“I’m such a bad mom.” Five words we tell ourselves, veiled in the feeling that we’re just not doing it right. The truth is, with the bar of motherhood set so impossibly high, there really is no doing it right, all the time, in every way. And now, in the throes of a global pandemic, the bar has shifted even higher. If you, too, are making meals out of old cereal, abandoning screen-time limits, and, you know, are occasionally terrified about what the future holds, you’re not alone. No Bad Moms is a series about not just lowering the bar, but ditching it completely. It’s about finding the good mom within all of us. And most of all, honoring that in each other, on Mother’s Day and EVERY day. So, please share your stories about what it’s like to be a mom right now with #nobadmoms, because we see you. And, no matter what, we think YOU are an inspiration.
Giving birth is a surreal experience — after months of thinking about the baby growing inside you, it’s suddenly there before you. The following days are emotionally intense and physically draining under the best circumstances. But what’s it like to bring a human into the world in the midst of a global pandemic? We asked a 35-year-old UX designer living in Toronto to keep a diary for the first week of her new baby’s life to find out.
2:30 a.m. — I wake up from a jolt of pain. It’s starting. My husband, Will, and I quickly get ready and wait for the Uber in the hallway. I keep watching the little car inch towards us on the map as my contractions come in rhythmic, painful waves. When the Uber finally comes, Will explains to the driver that I am in labor. I can tell the driver is smiling under his mask. I open the car windows on both sides and feel the cold March air on my face.
3:30 a.m. — We pull up to the hospital. The driver says “stay healthy” — a new goodbye these days — and leaves. Will pulls on the front and side doors to the hospital one by one. They are all locked, even though just last week we were told to come in day or night. I double over from the pain. Finally we notice a poster that says, “Are you in labor?” Will frantically reads it and finds a buzzer. Eventually, two masked workers let us inside and screen us for COVID-19 symptoms. Will wheels me to the maternity floor, which looks completely deserted.
4:15 a.m. — I get taken to the delivery room, and once I’m there I watch my legs zigzag on the hospital bed as if possessed. I can barely get the words out to tell everyone I’m feeling the urge to push. The nurses scramble to get the doctor. She checks me and says, “We don't have time for an epidural. This baby is coming in the next two minutes.”
I am shocked at how fast it’s happening. “I am not picking up the baby’s heartbeat,” I hear the nurse say as if through a fog. “Listen to my voice, listen to my voice,” the doctor tells me. “Hold your breath; do not scream.” All I can see are her eyes behind the plastic visor and a mask. I feel scared, but I try pushing. Then in a flash I see the doctor holding up our baby.
I look at Will and ask, “What just happened?” He is laughing and crying. The nurse puts the baby on my chest. He looks pink and surprisingly clean. “So, does he look like a Theo?” Will asks beaming. I just keep thinking, Where did this baby come from?
5:30 a.m. — Will gets to hold Theo for a few minutes. Then they bring in the wheelchair for me. In the hallway they tell me to say goodbye to Will. Because of COVID-19 precautions, he’s not allowed to stay with me. We kiss, and I watch him leave. I'm now on my own with this new baby.
The nurse tells me that the maternity ward is not busy at all and getting a private room won’t be a problem. More women are choosing to do home births or reschedule inductions right now. “They hope if they reschedule, things will get better, but things will only get worse.” Her eyes above her mask look weary and worried.
The nurses roll me into the room and leave. Theo falls asleep on my chest, using my left breast as a pillow. His tiny warm body rises and falls with my breath and I feel so blissful. I doze off for an hour.
7 a.m. — I wake up from Theo crying. He turns beet red, arms flailing everywhere. His umbilical cord stump has a clamp on it that keeps getting caught on my IV tube, as I try to wrangle him to my breast. All of a sudden I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing.
As the painkillers wear off, my postpartum tears feel so sore. I count minutes until I can take more. I also need help adjusting my pillows, getting water, changing diapers. I am missing Will here for doing the little things and for processing the big things — the birth, our new baby.
10 a.m. — I FaceTime Will. He can’t get enough of the shaky views of Theo that I try to give him with my one free hand. He hates being away and tells me he feels like a 1950s dad.
While we talk, the cleaner comes to clean the room. The caretaker comes to pick up the food tray. Two different nurses come in to check me and the baby. Everyone is wearing different masks, some look homemade, but some are not wearing any at all. I’ve seen more people in the past few hours than I have in a month of "staying home." And I'm not in a position where I can wash my hands all the time or keep track of what surfaces I touch. I cannot wait to come back home, see Will, and feel safe again.
11:30 a.m. — The nurse brings my bags downstairs. It’s the same nurse who helped me calm Theo down so I could shower yesterday, and held him this morning so I could get ready. Even though I can’t remember her name in my sleepless haze, I feel overwhelmed with gratitude. I thank her, but somehow that doesn’t feel enough.
I see Will standing outside (he is not allowed inside the hospital). Theo is dozing off in my arms, half-buried in a snowsuit that is way too big for him. As I cross the threshold to leave the building, I feel like we have just made it official: There is one extra person leaving the building, one new person in the world. Before I know it, Will is giving me a long hug.
3 p.m. — I’ve been parked in our bed at home for hours. All Theo wants to do is feed. I squeeze one of my breasts and nothing comes out. Where is my milk? I feel like a fraud.
I hear muffled sounds from the TV. I can't make out the words, but I recognize Trump’s voice taking turns with Dr. Fauci’s. I am curious what they are saying, but I’m on a news diet for the next 30 days. I decided that COVID-19 coverage combined with postpartum hormones is too much to handle.
6 p.m. — Will brings up a giant bowl of my favorite spelt pasta and my first post-pregnancy beer, a Mill Street Vanilla Porter. “Oil now is $4 a barrel,” he tells me. “Just a month ago, it was $40 a barrel. Right now, this beer costs more than oil.”
I’m still breastfeeding Theo. The pasta is just sitting there. Eventually I give up, inch the bowl towards myself and start eating over Theo’s head. Will looks up from his phone and says, “It's a feeding chain.”
After dinner, I prepare a Mama Earth Organics herbal sitz bath for myself. My lady parts feel all sore and broken. Will sets up some candles in the bathroom and takes Theo from me, so I can have a break.
I think about the last three days. There were the late pregnancy symptoms — heartburn, painful Braxton Hicks, feeling heavy and tired — and then the intense, cosmic, life-or-death experience of giving birth. Once the birth is over, it becomes just another day sandwiched between late pregnancy and early breastfeeding.
I look at myself in the bathroom mirror. My breasts are enormous and covered in blue veins. My belly is deflated. I remember the line from Ali Wong’s Netflix special: “Women need time to heal their broken-ass bodies after birth.”
I slather on nipple butter as I hear Theo crying. I slept for one hour today, and I just have to keep going. After these 20 minutes to myself I have something to give again. And Theo is going to need a lot from me — another night is coming.
11 p.m. — Theo has been glued to my breasts for two hours straight and shows no sign of letting up. Will and I wrap our bodies awkwardly around him in bed. We take turns sticking our pinkies in his mouth, the closest we come to a pacifier in these early days. My mind is racing. I keep having flashbacks to the birth and worrying one of us will smother the baby. It’s another sleepless night.
10 a.m. — I’m in the bedroom wrestling Theo’s arm into a onesie. His skin looks orangey-yellow this morning. I’m concerned that he might be jaundiced. Newborns feel so fragile. We’re getting ready to go see our pediatrician and I have a whole list of questions for her.
Will walks in wearing a mask he made from a kitchen towel and two of my hair elastics. I roll my eyes at him. He takes off the mask and sneezes. “I sneezed in this general direction,” he says circling his hand in the air over Theo's extra swaddle. “I’ll wash this now.” He is on Twitter and checking the news 24/7. I'm concerned that this has been taking a toll on him. “What if we get it?” he says. “It’s not like the flu. People can’t get out of bed for days. We can’t ask anyone to help. How will we take care of the kids?” (We also have a four-year-old, who went to stay with my parents just before my due date. They will bring him back in a few days. Our plan is to quarantine ourselves for two weeks after my hospital stay, and then continue seeing my parents. We’ll need the help.) I tell Will that I don’t want to think about it right now.
11:30 a.m. — We call an Uber to go to the pediatrician's office. A masked driver pulls up in a van. He gets outside and wipes all the door handles with Lysol. The entire front seat area of his van is sectioned off with a giant sheet of plastic stuck to the car with black duct tape.
12 p.m. — Our pediatrician, who is in her late 70s and has been practicing for decades, is on the phone in the reception area of her office. She's wearing a full-body hospital gown and a mask. It’s just me, her, and Theo — all the appointments are an hour apart and Will has to wait outside on the sidewalk. “It’s croup,” she says into the phone receiver. “Now there’s a situation,” she tells me as she hangs up. “It’s a mom who is 38-weeks pregnant with her second baby and has MS. Her older kid is just under two, and got sick. Nobody would see a child with upper respiratory symptoms right now. But this mom managed to email me a video of her daughter coughing.”
“I’m so happy you kept your clinic open,” I tell her. “We were worried you’d choose this time to retire. And we tried applying to another medical center, but nobody is taking on any new patients right now.” She raises an eyebrow over her mask. “I can’t retire now,” she says. “Who will see all the new babies?”
As I leave, I feel overwhelmed with gratitude. I tell her that I wish I could give her a hug. “I know, I wish I could give you a hug too,” she says. “But we're just going to have to wait.”
6 p.m. — I’m stretched out on the bed with Theo curled up on my chest. Will brings up some homemade meatballs for dinner. He looks pale. “Are you okay?” “I’m worried,” he says. “What about?” “The economy. The world. My job.” He tells me that he got some work emails that make him think there will be layoffs in the coming months. My heart sinks.
11:30 p.m. — I feel my milk coming in, a tingling sensation that is both painful and satisfying. Theo keeps feeding and feeding. After two hours I try to put him down, only to watch him squirm and suck on his fists. “Are you going to feed him again?” asks Will. “Well, what choice do I have?” I answer, exhausted. Will eventually falls asleep. The night feels long, dark, and lonely.
6 a.m. — Will and I are both in bed, with the baby between us. Will reaches his arm over, hugs me, and says, “I love you honey.” I kiss his hand. His skin, worn out from all the hand-washing, is coarse on my lips.
I feel much better this morning. Theo slept for two hours and then three more, so I got some rest.
8:30 a.m. — Theo is lying on my chest, skin to skin. I notice that his shoulders are fuzzy. His skin is still a strange orangey color. His umbilical cord stump feels hard against my belly and faintly smells like rotting flesh. I kiss the top of his head and he wrinkles his forehead. He looks like a miniature old man. “He’s so ugly, but so adorable,” I tell Will.
As I look down, Theo’s eyes are wide open, dashing around with curiosity. Our eyes meet for the first time. I can see there's somebody there, that there's a consciousness there. “I still can’t believe he came out of my body,” I tell Will. I have no other word to describe it but “a miracle.” I feel like I'm wrapped in a blanket shielding me from everything but this baby. There is good in the world, because he is here. Everything else recedes to the background.
10 a.m. — I come downstairs to our living room. Sun is streaming through the windows, and the room seems large and strangely unfamiliar. I’ve been in bed day and night for two days. All of a sudden, I'm surprised that there's anything outside of our bedroom out there.
Will scrambles to finish assembling our new stroller and we dash outside. We only have a small window between feeds. It hurts for me to walk, but I am ecstatic to feel the early spring sun on my face. We run into two different neighbors, who congratulate us on the baby while keeping a generous distance. “Nobody will see Theo in person for a very long time,” Will tells me.
We pass a parked car with the entire backseat piled high with jumbo packs of toilet paper. Will and I laugh, but I feel a pang of jealousy at these strangers’ haul. We’re almost out of toilet paper at home and running low on diapers and baby wipes, which are also sold out everywhere.
9:30 p.m. — I feel a piercing pain in my left breast. The milk rushes in, forming painful knots, even though I’ve been breastfeeding for almost two hours. It’s getting dark outside and I start feeling panicked. If I get mastitis or another complication, where do I even go right now? I definitely want to avoid a hospital emergency room.
Will sets up my new breast pump, and I sit there with it buzzing for a few minutes, before I hear Theo crying again. Exasperated, I go back to breastfeeding. I feel sucked dry. My postpartum stitches are hurting more today. Theo finally settles close to midnight and I pass out.
10 a.m. — Will is standing by our bedroom window. “I’ve been thinking about something for the past few days,” he says. “We shouldn't be seeing your parents anymore. The government guidelines are very clear,” he adds quickly before I can protest.
My parents are the only people we've been seeing in person ever since all the restrictions started. Our visits were the last remaining thing that felt normal. It’s been making me so happy that they can come over for dinner sometimes. I want to be able to hug my mom, and to have my dad hold our new baby. I know that Will is right. We can talk to them, do video calls, but it's just not the same. I suddenly feel weepy. “I can't think about it right now,” I tell Will. “The idea of not seeing them for months, possibly... I just don't know if I can do that."
1 p.m. — I hear the front door opening and quick, loud footsteps rushing in. My four-year-old son is home. I limp downstairs, still all sore and dizzy from the lack of sleep. I haven’t seen Ben in five days, but it feels like it’s been months.
Ben follows me upstairs and meets Theo. He sits next to me as I breastfeed, holds his brother’s tiny hand and kisses his head. And yet when he watches me hold Theo on my chest, he gets a hurt look in his eyes that is painful for me to watch. “I’m going to my room,” he suddenly says, sounding 10 years older. I disentangle myself from the baby and follow him. He is lying in his bed facing the wall. His face is covered with a small knitted blankie that my mom made for him when he was a baby. I snuggle up next to him. I hear Theo crying and say that I have to take care of him for a minute. Ben looks at me with his big blue eyes and asks: “What about me? Who will take care of me, Mommy?” I tell myself that the baby can cry for a bit longer and give Ben a long hug.
7:15 p.m. — I eat dinner over Theo’s head while he is breastfeeding. Will and Ben are sitting next to me in bed and reading bedtime stories. I notice a fresh tomato sauce stain on our sheets.
Once storytime is over, I follow Ben to his room and stay with him as he falls asleep. I’m still struggling to find my footing in our new family dynamics, but this is part of our usual nighttime routine that I’ll try to keep no matter what. It’s time for just the two of us.
2 p.m. — Theo falls asleep on my chest. I use this time to message my friends, extended family, and co-workers. It feels good to get congratulations and good wishes on Theo’s birth. “I can’t wait to meet him,” my sister-in-law texts. “Might be a Zoom meet for now 😢” she adds.
5 p.m. — Ben wants to be with me all the time, like a puppy. He brings up his Lego, dumps it on our bed, and plays there while I breastfeed Theo. I hear Will talking to his parents on the phone. “You can’t go to the bank. I’ll show you how to do that on the app. You have to stay inside. Have you not heard what they said about people over 70?”
I call out to Will to come up, and he brings the laptop. It’s Will’s parents’ first time seeing Theo. They ooh and aah. They are absolutely smitten. I feel heartbroken that they will not get a chance to hold our little guy for months.
9:40 p.m. — It’s been another breastfeeding marathon. In the past seven hours, I only had two short breaks. I haven’t left the room. Theo spit up on me and peed on me at some point. I hand him off to Will and take my second shower of the day. When I get out, Theo is licking his lips and looking at me. After another feed, he finally settles. “I feel like a pair of boobs with legs,” I text my best friend before I pass out.
8:25 a.m. — Will and Ben bring up breakfast for me: almond butter on toast, a large piece of dark chocolate and some green tea. I have it in bed.
Ben says: “How about we give Theo a hug and a kiss, we give mommy a hug and a kiss, we give me a hug and a kiss, and we give daddy a hug and a kiss?” Will and I laugh. Then we all take turns giving each other kisses and hugs.
Will is sipping his coffee and reading something on his phone. He lifts up his head and says: “So this is what our life will be like for the next four months? It’s pretty sweet.” “Yeah,” I say. “On a good day."
As schools closed and social life ground to a halt, Will and I decided to overlap our parental leaves. We may not get a chance to be home together as a family for this long ever again. The privilege of having these benefits in Canada, and the irony that it took a global crisis for us to take advantage of them in this way, are both not lost on me.
11 a.m. — We take a walk. All the parks and playgrounds are closed, and I’ve never seen so many kids playing on the narrow sidewalks. We step over a chalk message reading, “Everything will be okay,” a hopscotch, countless rainbow drawings, buckets of toys. We pass by a box on stilts filled with cans and jars. “A neighborhood pantry for those in need,” the sign reads. Every other house has kids’ art pasted on the windows.
We are almost back home when we pass our next-door neighbours standing on the street. Their little girl, Lily, used to be in the same daycare as Ben. The two of them shared bus rides and had countless playdates. But today Lily is pretending like we are not there and only talks to her mom. Ben starts walking towards them and stops halfway. I can tell he is not sure how to act. Lily takes out a soccer ball to play with her mom. Ben asks for a soccer ball too, and starts kicking it back and forth with Will. The two kids are now on the street side by side, engaged in strange parallel play, with an invisible line keeping them away from each other. We eventually go inside, and instead of goodbye Ben tells Lily and her mom: “You have to keep your distance.” As we close our front door, we hear Lily break out screaming in a big-kid tantrum.
12 p.m. — Theo is starving when we get home. I peel away my shirt and sit topless on the couch, breastfeeding him. Ben squeezes himself behind me and starts driving his toy train on my bare back. Will is making us lunch.
I reach for my phone to time this feed in my tracking app. Before I know it, I’m scrolling through Instagram. I glance over snapshots of group Zoom chats, home workouts, homemade baked goods, and large-scale puzzles in progress. I pause on an illustration by an artist that I follow. It's an image of a red house encircled by a warm pink-tinted rainbow. Smoke is snaking out from the smokestack. In place of a window there is a little heart. The caption reads: “Stay home and fall in love.”