IIt’s impossible to gauge the depth of a hole you’re in until you start to climb out of it. I have felt this in the most difficult times of my life, usually when I have suffered a loss: death, divorce. I remember the worst moments in jarring flashes – sobbing in a closet, breathing in a scarf; diving gin and winding roads; lying next to my bulldog, whispering “I’m sorry” in his ear. Moments of grief and despair whose dimensions I didn’t fully understand until they dissipated, revealing a terrible edge that I didn’t know I had fallen from.
That’s how I feel now, more than two years after the United States suffered its first wave of COVID-19, when our daughter was almost 2 years old and I was 12 weeks pregnant. Now she is 4 years old and our son almost 2 years old, half his life and his whole life in a pandemic world. Our family is now a minority: none of us have contracted the virus that has killed an estimated 1 million Americans or infected about 60% of the US population (likely a vast underestimate due to untested positive home tests). reported). But protecting ourselves, and especially our children, who are too young to be vaccinated, has been very expensive. We chose to be parents, but we didn’t choose to become single parents, and I can see now that under the weight of pandemic motherhood, I lost myself.
Before my first child was born, I imagined myself as the kind of mother who would take her children on spontaneous adventures and get lost in long imaginative games. I would let them learn from experience rather than cautionary tales. I laughed at the paint stains on the walls and the glitter on the carpet. Art is a mess! I would claim, so expansive and emotionally generous in their younger years that, later on, they would let me see their confused and aching teenage hearts.
Naively I thought who I knew myself to be the person-artistic, ambitious, playful, curious – would be what I have become as mother. I didn’t expect motherhood to fundamentally change who I was as a person.
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Pregnancy and childbirth have always had a way of erasing the self, shattering any previous understanding of who we are. Many of us emerge with a combination of misplaced bones, dysfunctional organs, stitches and scars, months of bleeding and leaking, all of which can change our relationship with physics – exercise, sex, even walking – depriving us of previous forms of release and connection. . Between 6% and 20% of new mothers suffer from postpartum depression—many of which have never suffered from depression before, whereas until one on three experience high levels of anxiety during pregnancy or during the postpartum period. Insomnia clouds our intellectual faculties, dulls our creativity and shakes our patience.
My second pregnancy, like the first, was painfully debilitating and this time considered high risk, and I bled for three months after having our son in September 2020. He didn’t sleep a night for 15 months , a phrase so banal that it I cannot express the despair, the heartbreaking shock of being woken by screams every few hours night after night, for more than a year. Our son is also prone to more severe respiratory infections, so until Omicron cases started falling in our city in March, we mostly stayed home. The respite that new parents might normally receive in the form of babysitting, socializing, or returning to the office or gym just didn’t exist for us.
Every day I felt scratched and hollow. I was there, crying into a pillow at 3am because the baby was crying again, wouldn’t stop crying, no matter what sleep training method we tried. I was there on the floor of my home office, sobbing as I begged the baby monitor, “Please please!” I was there, snapping Nope to my daughter before even processing her request, stifling frustration that sounded too much like rage as she refused dinner but materialized to ask for a snack the moment I sat down to work.
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During this time, new qualities emerged in me: a deep and unsettling fear of the world outside our doors, rage at the politicized approach to public health that has left parents stranded and children vulnerable, a deep well of mistrust and cynicism in my once open heart. All of this, the fear, the fury, the exhaustion, the endless banality, the need to swallow my own emotions and desires as best I could to take care of my children, left me like a ball, light like a feather and withered. Small irritations could break me. I screamed, then apologized, sick with shame. What is Wrong with me? I have often thought. Who a m I?
I was a mother. My body was their body to feed and climb on, my mind was busy keeping them safe, healthy, loved, making this little pandemic world of our home a good one, and consumed by anger at myself every time I failed. I may have been a full-time mother, but without the ability to live in the me I had created outside the maternity wardI was not the one they deserved.
Now that our daughter is in preschool in the mornings, our son sleeps through the night, and different risk calculations mean we’re venturing more out into the world, I’m slowly forging a path to my mind and body. As I connect with the parts of myself I’ve lost, I see flashes of the mother I want to be – one who says yes instead of no, who can deal with temper tantrums with patience, who can take advantage of her children for the bright, beautiful and funny people they are.
It’s not a happy ending. Because in the past two years, in which mothers have left the workforce in record numbers to take on the burden of childcare in a country that has abandoned us to the pandemic and now suffers from a mental health crisisare a damning glimpse of what will happen if Roe vs. Wade is overturned: people with wombs forced to sacrifice themselves for a role that the United States deems more important than self-reliance, more important than ambition, more important than our own real lives, and yet will at no time support .
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I live in Texas, which has effectively already banned abortion, yet has already charged”by mistake», a woman murdered for an alleged voluntary abortion. From where I sit in this state that has taken such an appalling lead in denying people their freedom to procreate, it’s easy to see the worst-case scenarios: a expected increase of 21% already in America appalling maternal mortality rate if a nationwide abortion ban is put in place, women will be criminalized not only for self-directed abortions, but also for miscarriages and stillbirths, with the cycles of trauma, poverty and abuse continuing unabated. The best case script? What I and so many others have already experienced: a total loss of identity.
And I can’t help but think that’s the point.
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