I always knew that I wanted to be a mom.
In fact, it was not even something that I had to think about; I just knew. After marrying my husband and conceiving during our honeymoon, I felt like it was destiny that I would be a mom.
Though it was a struggle those first few weeks—okay, months—with an extremely colicky baby girl, I still felt that I was living my purpose. Even after going back to work and balancing full-time teaching with a toddler—and soon, full-time teaching, “momming,” and being pregnant again—I knew that I was on the right track, that this glorious struggle was mine alone.
However, after the birth of my second daughter in November of 2019, things shifted—the world shifted. Just as I was beginning to awaken from the newborn-baby induced fog of sleeplessness, that is when the unthinkable happened: a global pandemic. COVID-19 swept the world by storm, and our little nest of family life felt really and truly threatened in a terrifying and gripping way.
By March, we were in isolation, with my husband leaving the house just to work in his solitary office and then coming home in the evening hours. The isolation of new motherhood suddenly became so severe and so breathtaking that I felt I was walking around in a fog of loneliness, fear, and despair.
As a person who has suffered from bouts of mild depression for most of my life, this fog of despair felt familiar to me, but still, there was something different about it. This time, as I stroked my tired soul at the end of each weary day, I felt the enormity and heaviness of the collective despair as well.
It felt like a broken drum in the center of my chest or a deflated balloon in my heart. As the weeks and months slid by in tones of gray, whispers of sickness, joblessness, and death, what would have been the loneliness and isolation of new motherhood multiplied like the virus itself was multiplying all throughout the world. Heaviness and fear gripped me like a vice.
Sure, I laughed with my children each day and did my best to make their lives joyful and stress-free. We played and read stories and took walks and watched cartoons. I focused more than ever on giving them healthy food and ensuring good rest each day. But, in truth, it felt like a strain.
Of course, the joy of it was real, and it is probably what saved me from myself all of these months. Babies and children are so immediate. They absolutely insist on the present moment, whatever that happens to be, whether it is joy or pain or jealousy or freedom. And I was a faithful servant to these two queens, or at least I tried to be.
But it is as if I carried a huge backpack each day, and the heavy, adult emotions that I felt I could not bring to the light of day—the dark feelings that I could not show or voice in front of my kids—went unexamined. Sure, I threw them in my figurative “backpack” all day—I’ll look at you later—but, by the time that later came, blissfully, at the end of each day, I was just simply depleted. Nothing left. Not a thing.
And so, my backpack became heavier. And, with no one to speak to about all of these heavy emotions, the heaviness and darkness crept back to the source—back into me. Yes, I had my husband to talk to at the end of each day. But by the time he came home—dinner was put away, the kids were bathed and sleeping, and the garbage cans were taken out—there was just exhaustion. His own and mine.
This came to be another burden in my backpack, this lack of connection, this lack of intimacy. And, if I’m telling the truth, it still is. I long for the old days, the dating days when my husband and I were truly with each other in body, mind, and spirit. We longed for each other when we were apart and magnetized to each other as soon as we were together again.
My husband never failed to delight me with surprises, whether it was a puzzle that he made and left on my car to long love letters articulating his powerful feelings for me. I felt whole, adored, and right. And the sex. Oh, the sex. Yes, there was that, too. And now, we are like comfortable strangers, sitting on opposite sides of the couch, sleeping apart, no longer in sync, no longer connected. And I miss him like a phantom limb, like an ache that does not go away.
Truly, the backpack is overloaded most days. Other connections, though still there, have weakened as well. My mother, who has always been my best friend and greatest helper, continued to come over once a week to see the kids and help out, but that even became sad and strained, as we had to stay outside to see her—wear masks and avoid touching. Try telling a two-year-old to stay away from her grandmother while playing with her. It’s impossible.
Friendships suffered too. All around, there was this push to move to virtual connections (rightly so). Still, I could not bring myself to call friends over Zoom to share a coffee or take an online yoga class. It all felt too impersonal, too artificial, too contrived. It felt like humanity had lost its heart.
But the worst part, the absolute worst part, was the kids. I could see it in my older daughter’s face each day, the slow disappointment as she learned that no, she would not see Grandpa that day, or Gran, or Pa. No, we could not visit the park or the library or even the supermarket. My younger daughter had no knowledge or memory of these connections, but my facetious, energetic, and unabashedly loving older daughter did, and she could not understand why there was suddenly a lack in this area that has previously been so full.
Sure, I tried to step in. I spent countless hours playing blocks, doing crafts, dancing in the kitchen, inventing games and tasks just to fill the hours. I created this upbeat image of myself for her, for them, that took every ounce of my energy to birth.
And yet. And yet…
There were so many days when I simply failed. Myself, and them. I snapped. I yelled. I allowed too much television and too much junk food. I forgot the joyful character that I had worked so hard to cultivate, and all that was left was scared, bruised, and lonely little me, trying to lift the heavy backpack once again, but sometimes just finding it simply too heavy to bear.
I am still there, a mom at home with her kids, alone most days, scared but hopeful. I am determined to create resilient, heart-centered, loving, and strong little women, despite my own flaws and shortcomings. I have no answers, only perhaps more questions. This pandemic has left me humbled, stripped, bared. I am not who I thought I was all along, and the world is not as it was, either. So much uncertainly.
And yet, of this, I am certain: despite heaviness, pain, fear, or disappointment, I will rise tomorrow, God willing. I will make the coffee, change the diapers, listen to snippets of the news in between “Puppy Dog Pals” and coloring, listening for a change. And there is change, and it is getting better each day. I will attend to my children, their laughter, their fears.
Some days, I will be on; I will say and do all of the right things. And sometimes, I will be not-so-on; I will make many mistakes, and it will be a wash. And then, I will begin again—and again and again—with love and faithfulness in my heart.
And maybe one day, someday soon, I will lay down that backpack for good.
I will stride back into the world, light and free, with open arms again.