I Always Thought I'd Be the Most Type-A Mom. But the Pandemic Made Me So Chill I Didn't Recognize Myself
I have always self-identified—and, okay, fine, been called out—as a Type-A Neurotic Nightmare. As the oldest child of divorced parents, I’ve occupied a hyper-responsible role in my family for as long as I can remember. Whether I was warning my sister about her latest boyfriend, offering to be the designated driver because I didn’t trust anyone else behind the wheel, or meticulously planning the perfect vacation down to the minute such that we didn’t miss a single leg of transportation, my motto has always been, “If I could prevent something bad from happening or prepare for something to go off without a hitch, why wouldn’t I do that?” My anxiety manifested as perfectionism—avoiding any possible risk, controlling for every possible outcome. In short, I thought I was born to be a helicopter mom.
But after I gave birth in March 2020 (you remember March 2020, don’t you?), all of my preparedness and immaculate planning went out the window. Instead, I became a version of myself that I and everyone around me barely recognized—someone who was a relative ace at not sweating the small stuff. Even with the trauma and grief from this horrible year, I’m walking away with a renewed sense of gratitude. Here’s why.
As the body count climbed, everything that wasn’t about immediate survival felt quaint.
Pre-pandemic, in what now feels like sweet, dumb naïveté, we attempted to lay the perfect groundwork for our life as parents: My husband and I started seeing a couples counselor to iron out wrinkles in our marriage, we attended newborn and breastfeeding classes, booked a doula for labor and delivery, and spent dozens of hours researching products to add to our registry. I read about milestones, safe sleep, and education.
But as our daughter’s due date in late March drew nearer, the novel coronavirus became a growing presence in the news. One by one, the support systems we were counting on got stripped away, and by the time Madeline was born at the end of the month, we were completely alone. Discharged early to keep the hospital as empty as possible, we began the next few months of near-complete isolation inside our 1100-square-foot apartment.
It was bleak, obviously, bringing a desperately-wanted newborn home during a time where we couldn’t share her with anyone. But the hardest part wasn’t the sense of feeling robbed or grief-stricken at losing the experience we were supposed to have, though that was often overwhelming. The hardest part was the paralyzing fear that we would be the unlucky ones when it came to the virus—that my husband’s career as a doctor would leave one, or both, or all three of us dead, or that some selfish neighbor would refuse to wear a mask in the elevator and leave their contagious droplets in the air.
Every decision became immediately, crushingly high-stakes. If one of us had to take Madeline to the pediatrician, would a cough from a nearby adult or child be what killed her instead? I remember one night in particular we had found out that my husband had been exposed to COVID-19, without proper PPE, by an unmasked patient he had been treating the day before. I sat awake next to him in bed as he slept, crying and terrified to breathe the same air. I wondered, “Is this finally it?” I could barely let myself acknowledge the worst case scenario, which was something happening to our little girl, without collapsing again into heaving sobs.
I no longer feel the frantic need to spiral about perfection.
But the flip-side of this was that the rest of the chaos around the newborn phase—laundry, not showering, sleeplessness, whatever—all faded into the background. And as the body count climbed, everything that wasn’t about immediate survival felt quaint.
At some point, we fell into a routine. Madeline slept, ate, played, and slept again. Her shrieks of laughter filled our lofted unit and videos of her antics filled up the storage on my iPhone. My husband and I did what we had to do to keep our family safe. The dishes piled up. I held Madeline in my lap during my morning editorial meetings on Zoom, and the only time we saw friends and family was following the two-week recommended quarantine period or very far away, outdoors.
Though I’d prepared to grit my teeth at the constant clutter of early parenthood, I was surprised to instead find immense comfort in watching our daughter make messes. Her ability to pull toys out of the basket in our living room meant that she was growing up, developing balance, and getting stronger.
She was endlessly curious, quickly learning to turn pages and babbling loudly during most hours of the day, and it wasn’t until a pediatrician made a comment about milestones that I realized I had barely given it any thought. “We really like to see them rolling by six months,” she noted gently, when Madeline was at least a month or two older than the benchmark, and still not doing that. I almost laughed. In the back of my mind, there was a voice keeping it in perspective: We’re in the middle of a pandemic and we’re all healthy. Madeline rolled a month or two later, in true stubborn baby nature, and crawling quickly followed. She learned how to walk at exactly 14 months—within 48 hours of turning in my first draft for this piece.
Now, in an increasingly-vaccinated world, everything looks different. Madeline attends daycare full-time, in person—a decision we made after weighing the research on COVID-19 transmission in child care scenarios. Sometimes she eats sand, or bumps her head, or we accidentally leave something of hers at home. Except instead of trying to control every possible outcome, I breezily offer extra hugs and improvise with what we have. It’s a version of myself I literally could not have imagined before. And while I barely remember those first few months of motherhood, what I focus on now is how grateful I am that I’m not the mom I thought I would be.
I no longer feel the frantic need to spiral about perfection, and I’m not striving for excellence or taking every possible precaution. We are together, we are alive, and that is more than enough.
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