If pictures are worth a thousand words, this picture would be the one I choose to sum up my experience as a brand new mom. A mom who can’t get her baby to sleep. A mom who can’t get her baby to gain weight or breastfeed without pain. A mom who cries as the sun sets out of fear of the nighttime. A mom who can’t soothe her baby. A mom following strict stay-at-home orders six days after giving birth and denying visitors. Contemplating the need to quit her job.
I am a nurse in the ICU and on March 15, we got our first COVID positive patient. I was nearly 38-weeks pregnant.
I gave birth in that same hospital two days later with my partner and doula by my side because no other visitors were allowed. After 17 hours of labor, I became the most essential worker in my home—Mom. A small three-letter word that carries such a beautifully heavy burden.
My husband and I spent my maternity leave in a bubble. The uninterrupted time we spent together during those months is priceless. However, the toll of stay-at-home orders meant additional pressure as a new mom to “do it all.” My expertise and confidence in that new role changed often moment to moment; if the sun was still high in the sky, if I had given myself time to shower, or if the last feeding left me fearful of re-latching my baby. After all, breastfeeding him was essential—whether I put that pressure on myself, was planted by others, or more likely, both. I worked so hard to get him on a schedule, to get him to sleep. After all, it was essential to get my baby to sleep through the night.
There were no Mommy and Me groups to commiserate, no in-person lactation consultant visits to adjust the painful feedings, no friends to hold my baby so I could sleep. I was desperate to fit my baby into the mold the Instagram influencer PDFs sold, so I bought those. They didn’t work.
I started breaking rules I had always vowed I wouldn’t.
As time went on, breastfeeding slowly became easier. We started co-sleeping and side-lying feeding. I rocked and fed my baby to sleep. I fed on demand and stopped worrying about a schedule. Meanwhile, I was becoming a “hero” and “essential frontline worker” against my will in the other main arena of my life: my career.
As my time on maternity leave dwindled, I was bombarded with anxiety about returning to work. I questioned whether it was responsible of me to care for COVID patients with a brand new baby at home. How could I continue breastfeeding in such an environment? Will my supply drop?
As I battled the reality that I couldn’t afford to quit my job, I was being patronized by others about my return to work.
“Aren’t you worried you’ll bring it home?”
“I guess it’s your choice.”
“I assume you’ll be careful, right?”
These jabs compounded the pressure to be a mom whose baby sleeps all night, breastfeeds, but not for too long, a boss babe, have a tidy house, and have a successful Avon business on the side, right?
A few weeks ago, I found myself sitting in my living room, trying on a respirator as I watched Kamala Harris give a speech as vice-president-elect, such a surreal moment. There are many days where I feel inadequate and ill-prepared to fulfill these new essential roles in my life. Other days, I am killing it and am assured that I can in fact do hard things.
I am still learning what things are truly essential and what things I need to change or sacrifice for the health of myself and my family.
Working in the covid ICU is ruthless—the true definition of a burden. I pump as I drive to work in silence. Arriving, carrying in my work bag, lunch bag, pumping bag, the respirator I bought for myself, and purse. I wear hospital scrubs, shoe covers, a respirator designed for workers in industrial jobs, a plastic gown, wrap my hair up in a surgical cap, and cover it with a face shield. Thirteen hours in and out of this “hero” cape; barely bobbing my head above water as I struggle to stay ahead of the tasks and make time to pump milk for my baby who, yes, is still breastfeeding. The stress of watching so much death and playing phone tag to update helpless family members has taken a toll on my supply and my well being.
I leave the building with far more baggage than I carried in, pumping again in my car on the way home. At work, desperate to be home—at home grappling with anxiety about work.
The hardest lesson I have learned as a new mom is that my baby’s stats are not a reflection of my abilities as a mother. My life‘s worthiness was never meant to be valued through the lens of someone else doing their own work. The perception of my own hard was never meant to be squandered or magnified through the comparison of somebody else’s. It is my own.
Everyone has their own burden to bear during this time.
I am a new mom and frontline essential worker—and it is heavy.
I am determined to find the balance.