I’ll Stick to Haiku
I'll Stick to Haiku: A New Mother's Pandemic Stories
By Maria Judnick
If having a baby changes you, then having a baby in the middle of a pandemic transforms you.
My son Dante was born in early Fall Quarter 2020. He is a large baby and I am a petite mother so my labor was the kind where the attending midwife, fully enveloped in PPE gear, took time out of her busy day to visit your room later to remind you of what a badass you are.
For the first several weeks of his life, our lives were still the typical blur of new parents -- doctor’s appointments, sleepless nights, and seemingly endless diaper changes. While we were lucky that my parents who live close by had strictly quarantined in order to help, it often felt like we were an island, hemmed in by the ever-growing waves of COVID threatening our shores. During my pregnancy, I hadn’t minded the quiet nesting, but with Dante’s arrival, I yearned for a way to share all the precious first moments that normally would be widely celebrated by our wider circle of friends, not just our tiny quarantine pod.
As a teacher, I have always been known as an organized hoarder. Colleagues have joked that I must have trained with the Sherpas lugging my large bag filled with papers, books, and supplies to my second-floor office each morning. Early on I applied this same principle of “controlled collection” to documenting Dante’s days. We joined a private photosharing app TinyBeans where we upload photos and videos for relatives every day. We started showing more photos of our son on social media, revealing his first smiles and laughs to eager connections.
But these scattered snapshots didn’t feel like the type of storytelling a boy named after a famous writer deserved. I wanted to be able to share with him when he grows older what it felt like to have a baby in these highly unusual circumstances. But I was also realistic that most days I was too tired to string more than a few simple sentences together. Besides, how could I understand the scope of that essay while I was still very much in the middle of this pandemic? And, as every new parent and writer must wonder, would I ever have the time or energy to write a project of this scope later?
As a writer, I had been warned by friends that no real writing comes out of maternity leave, so I temporarily abandoned my longer projects at good-enough stopping points. I decided I’d spend some time compiling my old published articles on a personal website in the hopes that looking at past productivity would spur on future plans. As I finally got around to clicking through the old links and clips in November, I remembered a project I had started as a new year’s resolution in 2018 -- writing a haiku a day for a month. As I read through my archive, I was amazed at how vividly I remembered some of those seemingly normal days thanks to the quick lines I’d dashed each night.
Thus, my perfect pandemic project was also born. I would have a growing, detailed account of these early days of Dante’s life on a scale that even this new mama could manage.
As one who likes a symbolic start, on January 1, 2021, I awakened my long-ignored Twitter account to share a haiku each day about our lives as we continue to shelter-in-place. I haven’t decided yet how long I’ll be writing these haiku but I’m patiently letting America’s vaccination rollout decide whether I’ll still be writing up to his first birthday or past to his first steps or maybe just until he starts to crawl.
And while I had originally thought this exercise might be a way to share Dante’s moments with the wider world, most of these poems are largely ignored in the ever-deepening ocean of Tweets. But I’ve kept writing on Twitter since the platform’s word constraints have kept me more honest to the syllable count of traditional haiku than I would have been otherwise. Besides, this project still has given me what I needed -- a way to connect more deeply with my days as a mom, savoring these memories to share later, even if I am the only one who gets to notice them right now.