📰 Becoming a Parent During the Pandemic Was the Hardest Thing I’ve Ever Done
Full Title: Becoming a Parent During the Pandemic Was the Hardest Thing I’ve Ever Done
The emotional, hormonal, and psychological transformation a person goes through when they become a mother is called matrescence. It represents a fundamental shift in your sense of self. But humans are social creatures—we tend to construct our identity not only around the things we know or feel about ourselves, but also around the ways in which people respond to us. My babies are almost eight months old and I can count on one hand the number of people we’ve spent time with since they were born. Other than my husband, not a single person I love has really seen me being a mother. This new person I’ve become since I gave birth is a person virtually no one knows.
Nothing can prepare you for the isolation of giving birth during a pandemic. The experience took my privileged life—a thing that once included people and places and activities—and compacted it until all that was left was my apartment, my husband, and the two impossibly demanding strangers I was now tasked with keeping alive.
We live in New York, where we have a few friends but no family nearby. We don’t have a car. We were established with all the trappings of successful 21st-century lives—good careers in an amazing city where we’d moved to facilitate them. But these things also meant that, when it really mattered, we were alone.
Every second during which I’ve been a mother has been defined by closing off, shutting down, and retreating into a space small enough where the four of us can be safe.
Up until that point, I’d thought that my father dying when I was 22 was the worst experience of my life. Having twins during a pandemic was worse. At least when my father died, I occasionally slept.
I spoke with a number of mental-health experts, many of whom told me that rates of postpartum depression have gone up significantly since the pandemic began. “It’s gotten really, really bad,” Juli Fraga, a psychologist in San Francisco, told me. “I hear about the isolation, and how it feels like Groundhog Day; the heartache of not knowing when you’re going to see your family; and the anxiety of bringing home a new baby … and not being able to have any support, especially early on in the pandemic.”
But then the winter came, and we found ourselves inside and alone once more while COVID-19 rates skyrocketed around the city. The pieces of normality we’d managed to gather all fell away. My husband and I started to gauge how well we were doing mentally by how many of our jokes were about ending it all. (“Twinkle twinkle little star,” I’d sing to the babies when they abjectly rejected the concept of naptime, “I don’t want to live anymore.”)
I did love my babies, but not blissfully—more in a nervy, impulsive, react-to-their-cries-with-ferocious-internal-programming kind of way. Later, after they started smiling and looking at me with more than curious resentment, I loved them so much, I thought I would burst. Then, when I was truly depressed, I loved them abstractly, as if there were a wall of glass between us.
We’re still not good, as a culture, at talking honestly about what it’s like raising children, especially in the newborn phase, Fraga said. “When people are out on these solo islands, especially if they’re already struggling, they’re left to believe that whatever false narrative they’re telling themselves is absolutely true.”
I’ve always constructed my sense of self through my interactions out in the world—my job, my relationships. What does it mean to be a mother (or a father, for that matter) when you’re living in a vacuum? How do you process a new identity when both you and the world around you have changed so drastically at the same time?