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It’s all a bit too much right now.
I couldn’t count how many times I’ve said this over the past two years—to friends, family, my boss, strangers at playgrounds and in the grocery store. There have been times when I felt so close to my breaking point that I felt sure that one decibel louder would cause a complete undoing. The anxiety, fear, concern, outrage, anger, sadness…it is all a bit too much.
Parenthood is arduous enough under the most ordinary of circumstances. The initial stage of parenting is all excruciating sleep deprivation and the loss of any sense of normalcy, at least for a couple of months. It is a screaming, blindfolded plunge into the unknown, not for the faint of heart.
And that doesn’t even shine light on how you feel, which also comes under covert attack. Maybe you are reveling in the newness that is this new, tiny being in your life. But maybe you are mourning the loss of autonomy you enjoyed just a few short months ago. And the irony of it all is that, practically, no one tells you that the feelings you come across can be negative—anger, fear, suffocation. Society asks you to be grateful and adoring of your children, nothing more, but certainly nothing less.
Either way, the first stage in parenthood is smelly and dirty and tiring, and for all intents and purposes, a mindf*ck. But add in a pandemic, and that is the tipping point. A bit too much.
I gave birth to my daughter just over a month before the world came crashing down, in a sense. I should have seen this plummet coming, and maybe I did. My work in infectious disease prevention gave me an inkling of what was in store for the world, and I was scared. But I muffled the disquieted chatter I heard from my work colleagues, foolishly ignoring what was coming in the long term. I was prepared for what a pandemic might look like, but I didn’t really want to think about it.
And I was a second-time mom, so with the hubris of nearly four years of motherhood behind me, I figured I would manage. I would get ahead of my nearly certain bout with postpartum depression, and I wouldn’t watch my newborn sleep in fear of a missed breath. I would get back into shape and puree my own baby food, but I wouldn’t get flustered over a low-grade fever. I would make right all the perceived wrongs of my first ride on this brakeless train. All this, global pandemic be damned. But, of course, the world had other plans.
Every fear I had became magnified. My anxiety held me hostage. The added layers of distress and anxiety, the agony of not being able to make the right choice—because there wasn’t one. The crushing loss of community as we isolated ourselves away from the world, desperate to cocoon our then-newborn daughter from something we couldn’t yet fully understand. The panic I felt every night as my husband came home from his work at the hospital, terrified that he may have brought something home to our kids. The rush of adrenaline when a call came from daycare, heralding a fourth, fifth, sixth closure, or a notification of exposure. It was all a bit too much.
As my children have grown during this time, I lament the loss of what could have been. I have spent the last 700 days in near paralysis. My children have been buoyant and resilient, diligent mask wearers, and the referees of hand-washing rules. But they missed birthday parties and extended family visits. It has been so hard. Sixty-five days of daycare closures. A classroom of kindergartners seeing half of each other’s faces, not allowing visitors. Pared down funerals (or none at all) for beloved family members.
But there have been moments of joy too—if only I dare to look beyond the panic. We took my son to an amusement park for his fifth birthday. He rode his first (but certainly not last) roller coaster and told me that it was the best day of his life. I have seen the relationship between my children blossom and grow, and the time spent together has only strengthened and hastened the bond.
During the head fake of the pandemic coming to an end, we traveled, carefully masked and vaccinated, to Maine to celebrate my mom’s 60th birthday (only a year delayed) and saw my sister after almost two years apart. The bar for birthdays and holidays has dropped dramatically, and they have felt less stressful and modest; we have treasured the time as a nuclear family.
So how do I reconcile these feelings? The fear and the joy, the tears and the laughter. I see the world on the brink, punished by fear of science and by those who hunger for power. Rising waters and extreme weather. How can any of us feel hope for a future where our children thrive?
I’ve found, time and again, that both things can be true. We can hope and dream, even while we wonder and worry. It’s okay to feel it all. So, if it has all been a bit much for you too, I see you.