I found out I was pregnant three weeks before the U.S. lockdown. It was far enough ahead that we had heard of this new virus but had no idea that in a short time we would isolate and all our dreams and expectations for this pregnancy would shift. Fast forward 9 months, and I was giving birth in a hospital in the middle of a pandemic, unsure if my husband would get to be with me, depending on the results of my Covid test.
If you are a woman, my sense is that you understand this feeling of “not knowing,” “being unsure,” whether or not you have been pregnant before, whether or not you have given birth, whether or not you have been pregnant and given birth during a pandemic. You have been socialized to imagine yourself as a mother simply because you have certain organs in your body. You have observed your own mother or your friends’ mothers and incorporated that knowledge into your understanding of womanhood. You have been envisioning yourself in this role for a very long time, perhaps subconsciously and regardless of whether you even want children – based on external messages that we receive and adapt internally. And yet, when we reach adulthood and perhaps start the process of putting those expectations to action, we are so uncertain, so unsure because fertility, pregnancy, and motherhood are all those things to everyone. And how strange this is, when we have been hoping and dreaming and expecting for most of our lives.
This is certainly how I felt. I was fortunate in that I was protected by my community that found ways to exist safely during the pandemic. I had access to many women who had given birth before me and who listened when I shared my evolving story of being pregnant during Covid. And even so, there were plenty of moments in my pregnancy where I felt doubly isolated – alone in my apartment, alone in my experience. Usually, this was triggered by a change in expectations when what I had envisioned didn’t match up with my reality. The only way I knew how to deal with this was to keep going to therapy, to share my feelings with others who could listen, and to ask for other women’s stories.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my experience. And although I am trained professionally to listen to women’s stories, it was powerful for me to listen to my own (and I had LOTS of time to sit and listen while isolated in my apartment) and take a deep dive into what it means to heal and connect after such a physical and emotional life-changing experience. The following really helped me. It may be helpful to you, and it may not. That is for you to decide. It is simply one part of my story, and it feels important to share that with you.
- Using the word “AND:” It is possible for you to feel more than one, contradictory emotion at once. People do not exist in isolated states (although I see the irony here as we talk about pregnancy during Covid…). Try replacing the word “but” with the word “and.” Here are some of the things I would try to narrate to myself – “I feel joy that I get to hold my baby so close to me, AND I also feel despair when he doesn’t latch.” “I feel grateful that there are people here to help me, AND I still need more help so I can heal.” “I need my baby to stop crying, AND I love that I get to hold him and comfort him.” Some of these things I could say to myself after the fact if I was too charged to say them to myself in the moment.
- Utilizing supports. I often felt the urge to do everything on my own, and I would have to try very hard to utilize those abilities to be around me. Even during a pandemic, there are options for supports, although we may have to be a little more creative. It is one of my truest beliefs that women heal when they share and receive stories, nonjudgmentally, from other women. Listen to yourself as you find a balance between “doing” on your own and allowing others to “do” for you. It can be as simple as asking someone to listen to your story.
- Normalize, normalize, normalize. If you’ve felt it, I can almost guarantee that at least one other woman, if not most, have felt it too, even if it’s in a different context. I can’t tell you how many times I said to myself during pregnancy and early postpartum (let’s be real, sometimes now too), “I am the ONLY person in the whole world to be feeling this way.” It took a few times for me to remember that this is just a statement and a reflection of my feelings in the moment. Eventually, I got into a pattern of telling myself that everything I was feeling was normal, okay, and expected. Sometimes I knew this with certainty when I recognized my experience in another woman’s story. In other moments, I allowed myself to simply believe it.
These are tools I continue to utilize to hold compassion for myself in all the roles I carry, in the many challenging moments. I know that you, too, can find your own tools for holding compassion for yourself. Remember – you are not alone, even when this pandemic tried really hard to make you believe otherwise.
Tali is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) with experience helping women across the lifespan in diverse outpatient mental health settings. She uses a trauma-informed, relational approach to connect with you and support you as you navigate your experience as a person.
She received a Master’s in Social Work from Loyola University Chicago where she studied therapy and counseling. Since graduating, she has completed further training in Emotionally-Focused Couples Therapy and the treatment of relational traumas. Additionally, Tali has completed training with Postpartum Support International (PSI) to treat Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs).
Tali provides individual, couples, and group therapy specializing in the following areas: anxiety, depression, identity development, grief and loss, birth and relational traumas, transition to parenthood, attachment issues, infertility, fertility issues in the context of religion and spiritual observance, perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, and women’s issues across the lifespan.