried that she wouldn’t be interested in breastfeeding anymore, but she picked it right back up.
Where I’ve landed is that I’m okay with not knowing how this happened. This virus doesn’t fit neatly into any kind of system of order that makes sense. The whole experience has left me with just a tremendous amount of just pure gratitude and relief. I understand why all of the sacrifices, small and big, are so crucial. It’s not the most vibrant life that we’ve been living — but to me, what’s important is that I didn’t infect anyone else that I know of, and we are healthy, and we are doing what we need to do to keep other people safe.