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Hey. I think I’ve just been exposed. Pack up your things. I’ll see you in two weeks.” 

by Inara MacKay, mom to Astrid and Milk-Drunk contributor

It is 9pm, and my daughter is asleep. She still wakes up every two hours, and I’m getting ready for a long night by myself, since my husband works 12-hour night shifts as a police officer. I am at his parents’ house – the night shifts get long at home by yourself, and I had stopped by for dinner. We were chatting for a minute before I prepared to take her home, transfer her into her proper crib. 

One Phone Call, One Potential COVID Exposure Changes Everything

But immediately, that is all different. I call Chris, my husband. He explains the situation, and his exposure. His parents listen in to him talking fast into the phone, upset and frantic and worried. Astrid is four weeks new, and fragile with some yet-to-be-resolved GI issues.

After a brief phone conversation, everything is suddenly in motion. My mother-in-law offers to stay with the baby while I run home and grab two weeks worth of supplies for us. It’s late, and I’m about as sleep deprived as new parents get, so it’s decided my brother-in-law will come on the 30 minute drive with me, and help me load up the car.

When we arrive, it’s close to 10.30pm, and I throw clothes, formula, diapers, toys, whatever else I can think of into suitcases. I grab Astrid’s swing, her play gym. I grab underpants for me, a few t-shirts. No matter how many times Chris and I had talked about this plan, I had never written a packing list, and it’s late and I’m tired. A half hour later, I resign myself to knowing I have the most important things, and we begin to load up the car. 

I say goodbye to my house. I text Chris that I’m leaving. I tell him to be safe. I tell him that I love him. We will be half an hour apart – it may as well be a whole world. He will not see the daughter that took two years of IVF to conceive for two weeks – it may as well be a whole lifetime. And then I step outside, lock the door, and get into the car.

Officer Chris MacKay hold his baby, Astrid, before heading out on a 12 hour shift where he will potentially be exposed to COVID.

A 45 Minute Decontamination Routine is The New Routine

This has been our life now for six months. Every day, my husband gets home from his 12-hour shift, and begins a 45 minute decontamination routine. It has become our new normal – Astrid and I stay in a separate room, waiting to hear an all clear that he is “safe” now – safe for me to kiss hello, safe for him to hold his daughter, safe for him to breathe the same air as us. We have had to prepare our emergency plan three times now – each time he has had a possible exposure, and each time I have had to pack up in the middle of the night, waiting for an all clear that could come in an hour or two weeks.

Being a first responder already has a heightened level of crazy – the hours are strange, the shifts are intense, and the stories are often equal parts horrifying and intense. We have taken it in stride, for the few years it has been our life. Chris was called into work for an emergency while I was in the beginnings of labour, a story we tell now while laughing. But COVID is a different story.

His boots stay at the door to be cleaned with Lysol wipes. His uniforms go straight in the washing machine, so I never touch them. He showers under the hottest water, washes his hair and his hands. He keeps his masks in the car, ready to be used the next day.  He is on dayshift now, and sometimes he is finished with all of this before Astrid, now three months old, goes to bed. Sometimes he isn’t, and he yells goodnight from another room. I sometimes catch glimpses of his face, and I see the moment he is so close to his daughter, yet unsafe for her to be around. 

We Will Keep Doing This Day After Day for Our Safety, And Yours

We keep going, though. For the foreseeable future, this is how things will be. We don’t see many family or any friends, because his job puts him in such a likely position to contract the virus. We are high-risk people to visit. We are unsafe. Astrid has met seven people in her life that aren’t her parents – for her safety, and for theirs. So until all this is over, I will just dream of a future where she can meet family without masks and eat in a restaurant, travel to new states and shop in a mall. And of course most of all, one where she can hug her daddy when he gets home from work, and there isn’t a second thought about it.

Inara MacKay
Author

Inara MacKay is a writer and photographer living in North Carolina. An Australian native, she moved to America as a teenager. Her journey to motherhood was not straightforward and included multiple rounds of IVF, and ended with the arrival of her daughter Astrid in June of 2020. Her work on infertility, high risk pregnancy, and adjusting to motherhood has been featured in several online publications. You can follow Inara on Instagram at @learningwithwhimsy.

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