On March 20th, my husband and I sat in an examination room in Los Angeles opposite our OBGYN, who confirmed that I was seven weeks pregnant. None of us wore masks — what Americans then understood about preventing COVID-19 transmission translated to hoarding Clorox wipes and lathering the body in Purell. “You’ll count the weeks of your pregnancy on Tuesdays,” my doctor explained. “And the due date is November 3.” She left the room.
“Will you google November 3?” I asked my husband. He looked up from his phone, wincing slightly. “It’s election day.”
Like many millennials, the decision we made to start a family hadn’t been an obvious one. Did it feel fair to introduce another human into a world in which her state would burn every September, where the President of the United States had just sailed through impeachment proceedings after requesting foreign interference in our election, and where our child was guaranteed to have active shooter drills as a part of her education? So much about recent years had felt hopeless, and the naked cruelty and incompetence that had been on proud display from the Trump administration too much to bear. But history is cyclical, we reminded ourselves; and the potency of this difficult moment had to ebb eventually. We decided to have a child for the same reason many people do: curiosity mixed with a kind of unvarnished hope.
I had never been successfully pregnant before, and I had no expectations about what the experience might be like besides assuming I’d be able to uncomplicatedly breathe air and board planes, before I was confined to the living room, where new mothers seemed to hang out. The day before my first doctor’s appointment, however, the governor of California issued a stay-at-home order. I had been fast-tracked to the living room.
And then came unimaginable fear and chaos. Unhinged White House briefings that deferred to a tiny presidential ego over science; photos of overcrowded hospitals; heatmaps clocking the virus’s rapid spread. I threw up every day for two months, in the throes of first trimester nausea, trying to make sense of a world and body that bore little resemblance to the ones I’d known before. My second trimester arrived, and the first week that I could feel the baby kicking, I watched George Floyd and Breonna Taylor’s families mourn their murdered children. Someone said all mothers were summoned when George Floyd cried out for his, and I wondered, as I left voicemails for officials in Minneapolis, if that now included me. Already, the white child I hadn’t yet met, felt far more protected than Floyd had been.
In June, Trump waved a bible in front of tear gassed protestors and I felt a familiar dread: that no matter how reckless his presidency, the election would be close; all the way until November and up to my due date. I had — and I still have — a waking nightmare in which I’m in a hospital bed, mask on and sweating, having just given birth — and while they check the baby’s vitals and smooth ointment on its eyes, I ask my husband to refresh Twitter so we can see what the returns look like in Michigan.
But I was feeling better; enough weeks along that the nausea was gone. The despair I felt was mine to channel or let fester in myself and the baby. And like most pregnant women, I was hyper aware of time. At any moment, I knew exactly how much of it I had left until election day and the morning after, when I could wake up with a baby and a political hangover. I wanted to feel like I left it all on the field; that if I gave birth on November 3, I could sincerely look at my daughter and know that the first thing I’d done for her (besides abstain from alcohol during a very stressful period of American history), was try to improve the direction of the country on the day that she entered it.
So I started writing letters to unregistered voters through Vote Forward and Let’s Do Something!, and beginning in July, I resolved to call voters in swing states or donate to key races up and down the ballot every week. On Sundays, I made calls to Arizona and Texas residents through Vote Save America, ploughing through the surly hang-ups and direct-to-voicemails, and encouraged by the conversations I had with undecided and Biden voters in between. I would have done this pregnant or not, similar to the millions of Americans who had been engaging in civic life in record numbers over the past four years. But my daughter’s potential birthday gave me an extra resolve to stick to it. So much about the future felt unknown: I didn’t know what lay beyond this tumultuous time, or how becoming a parent would change me. What I could control was what I did for her now.
I was also aware of the need to protect my mental and physical health. I’d heard anecdotally from OBGYNs that women were going into labor early— a potential result of compounding national anxiety. It wouldn’t be good to be a stressed out pregnant person, but so many people in the country, far more vulnerable than I, wouldn’t have the option to pick and choose which particular cruelties of the Trump administration would befall them should he win again. Aside from a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, I’d been lucky to have a relatively uneventful pregnancy. Engaging regularly with the election was something I wagered I could do. I completely understand that for a different pregnant person, this could be unhealthy or simply too much to bear. And there were periods when I did step back — skipped watching the debates, abstained from doom scrolling; opted to donate to a candidate rather than steel myself for another round of phone banking calls to brusque middle-aged men in the Sun Belt. But for me, pregnancy seemed inextricable from working to elect a new president. They were one and the same.
So, like the rest of the country, I am barreling through the next few days, with an eye on November 3. Sometimes I am nervous; often I am hopeful. Usually the spectre of the election — even if it’s not decided on November 3 — is in the background of the day, and the new shape of my family occupies the fore. But they are intertwined, as they have been since the beginning. And in spite of how fraught the narrative around free and fair voting has become this year, I have to — literally, I have no choice but to — believe that, like choosing to get pregnant, going to the polls is an inherently optimistic thing. It’s an opportunity to start anew, and an investment in changing the direction of the world on the day someone enters into it to change mine forever.