About the writer:
Jocelyn is a Chinese-American psychologist living with her husband and two children in Oakland, CA, USA.
“We went to school, and then, with a flip of a switch, everything changed.” This is what my 8-year-old said over dinner last night, recounting his last day of school before it closed on March 16th.
I remember learning about lucid dreaming in a psychology class in college. “Try flipping a light switch. If the lights don’t turn on and off, you’ll know you’re dreaming.” I’m searching for that switch in this dream we are living, and I can’t seem to get the lights back on.
In this altered universe, I am grieving. Grieving the loss of normalcy: the gentle and beloved routine of the kids going to school, physically interacting with others and their environment. My morning subway routine, the old building smell of the hallways where I work, sitting with my client, in shared space. Going to a friend’s house for dinner, or going to the grocery store without it feeling like the world is ending.
I am grieving for the world: we are suddenly all in the Upside Down, and the Mind Flayer is spreading ominously throughout the atmosphere, infecting the world with loss: financial, psychological, experiential, human.
I am grieving the loss of my pregnancy. Four days before the Bay Area got locked down into shelter-in-place, my husband Doug and I went to our first prenatal appointment, at eight weeks. We had been trying for a third kid, and were elated when on Doug’s birthday, February 16th, we got a positive pregnancy test. I wrapped up the test and presented it to him as a birthday gift, taking a video of him opening it.
We looked at the little white bean on the computer screen with eagerness. When I couldn’t see any flicker, I asked, “Is there a heartbeat?” The doctor replied softly, “I can’t find one.” The grief and helplessness hit me violently. So many tears piled up and poured out of my body. I’m so grateful the kids were still in school that day, so we could have a precious few hours to sit on the couch and grieve together in each other’s arms.
Seven days later I went in for a follow-up appointment to 100% confirm the miscarriage. By then the hospital was in full pandemic mode. They refused to let my husband into the hospital, most people were wearing masks, and they wouldn’t let me pay my copay because they didn’t want patients touching anything. When the doctor (a stranger to me—my scheduled one was “swamped” they said) explained that I could hemorrhage as a complication of the miscarriage, she added: “But even if you have excessive bleeding, try to avoid the ER right now. You’ll be safer staying home if you can.”
On that day, March 19th, we found out it was fraternal twins. In sharp contrast to the week before, mixed in with my sorrow was a strange sense of peace. The rapid escalation of the pandemic got me laser focused on gratitude and preservation of what we have: the health and wellbeing of our already-in-the-world family. I also felt a visceral, maternal love for these unborn babies. I felt a quiet gratitude for what they had already brought us and taught us in trying so hard to bring them into the world, and a pained relief that they would not need to enter into a time of so much uncertainty and crisis.
The doctor started printing out pictures of the ultrasound. The first one dropped to the floor unceremoniously. The paper roll was out. She told me she’d go get more paper. When I told her I didn’t need a picture of them, she replied, “They’ll be interesting to show to my team.” Her dispassionate nature made me feel oddly comforted, and terribly lonely.
On Saturday, I took a medicine to complete the miscarriages of the fetuses, while my husband took care of the kids downstairs. The miscarriage process itself was not quite as painful or gut-wrenching as I had feared it would be.
The night before, I hesitated for a moment and then quickly shot an e-mail to a small group of childhood friends to tell them what was going on (we hadn’t yet announced the pregnancy). They showed up for me, through so many heartfelt messages of love. The morning I took the medicine, my friend from Kindergarten helped take my mind off the pain with a sweet and casual text exchange. When I told her I wanted to go and watch TV when the cramping started to increase, she ended with a simple wish: “I hope it’s not too painful.” I experienced so much compassion in those simple words, and I wept when I read them.
I’m learning about resilience. Two weeks ago, I was still writing down my favorite baby names on a Google Doc, dropping my kids off at school, and taking the BART into San Francisco to interact face-to-face with real people. If someone gave me a crystal ball then and showed me that this would be our lives now, I wouldn’t have believed them. Most of all, I wouldn’t have believed I’d be capable of handling it. But here we are. Dropping balls left and right and not executing anything beautifully or brilliantly, but doing it and living it. And everyone else around us, they are somehow doing it too. The human spirit is so damn gritty.
I think of my mother and my father, 1st-generation Chinese Americans, and how much more hardship they have overcome than I have. My family line, stretching back for countless generations, is built to handle this moment.
We are showing up each day. My hope is that we become closer and stronger in this Upside Down: bigger hearts, more hardiness, and a greater sense of connection to our community, locally and globally. I want my children to learn: We Can Do Hard Things, and We Are (each and every one of us) In This Together.
Our 8-year-old has showed up by diving into independent learning: last week, making a cello out of poster board for his Yo Yo Ma presentation; this week, toiling over an ultra-elaborate and ultra-dorky animated birthday card for his sister. He has showed up for his family. Every night since schools closed, he’s been sleeping in his little sister’s room. When we asked him why, he replied simply, “You know, just because of all the changes happening lately.” In turbulence, he knows to go to the family for anchoring, and he does so with gentleness and devotion.
Our 5-year-old has showed up by bringing her zany and driven nature to balance out the stressed and frazzled energy of myself and my husband. So far, she’s quite loving “playing school” at home, and she’s mastered a few new things in just the last week: zooming around the empty streets on her bike, and reading real books now.
As for my husband and I figuring out working and homeschooling simultaneously (without murdering each other)? We know we are some of the terribly lucky ones, who can actually work from home. It still feels like we are constantly trying to solve a math problem that has no answer. The math just doesn’t add up. We are being asked to do two very different things at once: be upstairs leading meetings and doing teletherapy, and be downstairs being Kindergarten and 2nd grade homeschool parents, a job for which we are unqualified.
It’s messy and chaotic with some epic fails and underslept moments, but we are showing up for each other and doing what we can, and I think that’s all we can really ask of anyone these days.
These eleven days.
March 25th, 2020
I just got back from my final follow-up appointment. New from last week, there were large covid-19 tents set up in front of the hospital today. My doctor was a new one again. My deepest, sincerest reverence and awe for all the medical providers on the planet working under such monumental strain. The doctor checked my uterus, announcing that my endometrial lining looked good and the procedure was successful. As I left the hospital, I tossed my surgical mask in the trashcan and squirted into my hands an alcohol-based sanitizer, the smell of safety. The sun had just come out over the clouds.
Driving home, the radio was playing a musical montage from the #songsofcomfort movement Yo Yo Ma started just over a week ago. Paul Simon, the Indigo Girls, James Taylor, musicians from all over the world posting performances to Twitter to offer comfort as the world collectively grieves. Listening to Yo Yo Ma perform Dvořák’s “Going Home,” on my right I saw a line stretching down the block in front of Berkeley Bowl, with each person standing perfectly six feet apart from each other. On my left I saw a young couple wearing masks and holding hands. The tears came back, and I welcomed them.