Hello my fellow pandemic mamas.
I’m glad you’re here, reading this, sharing some of the oddness that has been the last twelve months. I’m glad because knowing you’re out there, so many of you, it makes me feel less alone.
It’s so hard to find the right words for this letter. I am writing it because I want to acknowledge the difficulty and heartbreak becoming someone’s mother during a pandemic has brought us. But there are so many of us, all with such unique stories, that I am struggling to find a place to start. So let me start at the beginning.
For many of us, when we found out we were expecting, the words ‘global’ and ‘pandemic’ weren’t something we’d ever said in the same sentence. For others, there was a certain feeling that by the time baby’s due date rolled around, this would be long over. None of us asked to join the pandemic mamas club. And yet, here we all are, one year later.
We’ve missed out on prenatal classes and the friendships they bring with them. We attended appointments masked up and alone, uncertain of what to expect, wishing our birth partner was there so we could feel less afraid. Some of us received devastating, life-changing news with no shoulder to lean on. Others had to put their desperate wish for a baby on hold, knowing that every day, every month that fertility processes were delayed made their chances a little bit smaller. And because support services were reduced, some pandemic mamas had to face the emotional fallout of these experiences alone.
Practicalities were different, too. We decorated nurseries alone. We bought everything online instead of browsing in stores, which we had so looked forward to. Every so often we bought something that arrived in a completely different size or colour than expected. We struggled to source nappies and maternity pads. We cried because nursing bras are stupid at the best of times and finding some that fit without getting measured is a complete impossibility. Instead of going to Boots to pick up essentials for our hospital bags, we ordered 14 items from 23 different shops, often paying ridiculously inflated prices, because everything was out of stock everywhere.
When the time came for our babies to join us, we faced labour assessments alone. We went through terrifying moments where things didn’t go to plan alone. We waited, alone, for staff to give us their advice, their expertise, and their support… only to have to make decisions about the safe delivery of our children, alone. All the while our frantic partners, families, friends were waiting in car parks and homes, staring at phones, waiting for updates, feeling powerless and helpless. We waited for inductions to progress, alone. We laboured, alone. We dragged ourselves through hospital corridors alone. The majority of us had the fortune to have our birth partners by our side when established labour finally began. But some were not so lucky. They gave birth, all alone.
We faced hospital stays alone. We spent the first hours, days, sometimes weeks of our babies’ lives without our partners by our sides, without being able to spend those precious hours recovering together, squeezing each others’ hands, wordlessly agreeing what a tiny marvel we’d created. When we finally came home, there were no friends, no family to help us with our meals and homes. No one to hold the baby while we showered or napped or just drank a cup of coffee with both hands. No one to entertain and spoil our older children, who instead just had to stumble along, their world turned upside down. No one to help us recover, physically or emotionally.
We faced all sorts of feeding troubles alone, we cried over mastitis and bleeding nipples alone. We battled through night after night with no sleep alone, and instead of resting during the day, we homeschooled siblings and made lunches and came up with activity after activity because partners had to return to work and no one else was allowed to come and help.
We burnt out alone. We suffered post-natal depression, alone. We waited and waited for things to get better, for a chance for grandparents to meet and hold our newborns, for baby yoga and singing classes to restart, alone. Our newborns got bigger and bigger, until they stopped being newborns. Milestone after milestone passed without family being able to share them. There were no excited comments about how fast our babies were growing, or how much they were learning, no reassurance that at least we were doing something right if they were developing this fast, because no one was there to see any of it. We waited. Alone.
And then maternity leave ended. We visited nurseries, alone. We settled our confused babies in, who had no idea that there were other children in the world. We tried to make sense of the past year, of all the things we had hoped to enjoy during our leave and none of which happened. Everyone around us seemed to have moved past it at this point, so we wiped our tears away and picked up our broken hearts and started working again, often from home, still alone.
The feeling of ‘alone’ I have had over the past 10 months has been like nothing I have ever experienced before. I am grateful that we are all alive and well. I know that this situation is out of my control and that I have made the best of it. But I cannot shake the grief for all the lost moments that should have been, or the exhaustion of having no chance to recover. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but instead, our little families are doing it all alone.
Fellow pandemic mamas, I wish I had more comforting words to say to you. I wish I could give you a string of ‘but at leasts’ that would move all this into a more positive light. But the truth is that no matter how amazing and supportive your partner is, how brilliant your healthcare provider, how understanding your colleagues, this has been a deeply painful experience. And all I can tell you is that, despite the feeling of isolation, there are so many of us sharing that weight. You are not alone.