The story of Natan and Noga: A Covid baby bust?

by Brian on July 4, 2021

in Covid-19,Science

When on the hottest day of last summer our 25-year-old air conditioner finally called it quits, we called Natan, our air conditioner technician. He’d been patient with me as I’d debated over the previous few months the pros and cons of buying Israeli or Japanese: Electra vs. Mitsubishi, Fujitsu compared with Tadiran. 

But with temperatures hitting close to 40, I had no time to procrastinate – we needed a new unit installed without delay.

We opted for the cheaper Electra. Unfortunately, the new machine was fussy from day one.

First, there was an annoying buzz, then a loud rattle, a weird smell and a remote control that periodically switched from cold to hot without warning, then stopped functioning entirely.

I asked Natan to come back to check if there was something wrong with the unit. Maybe it simply needed an adjustment that a smart technician like him would understand immediately. 

Natan was set to come on a Tuesday. That morning, though, he sent me a short but terrifying text message: He was in quarantine after exposure to a Covid-19 carrier. He wouldn’t be able to make it.

It was October by this point and the weather was getting cooler. I forgot all about my plan with Natan – that is, until the weather heated up again recently and the familiar old noises were still there.

Natan came last week to pay his long-delayed service call.

“So, did you get corona back then?” I asked. “I assume not.”

“Oh yes, I did!” he replied with a cheer that belied the seriousness of his situation.

As I did my best to empathize with Natan, I simultaneously breathed a sigh of relief. If he had come over that morning as planned and only gone into quarantine afterward, I would have been exposed, too. (This was several months before Israel began its vaccination drive.)

“But you got through it OK?” I continued, doing exactly what I despise when people ask that question rhetorically of me without actually being interested in the answer.

“Well, actually, I was pretty sick,” Natan revealed. “At first I couldn’t smell. Then I couldn’t breathe. I was on oxygen for a week. I still have symptoms now. If I have to carry heavy stuff up two floors, I’m out of breath.”

Wow, Natan is just 28 years old, a strong guy who had spent a couple of years in the jungles of South America, and he was on oxygen? So much for the mistaken idea that young people don’t get severe symptoms from Covid-19.

“My wife also got corona,” Natan added, almost as an afterthought. “I don’t know if she caught it from me or I caught it from her.”

“Wait, when did you get married?” I asked. The last time we spoke, Natan was living with his parents in Jerusalem.

“I had just met Noga a few months earlier. When we got corona, it made me question what’s important, what our values are. We’d just survived this awful experience. So, I told her, ‘I had corona. You had corona. Why do we need to wait?’ She said, ‘OK, Natan, but let’s discuss this again in another half a year.’ That same morning, I went out and bought a ring. When I gave it to her, she said, “Hey, I told you to wait!’ I said, ‘Take it or leave it.’” 

She took it and Natan and Noga were married just a week and a half later.

Natan showed me some pictures from the wedding on his phone. Bride and groom both looked radiant. (It wasn’t from a post-Covid fever, as far as I could tell.)

Covid-19 has upended countless life plans. Some partnered couples have discovered during lockdowns they’re not as compatible as they once thought and have opted to split up. Others, like Natan and Noga, have jumped into relationships for which they might otherwise have taken more time. 

Then there’s the baby boom – or not.

Potential parents “may be foregoing childbearing because the pandemic has forced them to confront their own mortality,” writes Kate Choi on the website The Conversation. After all, how can you bring new life into the world if you “cannot envision a future in which you will be able to provide a loving and secure environment for the child to thrive?” 

Data backs up this trend. Rather than the jokey prediction that bored couples stuck in lockdown with nothing else to do would lead to an increase in pregnancies, the U.S. CDC found nearly 40,000 births “missing” in the final month and a half of 2020, which is also nine months or so from the advent of the pandemic. Demographers predict that the decline in fertility will continue to accelerate, making this the largest fall in births in a century. 

It’s even worse in Europe where 50% of people in Germany and France who had planned to have a child in 2020 said they were going to postpone it. In Italy, 37% said they had abandoned the idea altogether. Spain is reporting its lowest birth rates since records began.

“Having seen how bad the pandemic was, I’m not surprised,” says University of Maryland Prof. Philip Cohen. “But it is still just shocking to see something like this happen in real time.”

Natan and Noga are examples of the opposite trend. When I asked Natan if Covid had affected their own family planning, he responded with a chuckle and a telling twinkle in his eye. 

“Ask me again in a week,” he said.

I first told the story of Natan and Noga for The Jerusalem Post.

Photo by Carlos Lindner on Unsplash.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: