Surviving Pandemic Motherhood: A Case Study in Zero Fucks
I have forgotten about growth milestones or get-ahead benchmarks, but I have a secret gift of clarity to share on this second pandemic Mother’s Day.
In the pandemic year between last Mother’s Day and this one, I went from being primary parent—unemployed, barefoot, and pregnant in the kitchen with a toddler hanging off my leg while my husband went off to save the world from the coronavirus—to the career woman with a TV studio in her house who no longer knows the baby’s nap schedule.
Hubs and I have done all the types of parenting: primary and secondary, sharing duties as equals, absentee via FaceTime, and giving up entirely and putting on Duck Tales for an entire day. This year in pandemic parenting has taught us one key lesson—parenting philosophies be damned, the only thing that matters is survival.
Our parenting journey starts four years ago. After much shared enjoyment and much intervention of science, I give birth to Baby Boy on the day Trump is elected to the presidency. Our son’s innocence helps us deal with the news and events around us. I have flexibility doing meaningful work, can afford childcare, and Hubs is the male unicorn who enjoys coming home to garden, cook, and change diapers while I explore my new identity. I am terrible at being pregnant, meh as a Mom, and great at my job. My framework of being the architect of the family, but not the builder of all the things, holds strong.
Of course we decide to blow it all up with a second science intervention in late 2019, which results in my body tearing itself apart and my brain constantly fighting the pull of a downward spiral. I stop pursuing All The Things in favor of curling up to sleep. “I am woman, hear me roar!” is now “meow.” Four months into a very desired, but very miserable pregnancy, Hubs comes home to drop the bombshell: “Babe, we have COVID at the office.”
“What! How did you guys get it?”
“It came through Fed-Ex, in a styrofoam box with vials.”
My husband is having his science nerd moment, the equivalent of a longtime politico getting a job at the White House. By securing one of the only strands of COVID-19 in all of the United States, Hubs’ medical research firm can immediately test vaccine models. While the rest of the world prepares to shut down, Hubs goes into overdrive and I’m in the backseat.
That first pandemic Mother’s Day just kinda happens. I can barely see the details through the grey fog covering my mind. The Kid and Hubs make cards and buy me flowers. I don’t see my mother that day or for her 70th birthday later in the summer. Work disappears. I take The Kid for walks and plan meals for when Hubs comes home; he never critiques my cooking efforts, but I can tell I am great with one-pot mixing and terrible with recipes requiring precision. I start posting on Twitter about places with the best produce prices (Trader Joe’s has Honeycrisp apples for $2.99 a bag.)
My mental framework collapses. I am no longer the distant manager and planner of our family life, who does her own thing too. I am Mom, waddling out of Costco with the confidence of a woman who not only resists the temptation to buy supersize cans of garbanzo beans for theoretical gobs of homemade hummus, but simultaneously keeps a toddler calm and in clean underpants while we all wear masks. This. This is success.
Baby Girl is born in deep Quarantine Summer, to much social media rejoicing. Hubs and I get locked in the hospital for the three days of recovery, no visitors, forcing us to be in the moment and just be in each other’s company. What was once a public, community sharing moment—bringing a new person into the world—becomes a deeply private and personal experience in the pandemic. We are the ones who hold the baby. No friends visit, no family members take care of laundry, no lactation consultant manhandles my boobs as I try to figure out breastfeeding yet again. We are our own unit, doing what we need to survive.
For me that means getting back to work, three weeks after delivery. I mention this to a horrified girlfriend on the phone, who cannot fathom how chipper I sound so soon after delivery. I reply, “My pregnancy was so bad, I’m happier with my abdomen cut open and being unable to walk.” I feel a deep, immediate need to connect with the rest of the world again, but have zero interest in explaining why or how we will Make It All Work. Also, I felt a deep need for money. Kids are expensive. I land more paid media work than ever before and discover a great way to silence a two-month old baby while on live radio (boobs.)
First babies come with little personal knowledge, lots of questions, and a ton of advice. Back then, I soaked it all up, read a ton of advice columns, researched positive parenting techniques and how to talk so your child will listen/listen so your child will talk and how to juggle balls while knowing which ones are glass versus rubber and how not to fall into the likability trap and this time around I. Give. Zero. Fucks.
I snap at a mentee, who during a phone call labels me SuperMom: “I reject that title. No woman should have to be a hero, to take all this on her own, and act like it’s just what we do.”
The lack of socializing in the pandemic, the lack of public judgement, allows us—our own little family unit—to try out parenting and work options completely apart from societal expectations or outside scrutiny. I pass the baby to Hubs off without a second thought because he knows her moods better and I’m due in the attic to go on-air to share news with people I will never see.
There is no blueprint out there for me, no roadmap for us—only the chance moments we find meaning in our work and feel deeply connected to each other as husband and wife, parent and child.
I have forgotten about growth milestones or get-ahead benchmarks, and have made this my North Star instead: The kids did not ask to be born. They did not make these choices. The problems that result must not be solved at their expense. Love on them all we can. That’s how to survive. That’s how to thrive. And that’s the secret gift of clarity on this second pandemic Mother’s Day.