I'm a Mom of a Toddler During a Global Pandemic. I'm Not Okay.
We are now entering the third calendar year of the COVID-19 pandemic. I wish I could say I’m fine, but as the mother of a toddler under the age of 5, I’m really not. I had hopes for vaccines for her age group by this point, or that enough adults would care to vaccinate themselves and their older children to reduce the spread, but that doesn’t appear to be the case either. This most recent Omicron wave has taken a wrecking ball to my mental health, and I’m not okay.
My entire motherhood journey has been spent in the shadow of COVID-19. I don’t know what it’s like to parent in normal, precedented times. I was reading a thread on one of the several parenting subreddits I follow, and it asked what parenting was like before the pandemic. I had to close it after only reading a few comments; the stark realization of just how much we have been missing out on hurt too much.
I never expected to be faced with parenting during a global public health crisis, and for the pandemic to be politicized to the point where even wearing a mask to protect other people is either a point of pride or derision.
My daughter was just 3 weeks old when Indiana went into lockdown. We only left the house for her pediatrician appointments, and when my husband went to the grocery store, I made him immediately shower and change clothes before he touched her. I wiped down every box and package that came into the house and sanitized doorknobs that had been touched if one of us ventured outside into the public. I remember at one of her first pediatrician appointments after lockdown started, both of us had our temperatures checked at the door to the building and I was handed my first cloth mask. I remember hoping that this would be a short thing – the H1N1 pandemic happened when I was in college, and that seemed to be over in months.
But it wasn’t over in months. Her first Easter was spent at home with us, my parents dropping off dinner and a plush Easter basket and talking to her from our front door while I held her from across the room. It was the same for Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, her first birthday was streamed over Facebook Live instead of having a big celebration. So many of our loved ones have never met her, and have only watched her grow from my social media accounts. She has never been inside a store, or sat in a shopping cart, or eaten at a restaurant. My maternity leave with her was spent in isolation, and I grieved not being able to take her anywhere, of not being able to take her to mommy & me classes, or take her to a playground. The one thing we allow her to do is parent & me gymnastics, because the class is smaller than her room at daycare and the gym is well-ventilated.
We have been quarantined from her daycare 3 times due to exposure to a positive case of COVID (and to be clear, I have no issues with her daycare or my employer. I can work from home easily, and each time my daughter has been exposed, she has tested negative. Both her daycare and my employer are doing all the right things right now.). That’s 10 days each time of trying to work from home with a toddler, feeling guilty for relying on screen time and telling her “Not now, Sweet Pea, Mommy has to work” and trying to balance being a full-time mom and a full-time employee, and feeling like I’m failing at both.
The most recent Omicron wave has smashed my mental health. It seemed like everyone I know was testing positive, even those who are fully vaccinated and boosted, with no idea where they got it from. It swept through my office, and when I started getting congested and feeling achy, I thought for sure that I had it. And one night in the dark, I cried myself to sleep with shuddering, gasping, gut-wrenching sobs, convinced that after everything I had done, everything we had missed, everything we had been through, it was me who had brought it home and likely passed it on to my child who cannot be vaccinated yet. I was absolutely devastated, and the guilt felt like it was consuming me.
I ended up testing negative, to my complete and utter surprise and shock. I’m further convinced it was a true negative result, because neither my husband or my daughter ended up showing any kinds of symptoms.
Since she was a newborn during lockdown, I have been terrified of her catching COVID. One of the many intrusive thoughts I had before being treated for postpartum depression was that she would get severely sick, wind up in the NICU, and I wouldn’t be able to be with her because of visitor restrictions. Even though the data out there suggests that toddlers aren’t very affected by the virus, I still desperately wish I knew for sure she would be safe from getting severely sick
I haven’t been okay in a long time due to the pandemic. I’m hyper vigilant, worried all the time that my daughter may catch COVID and become severely sick. I have always struggled with catastrophic thinking, and a global pandemic with a brand new virus that started infecting people shortly after I gave birth to my first child certainly didn’t help me stop thinking that way. I think I still would have likely developed postpartum depression due to my risk factors, but I’m certain that the isolation we experienced during my daughter’s newborn phase made my symptoms worse.
I had hope for the first time in months when Pfizer submitted an emergency use authorization request for kids 6 months to 5 years earlier this month while they tested a third dose. I dreamed of getting my daughter vaccinated for her second birthday at the end of February (what an amazing birthday present!). I thought about all the places I could take her – we could go to Target together for the first time ever and I could get her a Starbucks cake pop and let her pick out a toy. We could go to the Children’s Museum in Indianapolis and watch her explore the exhibits. She adores books just like I do, I could take her to the library and let her check out all the books she could carry.
And then came the news that the request was pulled, citing the need for more data. Everything I have read suggests the earliest possibility for results is in April. I get it, and I trust science. But that was a devastating blow, and to say that I’m heartbroken is an understatement.
It feels like the rest of the world has moved on, dropping mask mandates and proclaiming that the vaccines protect from hospitalization and death. And that’s true, and I’m very glad that my husband and I are vaccinated and boosted for that reason. But it’s a very small comfort when I cannot vaccinate my daughter. Her dad and I are protected, but she is not.
There is so much that we missed during her first two years, so much I wish we could redo, so much she has never experienced. I have spent countless therapy sessions on my fears around COVID, of my baby becoming very sick or having a mild case, but being condemned to longterm effects that we still don’t know about. I have shed so many tears and felt so much guilt and anxiety over seeing family and friends unmasked. I am tired of weighing the risks and benefits of every interaction. I am heartbroken at planning another birthday party where the guest list has to be small, instead of throwing the huge party I wish I could give her.
I wish I had answers. I wish I had certainty. I can offer solace and solidarity to my fellow infant and toddler parents, I can tell you that this sucks, and that you’re doing an incredible job in an incredibly hard situation, in times that it feels like it’s simply not possible to do it all anymore. I wish I could end this on a happier, hopeful note, but I can’t. Because I’m a mom of a toddler during a global pandemic, and I’m not okay.