Strong Like a Mother

Becoming a parent during a pandemic has taught me that I’m stronger than I ever thought possible

Woman wearing mask holding baby in carrier
Photo by Marcin Jozwiak on Unsplash

This isn’t how I pictured my first year of motherhood. When I found out I was pregnant in June 2019, I imagined my days would be filled with playdates, baby classes, and breastfeeding support groups. But COVID-19 has left me stranded on an island, away from everyone we know, and without the ability to make new connections.

I thought the hardest part of this first year would be my capacity to be maternal and loving, but that turned out to be the easy part. The last year has, without a doubt, been the hardest I’ve ever endured, but I’m enduring it somehow. I am stronger than I ever thought possible, and that’s something I can carry with me into my post-pandemic life.

Woman holding hand of child looking at mountains
Photo by Simon Rae on Unsplash

My husband and I moved from the United States to Dublin, Ireland, when I was three months pregnant. I knew being a first-time parent without the physical support of loved ones nearby would be difficult. I knew date nights would be hard to come by and calls for mom-advice would be limited by the time difference, but I was ready to take on the challenge. It seemed worth it to trade those comforts for four years of weekends jet-setting around Europe and a debt-free start at adulthood for my daughter.

I thought I would have friends by now — a local support system I could cobble together by meeting new people through joining a baby playgroup, singing in a chorus, or taking a cooking class. But those social opportunities aren’t available because of the pandemic, and it’s nearly impossible to build the foundation for a solid friendship through texts and video calls alone. New moms are, understandably, a very cautious bunch.

So, it has just been my daughter, my husband, and me, day in and day out, since he went back to work remotely after his paternity leave ended in March. Our baby bubble didn’t burst so much as it had a slow leak. Now, almost a year later, it has decomposed, a natural part of the circle of life, but we aren’t living right now — we’re just surviving. We’re stuck together alone, just the three of us. And we all (including my daughter, I’m sure) would love to leave the apartment and get away from each other, even just for a couple of hours.

Toddler looking out window, pressed up against glass
Photo by Paul Hanaoka on Unsplash

My heart breaks every single day. It shatters into a million pieces every time I watch my daughter stare longingly at our Portal, or try to touch the people on the screen during video calls. My heart, like the rest of my post-pregnancy body, has been changed forever over the last year. I like to imagine that with each break and repair, scar tissue forms, making it tougher to break next time, but that hasn’t happened yet. I wonder how many more heartbreaks it will take before they at least hurt a little less. But I don’t have to wonder anymore if my heart will be able to piece itself back together. It seems to have an unlimited capacity for resilience.

So many people’s lives have been turned upside down by Coronavirus. This makes it difficult to have an honest conversation with my friends and family about how I’m doing. What makes it more difficult is that no one back home truly understands how claustrophobic I feel to have restrictions placed on my freedom of movement, and to be afraid to go for a walk outside because so many people don’t wear masks and aggressively encroach on my personal space, even when I’m masked and pushing a baby in a carriage.

Woman with eyes closed crying
Photo by Kat J on Unsplash

Loved ones say, “I know how you feel. I’m having a hard time with lockdown too,” but they’re not truly locked-down when they just saw their parents or a friend last week. Maybe they just can’t grasp the deep depression and isolation I feel every single day. Maybe they don’t care because things could be worse. Or maybe they just don’t want to talk about the ominous, dark cloud hanging over the whole world right now. Feeling like I have no one I can talk to openly and honestly, other than my therapist, is perhaps the most isolating thing of all.

For now, I get up every morning, take a shower, put on my daytime pajamas, have my coffee, and get through the day in front of me. I try not to dwell on everything I’m missing out on, my withering relationships, or the fact that tomorrow and the next day will look a whole lot like today.

Woman throwing happy toddler in the air
Photo by Thiago Cerqueira on Unsplash

For now, I play with my daughter and make those video calls, as heartbreaking as they are. I set my fears aside to take my daughter for walks so we can both get some fresh air. I laugh with her and tell myself she isn’t suffering because she doesn’t know a life any different from this one. I seize control of the things I can and try my hardest to relinquish my angst around the things I can’t.

Will my old relationships survive the strain of physical absence or the lack of authenticity? Will I ever make new friendships? Will I get to enjoy some of the trips to Europe and visits from friends and family I thought we would enjoy before we move back?

Child walking through dark tunnel toward “Danger” sign at end
Photo by Howard Malone on Unsplash

No one knows what life will look like when we emerge from this time of deep despair and uncertainty. No one knows if we will ever be able to return to life as we knew it. But if this last year has taught me anything, it’s that I’m so much stronger than I ever thought possible. I know that once I come out the other end of this dark tunnel, I will be able to handle whatever waits for me on the other side.

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Molly Coyle Shibley

Molly Coyle Shibley

American living in Ireland. New mom. Mental health advocate. Also writes for The Mighty and Molly Does Adulting. Just trying to get my sh*t together.

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