Chelsea Murray Kaneb with her daughter Zoe.
Chelsea Murray Kaneb with her daughter Zoe.

VOICES: Stories from residents in the Northwest Corner of Connecticut

This story originally appeared in The Waterbury Observer:

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a crippling fear of heights, and of giving birth. I’m still working on the whole fear of heights thing, but I had to tackle the other one head-on in 2020 when I found out my husband, Michael, and I were expecting a baby last August.
I thought I would be brimming with anxiety the entire pregnancy, but quite the opposite happened. Once I boarded the train, I realized there was nothing I could do but embrace what was to come.
I armed myself with books, podcasts, followed tons of pages on social media, and tapped into my mindfulness training to help stay in the moment. My biggest concern as a people pleaser with chronic boundary issues was tuning out people’s opinions and advice, as well as grounding our lives to prepare for parenthood since I love to travel.
Those concerns were oddly taken out of my control when the entire world tipped upside down in mid-March 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic began to rage. We were forced to close down our café and lockdown at home since The Center for Disease Control and Prevention identified pregnant women as a vulnerable population during the pandemic. If infected, pregnant women faced a higher risk of hospitalization, ventilation, and preterm births, and there wasn’t much data about how it would impact unborn babies. We weren’t going to take any chances, we had to be vigilant. We quarantined at home, and I was able to continue selling ads at The Waterbury Observer without meeting anyone face to face.
COVID changed everything in our pregnancy, some of it was unfortunate, but some of it a blessing in disguise. The pandemic made us appreciate the moment and take everything one day at a time.

Chelsea Murray Kaneb along with her husband Michael.

Most in-person doctor’s appointments were switched to virtual check-ins, and my husband couldn’t attend any physical appointments with me, including the ultrasounds where I got to lay eyes on our baby for the first time, and hear her heart beating strongly. The ultrasound that would eventually reveal the gender of our child was scheduled for my grandmother’s birthday in March 2020. My grandmother had passed away 15 years earlier, and it helped put my nerves at ease to pretend that she was sitting there with me along with the cheerful technician. But that didn’t take the sting away from that I couldn’t share that moment with Michael. We made the best of it though, enjoying looking at the alien images together after the appointment, trying to decipher what body parts we were looking at.
I wanted to find out our baby’s gender together, so I had the technician write it down on a piece of paper and stick it in an envelope and we opened it together in the car outside of the Waterbury Post Office. We thought about opening it over a nice dinner, but we couldn’t wait a moment longer. On my Granny’s birthday, in an idling truck on Grand Street, in downtown Waterbury, we found out that we were expecting a little girl.
Due to COVID concerns, there was a brief period where it was up in the air if Michael would even be able to attend the birth, but thankfully by August that wasn’t an issue. We had hired a doula (a labor and birthing coach) that would be on hand to assist both of us during the labor, but only one support person was able to attend the birth (COVID protocol), so we had to prepare as much as we could with the doula before labor.
We took a virtual hypnobirthing course together and got on the same page about breathing techniques and the role Michael would play during the birth as the labor and hydration coach. We even toyed around with the idea of a home birth thinking that we would be safer from the virus, but eventually decided the mixture of a hospital birth led by midwives was the right choice for us and my potential anxieties. Ultimately, the most important thing was to go into the experience with an open mind to the process, try to stay calm, and trust that the baby would come when and how she wanted to.
Our due date was August 20, but we had been cautioned by our midwives and family members that first-time time-mothers often go into labor 10-14 days after their due date. We wanted to prepare for the unexpected, so we rented an Airbnb a few minutes from Yale-New Haven Hospital for two weeks and planned to take a pre-birth adventure quarantined there pigging out on New Haven pizza until the baby arrived. On August 16th we took our fur baby, Tashi, on a few-mile hike to spend our last moments with her without a baby, and then took our pets to my Dad’s house while we would be away.
That night we’d decided to enjoy a celebratory meal of baked stuffed lobsters at my father’s house, but something wasn’t quite sitting well with me. I couldn’t get comfortable and needed to keep moving around. We went for a stroll up on the hill behind my Dad’s house, a place I’d explored for countless hours growing up, and the hill where Michael and I had been married almost five years before. We eventually headed back to our house as I started to feel a bit more uncomfortable. We needed to pack and get everything ready to head to the Airbnb the next morning. I was convinced I was having Braxton Hicks contractions, the warm-ups preparing the body for labor, but they were happening at a consistent rate and I was having trouble feeling the baby move. We decided to call our midwives, and out of an abundance of caution, they encouraged us to make the trip down to the hospital to get checked out.
It was getting close to midnight as we packed up the car and drove through the quiet darkness and empty roads to Yale-New Haven. We stayed in the moment during the car ride, breathing, laughing, and feeling an almost energetic force from the eerily still summer night. After checking in, we were quickly placed in a triage room and a monitor was hooked up to check the baby’s movements. Our midwife came in to check the progress and we were floored to find out I was 7 cm dilated and in full-on active labor.
The midwife said she was wildly impressed with how calm I was, and quite frankly, so was I. She advised that it was time to check-in and get this party started, but first a COVID test. I had been preparing mentally and physically to the best of my ability for labor, but I couldn’t talk myself out of the anxiety I had about getting a COVID-19 test during labor. The probe went so far up my nose it felt like I was both drowning and getting my brain tickled at the same time. We were then moved into a delivery room where I needed to be masked until the COVID results came back. It felt like years to get the results, but when the tests were negative, the mask came off. Michael, however, had to keep his mask on unless we were alone in the room.
After 16 hours of laboring with nurses in face masks and shields, incredible midwives, a rockstar husband by my side, and on my side, Zoe Elizabeth Kaneb came into the world at 4:56 pm (the same time we had planned to check into our Airbnb). Zoe joined us airside a few days early with her eyes wide open to the world, and with a peaceful look on her face telling us this wasn’t her first rodeo.

Kaneb with her daughter Zoe.

During normal times we would have been flooded with family visitors and smothered in love, but due to COVID-19 safety protocols, we weren’t allowed any visitors. It was a bummer not to have family there for that quintessential first hospital visit, but it gave us a chance to bond as a family with limited distractions. We piled back into our car two days later with our new precious cargo fresh out of the oven, without a manual. We were advised to have all grandparents and family tests and/or quarantined before they could meet the baby. Once we were back home in our bubble, friends stopped by with gifts, food, and to meet Zoe through the window or from a safe social distance.
Zoe became accustomed to Zoom calls practically right out of the womb, visiting with aunts, uncles, grandparents, and friends, and she even had the opportunity to meet and watch her great-grandfather eat oysters to celebrate his 98th birthday. It’s been hard not physically sharing this magical little being with loved ones, but chatting virtually, sharing loads of pictures via text, and on social media, has made it easier.
Zoe has been on long hikes in the woods and daily walks around the neighborhood. She is the cute bait we needed to meet and get to know many of our neighbors from a safe social distance. Zoe has safely visited her grandparents in New Hampshire, and her grandparents in Morris, and Waterbury, and has received socially distanced visits from aunts, uncles, and close family and friends.
Zoe has been to the zoo, to a beach, to doctor’s appointments, and an outdoor, socially distanced concert at South Farms in Morris, but at five months old she has yet to go inside any store or restaurant or supermarket or inside any friend’s homes. The long-term impact of COVID-19 remains unknown and we are determined to try our best to keep Zoe safe through these uncertain times. Quarantine life can have its difficult moments when we can’t visit with friends, get help from family members, go to a baby group, go on a Target run, or even see family without masks.
Michael and I wish we could pop out for a date night, dining in a restaurant, get a cocktail at a bar, or go see a movie at the movie theater, but we prioritize our daughter’s safety and stay home. Some new parents may be essential workers, teachers, nurses, or medical professionals on the frontlines. It is not lost on me that we are immensely privileged to be able to create this safe zone for our family, so obviously we can deal with the stresses and inconveniences of isolation, and potential mental health issues, that come with our choice.
Zoe came into a world embroiled in the worst public health crisis in the past 100 years, and into a nation fighting an uncivil war about politics, racial justice, masks, COVID, and conspiracy theories. People sent me messages throughout my pregnancy about how sorry they were for us that we were bringing a baby, especially a girl, into this dumpster fire of a world. What an odd thing to say to someone as they’re having a baby, but I understood where they’re coming from. This has been the wildest and most confusing time in modern history, but becoming a parent during all of this has made me embrace the moment, and look to the future with a hopeful heart. Has it been hard at times? Absolutely, and I expect it to continue to be challenging as it’s not all going to be gummy baby smiles 24/7.
What sustains me is that Zoe is a blank slate, with a future filled with hope. We will do everything we can to raise her to be a respectful, curious, compassionate, rebel, who is aware of her own personal power and will understand and use her ability to change the world around her. I believe everything happens for a reason and the universe chose this time in history to make us parents, and to welcome Zoe into the world.
The name Zoe comes from the Greek word for life, and becoming her mother has lit a spark in me during a time of uncertainty and chaos. If 2020 had been a movie, I would have thought it was ridiculously over the top about halfway through. I’m thankful for Zoe for helping me overcome one of my greatest fears, and truly showing me that we can all do hard things.

Chelsea Murray Kaneb is the co-owner of The Hummingbird Cafe in Torrington with her husband Michael.