Coping with the pandemic over the past year has been tough for many people — but imagine dealing with this strange new reality whilst also bringing a whole new person, or even two, into the world. Sophie Gilbert experienced this firsthand, explaining in The Atlantic how the only people to really see her pregnant were her husband, doctors, and doormen, with the isolation only increasing once her twins arrived. With powerful honesty, Gilbert explains the difficulty of becoming a new parent when your support systems are locked down. Not only do you have to figure a whole lot out for yourself, but your new identity as a mother occurs in a vacuum, with no one bearing witness to the transformation, or to the loneliness.
Every person who’s given birth during the past year, I’d guess, has experienced a version of the same thing—a sense of isolation so acute that it’s hard to process. I was used to loneliness being something like a dull throb, a kind of ambient hum that rose or fell depending on what else was going on. The isolation of pandemic new parenthood was different. It felt like a wound. It stung bitterly from the very beginning, and every day that went by only made it more raw. Every milestone that my babies hit without anyone being around to witness it was colored with some grief. Every month we spent in the square-mile perimeter of our neighborhood made it harder to imagine ever leaving. Thanksgiving dinner, which we scarfed down on the couch after the twins fell asleep, was surprisingly comforting, but Christmas made me ache for everything it didn’t have. I can now see the same fragments of hope on the horizon that everyone can—vaccines, maybe a return to the office, some eventual imitation of “normalcy.” But the life that I had is gone, and I don’t know how to imagine a new one that has room for my children and anything else. Every second during which I’ve been a mother has been defined by closing off, shutting down, and retreating into a space small enough where the four of us can be safe.