Rachel Maddow Bares Her Soul About Her Partner’s Terrifying Battle With COVID

Last night as I was drifting off to sleep, I felt Stacy’s hand reach out for my hand under the covers. I could tell something was wrong because she’s been reaching for my hand in the dark for ten years now and I know what every reach means. I opened my eyes and saw Rachel Maddow on her iPad, so of course I assumed she was upset about whatever new Trump trash had happened in the last two hours since I’d looked at the news, but when she didn’t let go of my hand I realized it was more than that. I said, “Are you okay?” And she said, “Yeah.” I said, “Is Rachel Maddow okay?” And Stacy’s voice broke when she said, “Her partner’s been very sick with COVID.”

If you’ve been following MSNBC’s election coverage, you know that Rachel Maddow was anchoring all of it, from primaries to general election debates to voting night results — but she wasn’t around immediately after the election; instead, from her home, she Zoomed in and said she was in quarantine because someone she’d had contact with tested positive for COVID. And if you’ve been following Rachel Maddow’s career since she took her primetime spot in 2008, you know she’s been with her partner, Susan Mikula, for over two decades, and that her relationship with Susan means everything to her. She said as much last night when she opened up about Susan’s COVID battle. “I don’t think of her as the sun and me as a planet that revolves around her,” Maddow said. “It’s much more pitiful than that. She’s a planet and I’m a little satellite out there orbiting her, just beep-beep-beeping my little lights and trying to make her happy.”

Maddow explained that Susan has been very, very sick with COVID, and that they thought, at one point, she could die.

It was a surreal experience watching Maddow open up like that. She is the voice of calm reason, the anchor of logic, the brilliant and articulate go-to liberal pundit who has made more sense than anyone else out of this Trumpian/Orwellian nightmare-chaos we’ve been living in for the past five years. But last night, she was raw emotion. The world is a mad, out-of-control place, and who really knows what’s going to happen, but the one truth in her world is that she’d fight or die, without question, for Susan. She wasn’t Rachel Maddow of The Rachel Maddow show in those five minutes. She was just a woman in love with another woman, terrified beyond words — something I, frankly, didn’t know was possible — that she was going to lose her partner.

I felt the same fear and sadness when I watched Maddow last night as I do when anyone I love tells me they or a family member have COVID — or even a fever, even a cough — because I don’t want anyone to experience the terror and grief Stacy and I have been through with my now eight-month life-upending battle with COVID and its aftereffects. But I also felt something I haven’t yet since this virus arrived in New York City in March — permission to begin to mourn. One of the hardest things about navigating my own health struggles these last eight months is that Stacy and I have been doing it against a backdrop of countless millions of people not even believing COVID is a real thing. People are dying in the hospitals of COVID while not believing COVID exists. Seeing our friends and family out in the world interacting with each other in groups, in restaurants, without masks. Saying, “Oh, I read Heather’s piece and I feel so sorry for y’all,” but going on about their lives as if they’re not putting themselves and everyone they come close to being in contact with at risk for experiencing the same thing, or worse. Watching the number of deaths tick higher and higher. 180,000. 200,000. 250,000. With no end in sight.

In sharing her pain, Rachel Maddow, the voice of logic and fact, somehow cracked open a locked down part of my spirit and allowed me to start experiencing that pain too. Not just fear. Not just outrage. Not just bewilderment. But deep and consuming sorrow. This is, of course, what nations usually rely on their political leaders to provide. But the Trump administration’s deranged army marches on and makes collective acknowledgment and shared grief impossible. I am grateful to Rachel Maddow for sharing such a vulnerable part of her self — and Stacy and I are sending all of our love and healing prayers to her and Susan, and to every single person who has been affected by this pandemic and our government’s cruel, vile, unconscionable response to it.

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Heather Hogan

Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle senior editor who lives in New York City with her wife, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. She's a member of the Television Critics Association, GALECA: The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics, and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer critic. You can also find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Heather has written 1718 articles for us.


  1. My brother and niece living in Washington were among the first to get covid in this country. Thankfully they recovered. My brother still has some lingering affects. Unfortunately my aunt passed away in June from the virus. I am so sick of people not doing the absolute bare minimum to protect themselves and others. It is like group projects in school. Most of the group does their share of the work and there is always the one kid who does nothing and screws it up for the rest of us.

  2. Heather, your article is the perfect complement to that video – they are both so heartfelt. It’s amazing that both you and Rachel (…we’re on first name terms) have been able to produce such vital reporting out of these horrendous experiences.

  3. Wow, this is so genuine, and honest, and heartbreaking. Especially after seeing how much attention Rachel Maddow’s show has given to the COVID pandemic and its national effects, I can imagine that having her partner get sick was her absolute worst nightmare. I’m glad to hear Susan is slowly getting better, and am grateful for the reminder to err on the side of caution when deciding what potential risks to take.

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