A pile of laundry is stacked against the hallway wall. Only a metal baby gate separates my twin daughters, who are nine months and more curious than ever, from the mound of socks and T-shirts I moved out of reach earlier this morning. I tell myself that the pile of clothes, which has been there for days, is still technically freshly laundered… but of course the girls have rummaged through the items and gummed at the soles of no fewer than three pairs of wool socks. So, it’s debatable whether the clothes are still “clean,” but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt?
Crossing the menial tasks off of my list — putting the laundry away, washing the French press from this morning’s coffee, placing the toys in their bins, the ones with the pom poms that seemed so important on my baby shower registry — seems so tedious now.
We moved to Seattle from Southern California in January with big plans. We were going to make friends, find a home, and put down roots. My husband had a new job, and I, after months of non-stop diaper changes, was finally going to get a little time back to focus on my career (a mix of freelance journalism and fiction — make of that what you will) once we’d found a part-time nanny. Life was moving forward. Until it wasn’t.
Washington, and King County, specifically, was the initial epicenter of the COVID-19 breakout in the United States, and with two infants, we took the calls for social distancing seriously early on. At the time, I wondered if we were being too cautious (a foolish concern, in retrospect). We haven’t left the house since the beginning of March; on paper, it’s just over a month, but it feels like a lifetime ago.
The days are long, but I can’t say they’re boring. I chase babies, change diapers, cook, feed (my family and, if I remember, myself), do laundry, and wash dishes. In the rare moments of peace, I try to write or talk to a friend — that is, if I have any energy left or don’t feel consumed by my anxiety of living during this time. Of being a parent, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend. Of not knowing how all of those identities fit together. And in the midst of a global pandemic, it seems unlikely that I will find out.
No one prepares you for the loneliness of being a new parent. I see why. It would seem uncouth for baby shower guests to admit they aren’t going to check in on you often after the baby is born over plates of rattle-shaped cookies.
Sure, they’ll be there in the beginning. Everyone loves a squishy newborn. But after the first few months, the stream of check-in texts and visitors dwindles. I get it. Everyone has their own lives. The world doesn’t stop just because you have a baby — or in my case, two. It doesn’t hurt any less that some friends seemed to disappear, but that’s the way things are. Maybe it’s karma for all of the times I never called back or canceled plans. Perhaps I’m a terrible person, and everyone hates me. Maybe they’re just in a different stage of life right now. Maybe I’m overthinking everything because I’m hormonal and tired and in no way qualified to take care of two infants.
It’s probably a combination of all of the above.
The instructor in my pregnancy course, along with countless strangers at grocery stores, said that the first three months would be the most challenging. They were tough, that is true. Newborns require constant feeding and diaper changes, and they don’t sleep for more than two hours.
But the subsequent stages are trying, too. At six months, my kids were rolling and starting to crawl. At nine, they’re standing and trying to walk. While one is teething on my phone (despite having no fewer than a million baby toys), the other tries to scale the baby gate, anxiously grasping for a sock to chew on. And while they’re growing more independent, they’re somehow clingier than ever.
There’s a scene in the movie World War Z, where hordes of zombies rush toward a massive wall, which is the only thing separating them from the living. A bounty of delicious brains. But my zombies aren’t like the ones in black-and-white films. They’re fast, and they’re hungry, and they aren’t afraid to trample one another to get to their food source. This is what feeding time is like at my house. The babies barrel toward me on all fours, a near sprint, and tackle me to the ground while I desperately clamber to pop my boobs out. I’ll lie there under the weight of my twins, one strewn on top of me and the other on my side, my nipples pulled in either direction, for 20 minutes while they feast.
Sometimes, I’ll read a book, or I’ll scroll through Twitter and read the news until I’m feeling unbearably anxious. Other times, I’ll torture myself by looking at Instagram, taking in dozens of gorgeous photos of influencers in their perfect homes and their impeccably dressed kids; pictures of beautifully prepared meals and loaf after loaf of freshly baked bread; inspirational quotes about how we’re all in this together; stills of screenshots of Zoom happy hours. These posts capture our bizarre times, illuminating how everyone is trying to make sense of the changes. Alone. Together. These are the times I feel most isolated, jealous, and insecure.
Unfollowing helps, but it doesn’t address the heart of the issue. I want to be everything: the nurturing mother, who is fashionable and has a clean house and loads of adoring friends; the writer, who is insightful and accomplished; the wife, who is loving; the daughter and sister, who carries out family traditions; the peacekeeper, who appeases everyone. But I can’t. It’s not possible to be everything at once, and for me, that is the loneliest feeling of all.
Though it’s recommended that new parents should return to a maternal health provider for a postpartum checkup within the first three weeks of having their child, few patients do so. Doctors don’t get financial incentivization since “many obstetrics providers receive bundled payments from maternity care” that extends “until six weeks after delivery,” according to the Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Women’s Mental Health.
Who checks in on you then, if not your OB/GYN or primary doctor?
In many cases, no one. Just as you’re expected to go back to work, manage your home, care for your children, tend to your marriage, and maintain a bustling social life, you’re also supposed to actively monitor all aspects of your health. You, covered in spit-up and shit. You, juggling a job and child care. You, barely holding it together.
All of that was hard to manage before we went on lockdown. Now, all of the small things that eased the big stressors — a walk to the coffee shop, a stroll through the library, a lunch with a friend — are on hold, indefinitely. I FaceTime with family and friends. I text. I reply to Instagram Stories. That is a salve. Nothing compares to in-person interactions. The hugs. The slight breeze created by a laugh, its levity lifting stale air.
Lately, I keep telling myself how fortunate I am. Lucky that I can watch the girls throughout the day while my husband works. That we can afford our rent. That we are healthy. That we are still able to communicate with loved ones. That I have so much time to watch my daughters grow — and, believe me, they are my absolute joy.
They are creative and curious, smart and funny, strong-willed and passionate, and more beautiful than I could have ever imagined. They are hope in a terrifying world. But they are nine months old, and they are not an antidote for my self-pity or fear or loneliness. That is too much to ask of anyone, let alone my children; they do not exist to fill me up, regardless of how happy they make me.
Despite all of the good, I’m still frustrated. It’s difficult to justify my anger, though. Right now, there are so many people who are worse off. Doctors and nurses and hospital staff who can’t see their families because they’re working 16-hour days. Domestic violence survivors who are living with their abusers. Single parents who have to juggle work and school and basic household tasks. New parents, like my sister, who are giving birth and navigating the newborn stage during a pandemic.
And so I push down my feelings, swallow them like gasoline until something deep inside lights a fire and torches everything within reach. I have been a walking time bomb. I have let my feelings fester. I have told myself my emotions don’t matter.
I’m still not entirely convinced they do. If it were you writing this instead of me, I would empathize, tell you that you are entitled to feel sad and angry. But you’re not.
So, I’ll continue to grapple with my emotions between baths and feedings. I’ll savor every cuddle, laugh, and milestone. I’ll make a more concerted effort to reach out to family and friends and foster those relationships from afar. I’ll carve out moments to hold my husband. Who knows, I might even sneak in a few minutes to write. I’ll be grateful for those who are sacrificing everything so that my family can function — the doctors, nurses, delivery drivers, store clerks, scientists, and so many others I can’t think to mention.
At times, I will feel lonely and lost, as I imagine we all do. But I will remind myself I am evolving.
I am full; I am trying.
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