When the world shut down last year, one population of people saw time keep moving: expectant mothers. Whether she gave birth shortly before the pandemic or anytime during the year, a mom of a 2020 baby had her experience indelibly marked in a way few of us can understand.
Over the last few months, I’ve gathered thoughts from some of these women about their experiences. A few themes emerged from their experiences: grief over lost moments; unexpected ways in which their community made themselves known and felt; and the joy of a small, quiet, centered life within a tiny circle.
When asked what the biggest challenge was with having a new baby in 2020, most moms replied that the isolation was nearly crippling. These women navigated the already emotional time of adjustment with a newborn isolated from regular fellowship with friends and family. Michelle said, “I’d always held expectations for the experience of having my first baby, and hardly any of them were realized. Being alone so much impacted my pregnancy and postpartum experience in ways that I’m still trying to process.” Caroline was robbed of the family experience she had hoped for: “no one but my Mom held [the baby] until he was a month old. It was hard to share the newborn excitement with my sisters and their families when we had a window in between us. It was difficult to give up those precious moments, but at that point, we were trying to make the best decision for our family and the health of our baby.”
Working from home posed additional challenges for Kristen, who struggled to keep a consistent childcare arrangement for her newborn and toddler. “We hired and lost 3 different in-home nannies during a span of 3 months following my maternity leave and interviewed and offered jobs to several more who ended up not being able to take the position. Some struggled to meet our standards of covid precautions, some had other job opportunities open up, some made choices to move or switch careers because of the pandemic. But all of it meant that instead of being in an office, away from my children during business hours, I was at home, often with them swirling around me. Trying to wear so many hats at once was exhausting and in many ways, even though we’ve had stable childcare for six months now, I still feel like I’m catching up.” Other moms mentioned the consistent anxiety that they or their husbands might contract Covid-19, complicating the pregnancy or endangering the children or grandparents they might encounter.
Though last year was unprecedented in the challenges it offered, the women also shared some unexpected blessings. Without fail, they replied that the slower pace of the world offered them time as a family. Moms were grateful that their husbands were home to help with the baby. Dads got the opportunity to see developmental milestones that they might have missed had they been working at the office. Families went outside and met their neighbors, as nearly everyone was looking to get out of the house. Aubrey mentioned that she and her husband enjoyed the relative quiet of their time in the hospital: “In other circumstances, we would have had family and friends visiting. But we actually loved that time to recover without visitors—soaking up our new baby, recovering, resting, and preparing to have visitors when we returned home.”
Though the isolation was intense, the local church community helped these families in a variety of ways. Every mom mentioned that they had meals dropped off on the doorstep; they still experienced an abundance of gifts and necessary items for the baby. As safety protocols made routine gathering an impossibility, people helped out and gathered in more creative ways. Shannon said, “our church insisted on the importance of staying in contact and even began gathering outdoors at others’ houses and on the lawn in late April / May.” Kristen and Caroline had weekly prayer time over zoom with her community group, all of whom had small children. Aubrey mentioned the help from older couples who reached out to encourage her and her husband.
Motherhood in 2020 was strange, whether you had a newborn or older children. The babies of 2020 knew their homes as their entire worlds. “She sat in my office while I worked for the first eight months of her life. Even now as she plays downstairs with the nanny, she’ll see me throughout the day as I go to get lunch or change the laundry. This home and our family are her whole world. That’s already starting to change, but it will forever shape her life that this small place was all that she knew for the first year of her life,” said Kristen. Shannon and her husband enjoyed being home together during the first few months of their first baby’s life: “I recall hours of sitting on the floor of his room, watching him see black and white pictures for the first time, listening to him laugh while we threw the ball for the dog, and documenting his daily smiles to send to family. We were able to do this because there were no other events or plans on our calendar.” Despite “loss and anger and sadness…I’m grateful for the Lord sustaining me and getting me through, even still,” said Michelle.
Caroline recounted a story of sitting at home one day, exhausted by the daily tasks of keeping up with her two-year-old twins and a newborn. She was worn out and emotionally spent. “I saw a commercial about women who gave birth during the 1918 flu pandemic,” she said. “It ended with the words ‘For all new moms in quarantine, you’re not alone.’ I sat on the couch and wept at the desperately needed words of encouragement. I was part of a larger community that was facing the same unique struggles. I believe that God made humankind to be in community with one another. It’s a gift from our loving Father. With community comes solidarity, and with solidarity comes strength.”
As these babies grow up, I imagine that they will hear comments about their birth year. We always remind our 2001 baby — now twenty years old — that when his grandparents came to visit him the first time, we were able to greet them at the airport gate. Later that year, the world shifted. It has never been the same.
The world shifted last year in ways we have yet to see unfold. We will likely live with some permanent changes; it remains to be seen what these will be. Amid the loss and grief of the pandemic, I was encouraged that some things kept marching along. They were reminders of God’s goodness to the institutions that withstand sickness and health: friendship. Family. Fellowship. Marriage. Parenthood. In spite of the challenges, weddings kept happening. Babies arrived safely. Though they will remember none of it, the babies of 2020 will serve as a reminder of both intense grief and common grace.