On March 19, 2020, as the world was crashing down into a state of emergency, I became a mom.
I became a mom. I’m a mom. Just letting that sink in, letting the written words say it back to me.
There is so much about becoming a mom or parent that is both universal and highly individual. So as I set out to write about “parenting in the pandemic,” there are a million insecurities running through my brain. What if I just sound like a complainer? (I do.) What if I’m the only one who feels these things? (Maybe.) What if the sleep deprivation and lack of social interaction have completely altered my ability to think and write? (Definitely, yes.)
So why still write this? I rarely hear others share the details of becoming parents - their unique version of this universal story. I wish I had. There’s danger in only hearing the story laid out for us in healthcare pamphlets and parenting magazines. Every experience is so different, so here’s a small window into what it was like for me to become a mom during the pandemic.
I have to acknowledge that I had an extremely privileged journey becoming a parent. My husband and I have jobs that continue to pay us as we are forced to work from home. We both had paid parental leave. (I could dedicate an entire blog series on why two parents fully on newborn duty is more fulfilling for all). We had access to good healthcare. Our baby was born healthy. The list could go on.
Nothing could have prepared me for the transformation that took place the day my son was born. Suddenly, everything came down to the essentials. My baby was 3.5 weeks early and COVID protocols weren’t widely known at the time. The hospital was chaotic. No one was wearing masks (remember that CDC tweet?) When I came home from the hospital, we couldn’t get basic things like diapers and groceries through our usual go-to delivery apps because everyone was going into buying overdrive.
Suddenly, everything came down to the essentials.
As a postpartum nursing mom, I was at my physical worst (recovering from labor, unable to walk more than a few steps at a time), and yet, the baby needed my body to be functioning at its best. He ate every 1-2 hours those first few weeks, and if I didn’t eat, he couldn’t eat. I rarely slept when the baby slept, checking to make sure he was breathing. My sole focus from the moment I went into labor was to make sure this baby survived and protect him from the whirlwind of negativity outside, if it’s the last thing I do. I had a crazy amount of focus on what matters most - a focus I’m trying to retain as the isolation and pandemic life drags on.
I understood what people meant when they say it takes a village. Our village became everything as new parents. People just came through for us. My mom sacrificed a lot to live with us for my son’s first few months. Friends asked us to text them a list of things we needed and made grocery runs of the basics. They’d come over and leave stuff downstairs without seeing us, because, well, COVID. At some point, there was an excel calendar of who was bringing us meals on a given day.
A Dost board member checked in weekly, reminding me to go for walks. People made sure we experienced the high of becoming parents by sending cards, classic children’s books and cute baby things that reminded us this was a special time. While most of our family and friends have not met our son, a few of them have done so safely, some from a distance, some on video chat.
Consistently, our people asked: what do you need, how are you? They knew we didn’t have the energy to ask them back, how are you? So many of those messages were unanswered in the blur of it all but each one was like a soothing voice telling me, we’ve got your back, you can do this... When you do stuff alone, it’s unsurmountable. When you do it with your community - your people - you feel almost superhuman. My first few months as a new mom during COVID were not just survivable, they were magical thanks to our people.
When you do stuff alone, it’s unsurmountable. When you do it with your community - your people - you feel almost superhuman.
But amidst the magic was an undercurrent of anxiety, stress, uncertainty, and anger. My friends who already had kids were going through their own kind of chaos, figuring out how to work from home without childcare and school. I tried to find understanding or advice from others but eventually accepted that pandemic parenting doesn’t have a guide book. The outlets I thought I had to process the joys and stresses of becoming a mom - they were all taken away from me. I had imagined in my head, you know, going to a coffee shop or restaurant with my son, and people saying "oh my, he's so cute!" (Maybe this only happens in movies anyway? :))
“This is the best time to have a newborn! You wouldn’t leave the house anyway, it would feel way too stressful,” said my wise friends. They were probably right. But all I wanted was to have THAT experience. That normal new parent experience, where I could feel the stress and craziness of trying to go out with a tiny baby I was just getting to know.
Instead, I was masked up around my 4-day old as I took him to his first pediatric appointment. Only one adult was allowed to accompany him. Accompany him. Four days ago we were the same body and now he's a whole separate person. Hmm. The hospital felt eerie and on edge as people were now figuring out mask wearing. I put my winter coat down on the examination room chair, only to freak out moments later. Would I have to wash that as soon as I get home? What if the baby touches my jacket when I nurse him there? What happens to babies who get COVID?
“Go ahead and change his diaper so I can weigh him,” the nurse said. I broke down in tears because in the few hours my son had been alive, my husband had changed his diapers, and now here I was, doing it for the first time under the scrutiny of an expert. I walked out wondering if the pit in my stomach was because of the pandemic, because I was a new mom or both. This would become a common refrain over the coming months.
Parenting during this pandemic has been about accepting that extremely opposite emotions coexist within me on a daily basis. It was a dark year with so much pain and suffering for all - the never ending drip of ugliness. It was the year I met my son. It was the year I was in constant physical pain after birth. It was a year that reminded me of how lucky I am. It was the year I wished more than anything I could leave the four walls of my house. It was the year I got to be quarantined with the bright light that is my son, consumed by the constant drum of his routine. It was the year I felt the power that comes with being a mom. And yet, it was the year I felt the loneliness, the brokenness that comes alongside the first year of parenthood.
Meanwhile, I was working with my team to figure out how to respond to what Dost families were going through - kids out of school, hunger, domestic violence and more. I deeply understood my privilege, which made me torn between talking about my challenges versus brushing them aside. Thankfully, I work at a nonjudgmental organization. One where all our stories matter. Where we talk about our mental wellbeing. Where we invested in therapy for all our staff this year because we knew if we didn’t take care of ourselves, we couldn't be of any help to others.
As we go into the new year, I have given up on creating a new identity, the mom version of me that I thought I’d rebuild after 9 months of pregnancy and 9 months of pandemic parenting. Let’s be honest - we all had different plans for 2020! I try to surrender to living in the moment and loving my son in ways that I may not have anticipated of the pre-mom me: making adventures out of a neighborhood walk, singing random songs about diaper changes, laughing together about his latest antics, letting the crazy feelings coexist, talking to him about it when I feel sad, dressing him up for no reason and just making memories as a new family. One of my humble goals for 2021: take my son to a pool.
Let’s be honest - we all had different plans for 2020!
So by now you know there’s a selfish reason for writing this, too. By sharing a tiny bit about parenting during the pandemic, I begin to accept my story. Thank you for giving me the space.