In the past four months, I’ve been more tired than I knew possible, incapable of keeping up with basic personal hygiene practices, and I can no longer remember what I ate for dinner the previous night. But I’ve mastered swaddling, bath time, and anticipating the needs of my newborn, such as why he might not be eating (he’s gassy), why he’s crying (he’s overstimulated), and why he’s still crying (he’s ready for a nap). New motherhood has been a learning experience, for sure, but one where I’m also learning new things about myself—and about parenthood, and what it means to embody the core principles of reproductive justice.
Which leads me to my newfound superhero abilities: my “sleeper breasts,” which can put my son to sleep when his head is nestled on one of them; my “smile switch,” which allows me to turn off any moodiness or fatigue at the sight of my son’s gummy grin; and my “pump and multitask” mode, which involves a hands-free pumping bra and the multitude of chores I can accomplish while also expressing 10 to 14 ounces of breast milk per session.
Like other new parents, I will be experiencing my first Mother’s Day this Sunday under stay-at-home orders.
Since returning to work from maternity leave one month ago, I’ve read countless articles on the challenges and doubts of new parenthood during a pandemic. Those writers—some of whom are questioning whether it’s ethical to have a child now, or who are exposing the trauma many growing families are experiencing at this moment—are spot-on. But not enough articles address what I feel is a pretty important aspect of a new, wanted pregnancy or new parenthood: the remarkable joy the experience can bring, pandemic or not.
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Maybe it’s because I want to show my son a world that is more than a hot pile of garbage. But it seems more important than ever to be intentional about reflecting on what’s good even as we’re pushing our government officials to do better than banning people from accessing needed health care during a pandemic, and fighting for a health-care system that centers those most affected by systemic barriers and institutional inequities.
That means acknowledging something significant about new families like mine. We exist not because we were forced to become parents due to antiquated abortion laws, but because we were able to exercise our right to start our family when we felt we were ready. This is something worth celebrating—it’s also reproductive justice, actualized.
Had I continued my first pregnancy seven years ago, my life would have swerved in a direction that may not have ended well, at least for a time. My then-boyfriend (now-husband) and I were not at all prepared, financially or mentally, to start a family. Our relationship and our careers were just beginning.
Because of my abortion, we’ve been able to focus on finding careers we’re passionate about and spend time building a strong foundation for our future together. Today, we are able to raise our son in a stable home environment with confidence in our ability to raise a responsible, well-adjusted human.
We planned for our family, and because of that, there is nothing else we’d rather be doing right now. For us, parenting means giving that level of commitment, and we would not have been able to give it back then.
Even while preparing as much as we could, this pandemic was obviously not a factor we knew to consider. Taking care of a baby has been an all-consuming affair without any of the support we had counted on. Our search for a caregiver ended before it started when our state’s stay-at-home orders came down, affecting not only our ability to access the child care we needed but also disadvantaging domestic workers, many of whom are now unemployed (or in need of stronger protections while working through the pandemic). And when my husband was furloughed from his job, we focused on how this would be an opportunity for him to bond with our son in a way he wouldn’t have otherwise.
Like others, we are trying to focus on all we have to be grateful for in this moment, which is a lot, including our health.
We’ve missed seeing our family and friends. But the separation we’re experiencing is nothing like what immigrant families have endured under our current president, and previous ones. Or what parents who are incarcerated experience.
Or what the grieving parents of children lost needlessly to violence and white supremacist terrorism are experiencing every day.
No one could have anticipated this pandemic (except, well, some scientists). Those of us who are able to are soldiering on the best way we know how to. New parents like us are still finding our parenting groove because our babies could care less about anything else but us, their parents, and eating and sleeping.
We are doing what we can to make the most of these times at home together.
We are being humbled by their developmental milestones and, really, every little thing the baby does for the first time: gripping a rattle or our shirt during a feeding, kicking bathwater, giggling at a funny face.
Moments like this remind me he is at the beginning of his journey. I hope my son—and his baby cousins—are able to take time to appreciate whatever sweetness life brings in times of crisis. As many of us have been surprised to remember, even during this pandemic, the cherry blossoms are in full bloom.