I am sitting in a hospital bed in the town where I grew up. Twenty-four hours prior, I gave birth to my husband’s and my first child, surrounded by nurses and residents wearing Covid masks. Before leaving a hospital with a baby in tow, you are visited by about 53 specialists who cycle through the maternity ward: pediatricians, anesthesiologists, audiologists, midwives and a flurry of nurses schooled in swaddling and burping. And though no one tells you there will be a quiz at the end of your son’s first day on earth, a very nice young woman comes into your room to assess your “education.”
“I’m the education specialist! There are no right answers,” she says, signaling there are definitely wrong answers. But as she begins her survey of what we’ve learned, it becomes clear that there are surprising answers that don’t make much sense outside of our virus-ravaged world.
Where do you live? required a bit of an explanation. We were Covid refugees just in from fiery California, squatting in the downstairs bedroom of my mother’s house. When it became clear that California would adopt another aggressive lockdown save for Michelin-starred restaurants, we made the wise decision to decamp from San Francisco to Northern Florida and begin an experiment in intergenerational living that society abandoned decades ago.
Do you have a pediatrician? Yes, the medical school classmate of my childhood best friend. My husband’s experience of my hometown is that, despite housing a college with 50,000 students, everyone seems to know each other. The doctor who delivered our son has known me since I was five. The nurse who ensured our baby was feeding properly happened to be an elementary school friend. Though the hospital system has roughly 8000 employees (a third of whom seem to moonlight as lactation consultants), everything about the experience felt parochial –- as though we had moved into a ready-made community.