As seen on Fashion Roundtable.
Illustration by mother and artist Elly Strigner
At the best of times motherhood is an all-encompassing rollercoaster of emotions – relentless, calm, joyful and exhausting – all rolled into one – and yet, it’s single-handedly the most wonderful thing I’ll ever do. Throw in a global pandemic though and things become harder to navigate. Tears at not seeing friends and cancelled plans, explaining social distancing, playing and entertaining, cooking and cleaning, all while working from home. With many of us losing work hours, picking up the majority of the slack within our families, or having to quit to care for others, motherhood has been, as it’s always been, – a selfless resilience – or as one of my friend’s put it, “a tough job”.
My experience as a solo-mum during lockdown has been interesting. A slowing down has occurred where we’ve immersed ourselves in nature, art, cooking and playing fetch with our rescue dog Bodhi (or Mr B as my daughter lovingly refers to him). By the end of the week our days feel like a blurry haze – blessed to have our health and the beautiful Welsh scenery. And yet on the work-front things feel relatively unproductive, which has seen me cramming work hours in wherever they fit, moulding them into my day and not the other way around. Like many in the creative sector, at the beginning of the lockdown I lost the majority of my projects which on top of everything else was disheartening and has required a steely determination to show up every day enthusiastically for work.
Whilst writing this piece, I polled as many mothers as I could – from those juggling busy careers to those who stay-at-home – I wanted to see if their experiences matched mine. Never have I felt more than for my pregnant friends during this time. Pregnancy for many offers a diverse range of emotions and symptoms, yet having to navigate pregnancy and birthing plans, with the anxiety of not having partners at scans and the worry of giving birth in hospitals which now feel unsafe are an extra concern to add to the ever-growing pile. The media coverage of nurse Mary Agyeiwaa Agyapong who tragically passed away after giving birth to a baby girl after being tested positive for Covid saw the UK unite to send a wash of sympathy and love for her family, yet understandably caused widespread panic for expectant mothers. Perhaps unsurprisingly pregnancy support helplines like maternity care charity Birthright have reported a spike of 464% in phone calls, compared to last May, from mothers-to-be who are understandably anxious at the lack of information available. Further, for those mothers who can’t speak English or for those who have mental health issues or pre-existing conditions this must feel unfathomable.
These are unprecedented times and the common thread that’s woven its way through all these stories has been a heightened primal instinct to protect our children and a fear of our loved ones contracting the virus. This has left many of us googling death rates at 1am to track an omnipresent virus that’s threatening us all on a global scale. I’ve seen this fear play out in everything from worrying about keeping little ones to the necessary social distancing rules when lockdown eases— and perhaps more prominently in the debate of whether we should send children back to schools this year. Many I spoke with were unsure about sending their children back last week, and those in Wales were definitely unsure about the staggered openings. However, we need to be mindful that we aren’t using our fear to shame others who have made that decision, with many families needing to get back to some form of normality. It seems to me, that the government and schools need to do the work to reassure parents across Great Britain.
Many of the wonderful mothers I spoke with stated that it was almost impossible to navigate working from home with home-schooling or energetic little people nursing during webinars and popping onto Zoom calls. Most of these women have been doing the lion’s share of childcare whilst also being expected to work. There has been a lot in the media about the concern of the gender pay gap widening during the pandemic. According to a study by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, mothers are on average completing only a third of the uninterrupted paid work hours of fathers. During the current crisis, the survey also revealed that for those in paid employment before the lockdown, 47% are now more likely to have lost their jobs, quit or have been furloughed. If this pandemic has taught us anything it’s that we are united and it’s my hope that employers in particular, will show up for employees in whatever way they can. Now isn’t the time to widen the pay gap or to discriminate in any way – now is the time to stand together and rebuild our economy, slowly and together, with a different set of values. A more mindful and inclusive workplace that values diversity and values the person for their work – not for their age, gender, race, disability, sexual orientation or religion.
With our careers and money an added concern for many of us, the last thing we need is a surreal reality on social media – with many accounts showing dreamy scenarios of the home-school work-life balance. This to me has felt particularly damaging at a time when we should be focused on empowering each other and sharing as many tips and authentic stories as possible. My suggestion here is to curate your social media feed to only show the content you’d like to see and to unfollow anyone that makes you feel anything other than the amazing women you are. Mind has recorded the pandemic as a mental health emergency and so for all the women who feel they aren’t coping, remember to be kind to yourselves first. Your role has covered everything from school-teacher to pot washer to protector. You’re all rockstars and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
I will leave you all with a poem on life in lockdown with children – written by mother and artist Julie Upmeyer.
life in lockdown (with children)
it is a speeding up and slowing down
a microcosm of details
it is an alternate universe that only those within it can understand
it is all over, all the time
relentless and calm
relationships are strengthened
we are all growing up together
there is no big picture
If you or anyone else you know is struggling, Mind have a team of professionals on hand to talk 24/7: https://www.mind.org.uk/need-urgent-help/