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Breaking the Cycle in the Midst of a Pandemic

I have never been one of those women that couldn’t wait to become a mother. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to be a mom. My husband and I were married at 21 and 22 and the idea of becoming parents was always very far off, not even on our radar. Until it was. 

It was like a light switch for me going from not even imagining myself as a mother to wanting to become one so badly I physically ached. I didn’t grow up in a traditional household, my parents were never married, my mom worked shift work, my dad was in and out of jail. I didn’t know the kind of parent I would be because I didn’t grow up with normal parents. Becoming a mother excited me because I wanted to offer my future children the childhood I never had, but I was terrified I’d impose my emotional baggage on them because I’m still unpacking and processing it. My relationship with my mom has always been good because in a lot of ways it was us against the world, but my relationship with my dad has always been hard. I went from my dad being in and out of my life, in and out of jail, to in and out of the hospital due to health issues from his lifestyle choices.  The stresses of my childhood and having an addict for a dad didn’t go away when I became an adult. I deal with anxiety and bouts of depression, I internalize my stress and sleep a lot when I’m emotionally drained, and this was all made worse by my dad’s sudden decline in health and the middle of night phone calls as next of kin for decisions regarding his care. How could I have room emotionally for being a parent when I barely had room for the emotional toll my dad was taking on me even still as an adult?

My husband is about to graduate law school and at the start of his first year three years ago, we had discussed different timelines for our life. Did we want to wait until he graduated to grow our family? That seemed the most logical choice considering all of the unknowns of law school, life on one income, childcare costs, the workload of school, etc. etc. etc. The list of reasons to wait seemed to spell it out for us, but as we got closer to his last year of school, we didn’t want to wait anymore. The reasons to wait didn’t outweigh the reasons not to, we could bring a child into this world happily while he was in school, so why wait? 

The spring of 2019 I had suddenly begun getting calls from the hospital ICU regarding my dad coming in unresponsive, multiple drugs coursing through his system, kidneys failing, and insisting on checking himself out of the hospital once semi-stabilized. It was months of middle of the night phone calls, begging my dad to get help, crying and panicking and sleeping lots to cope with the emotional exhaustion. We found out we were expecting in the fall of 2019, halfway through my husband’s second year of school.  My dad had finally decided to get dialysis, his health was stabilizing, I was being left alone and could soak in the magic that is being pregnant for the first time. Things were falling into place.

I was spending lots of time reading all the pregnancy books, feeling baby kicks, focusing on staying healthy both physically and mentally, I was going to my therapist twice a month, working out, baby mooning. And then the world shut down. Therapy appointments were cancelled, prenatal appointments were cancelled, my husband couldn’t attend when they were held, and then the calls from the ICU started again. We were in the midst of this thing called a pandemic, my job went entirely remote, my dad’s health was up and down again, and I was being robbed of a joyful pregnancy. 

I was 26 weeks pregnant and three weeks into a declared pandemic when I got the call from the medical examiner. My dad was finally gone after almost a year of declining health and dancing with death. He had overdosed in his car on April Fools Day. I was so angry and so devastatingly sad. For myself, for my baby. But I was also relieved. This weight that had been on my shoulders since childhood was lifting, and I could breathe deeply again for the first time in longer than I could remember. I was released of this innate obligation to share my child with my dad and the guilt that would come when I didn’t. I was no longer going to be receiving calls at all hours of the night from jail, or hospitals, or people who my dad owed money. I could truly just focus on being a parent and giving myself to my child. I was free.

I grieved my dad’s death a lot harder than I ever thought I would despite having been no stranger to grieving the dad I wished I had, but I think I came out of that grief a lot quicker because I was pregnant. I held on to watching my husband be a dad to our child. If there was one thing that tied the bow on my healing, it was knowing my children won’t ever have to grieve the way I have grieved for my dad. 

My son was born in July and has brought a new meaning to the word joy for me. Every fear I have had about becoming a mom and the transference of my trauma to him evaporated when he was born. Watching my husband become a father has been nothing short of a godsend. Everything else, the world shutting down, the lack of connection with others, the last half of my pregnancy spent in quarantine, all of it became insignificant when my son was born. The part of my heart that was reserved for my childhood hurts was utterly consumed by becoming a mom. While my early postpartum period was full of emotional high highs and low lows, I came out of the fog of those newborn weeks with a peace I’ve been chasing for years. Every day I watch my son and husband together, my heart heals a little bit more.

My son is 9 months old and has a lot of my features, my dad’s features. He is fearless, it takes a lot for him to become truly upset, he has hit physical milestones way ahead of the curve. I see these qualities and think of my dad with a newfound lightness. Instead of resentment and exhaustion, I can look at my son and think of my dad and the beautiful traits he passed through me to my son.  I appreciate my dad for who he was outside of his addiction, but his death has allowed room for me to simply enjoy watching my husband be a dad. 

My husband and I have been together since I was 15. He is the absolute hardest worker I’ve ever known, the most disciplined, passionate, driven person. He is an over-analyzer and a rule-follower. He’s the exact opposite of my dad. The only thing they had in common is they both thrive on intensity. I look at my husband and thank God for putting him in my life so young. I think back to our 5th anniversary spent on the beaches of Thailand and my husband telling me he couldn’t wait to be a dad, the best dad, and that no matter what fears I had about the future, he would never cause me or our children the hurt I’ve been caused. I look at how involved he is and hear him talk about how he can’t wait to play catch, build forts, teach our son to swim and I feel so incredibly blessed to have this man as my partner and father to our kids.

My entrance into motherhood was messy. Losing my dad rocked my world more than I ever imagined it would, whether that was because we were in uncharted territories of a world shutdown or because I was pregnant or because I felt too young to lose a parent or a combination of all those things, I felt so alone. But in some sense, becoming a mother is lonely. You lose yourself to become the mom your child needs.  For some I imagine that’s a much easier transition, but for me, I felt so fragile. Even now, I feel like I have no clue what I’m doing some days, but others I feel I’ve found my stride as a mom.  My son is healthy, he’s happy, his parents love each other. He’s growing up in a stable household. He has the daddy I wished I had growing up. And that above all else has brought me so much healing. 

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