“Dispatch from a Pandemic: Skokie, Illinois” by Alisa Ungar-Sargon


A home birth! We’re considering a home birth. Did you know that you can’t have an epidural if you have a home birth? Or that my gynecologist won’t deliver the baby if it’s a home birth? More than that, I’m stuck on the idea that my bed/couch/desk would forever be the place my uterus dumps out a gallon of blood before this new being heretofore unknown to me comes into the world as a living, screaming person detached from my own person.

Maybe if I’m busy thinking about COVID-19, I won’t have room to think about the living, screaming person that will soon detach itself from my own person.

I know more about Coronavirus – which I cannot see, feel or smell – than I do about the fetus kicking around in my own body. This was only half by accident.

My husband started wearing N95 masks on public transportation back in February, for my sake and for the sake of his unborn child and also because he enjoys baiting people. Compared to other metropolitan cities, where our friends and family were already quarantined and envisioning the death of society, Chicago was doing pretty well. Nonetheless, we shopped. We shopped for food and supplies and books. We shopped before the CDC announced a shortage of masks for medical professionals and before Target announced limitations on toilet paper purchases. We shopped because my husband studied infectious diseases and even though the mathematical models were overblown about Ebola, maybe they wouldn’t be about COVID-19. In our home was a stockpile we would not touch unless we were quarantined. Or unless we weren’t quarantined.

In our particular brand of Judaism, it’s ill-advised to prepare for a baby. No clothes or décor or supplies, unless you need it as soon as the baby is born. We don’t want to tempt the Evil Eye. Ergo: no stockpiling. I wonder if this is because plagues were more common around the times of our rulemaking ancestors. Our rabbi tells us that he and his wife had a few miscarriages. This mandated lack of preparation makes more sense in light of that: better to come home with empty arms to an empty room than to a room full of useless baby products.

Still, we break the rules a bit. We have one industrial-sized box of diapers and one industrial-sized box of wet wipes in the stockpile next to the toilet paper.

Maybe now that we’ve been given the stay-at-home order, I’ll finally read the baby books and watch the baby movies and think about the color of the baby’s room. Maybe with a death threat outside, I’ll finally appreciate the life we’re trying to create instead of being terrified by it.

One fear trumps another. A double negative.

-March 13, 2020


alisa ungar s

Alisa Ungar-Sargon received her MFA from Northwestern University. Her work has appeared in TriQuarterly, Lilith Magazine and JMWW, the latter of which earned a Pushcart Prize nomination.