After years of trying to grow our family, we welcomed a healthy baby boy last May. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would have my long-awaited newborn in the middle of the largest global crisis our generation has ever known.
And that feels very heavy to say. But the pandemic has been a heavy thing. And becoming a mother has been a beautiful, but a heavy thing. Both experiences have been very isolating, and the combination of the two has been staggering for me. But eight months into being a mother (and who knows how much longer until things really go back to “normal”), I've found a few things that have helped me find connection and peace in the midst of isolation and uncertainty.
Praying Out Loud
I have often worried about my little boy and his social development because he has spent his entire life very isolated from others. It's just the two of us at home and our house is very quiet during the day. He has only had a handful of interactions with more than two people at a time in his entire life.
But I decided last month that I want to be more intentional about praying out loud. And maybe it’s silly, but if my baby only hears me and my husband and most days, I want him to hear us talking to him, talking to each other, and talking to God. And I attribute my best, most (relatively) peaceful days to those mornings when I start my day with a verbal prayer while my baby is near.
In a 2009 General Conference talk, President Thomas S. Monson said, “To those within the sound of my voice who are struggling with challenges and difficulties large and small, prayer is the provider of spiritual strength; it is the passport to peace. . . . Miracles are wrought through prayer.”
As a new mom, “challenges and difficulties large and small” basically feel like my daily life, and a “passport to peace” would be a welcome respite and a treasured blessing for me. And maybe that will make a difference for the baby lying next to me, too.
Giving Myself Grace
This is true all the time for parents, but I think it's especially important in the middle of a global crisis. I've tried to really cut myself some slack because so much of our “normal” lives are anything but normal.
Last year's general conference talk from President Joy D. Jones feels especially poignant. She said, “Women wear many hats, but it is impossible, and unnecessary, to wear them all at once. The Spirit helps us determine which work to focus on today.”
And Sister Sharon Eubank's 2018 BYU Women's Conference address also rings true for me: “It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all we are asked to do, but doing better doesn’t always mean doing more. You don’t have to do it all, you are never done, and you can be okay with that. As we seek the Lord’s will and strive to do it, we are assured that every small effort is accepted.”
In the last couple of months especially, I've tried to be more intentional about taking a step back and acknowledging that these “many hats” I'm wearing are incredibly challenging. With motherhood has come a huge identity shift, and with the pandemic, most of our societal norms are out the window. Comparing my life now to my life less than a year ago, almost everything has been turned on its head. Remembering that makes it a lot easier to be at peace with my mental, physical, and emotional limitations and, like Sister Eubank says, do more to “seek the Lord.”
Being Intentional with My Social Media Usage
Being so isolated with a new baby and in the midst of a pandemic, I find myself retreating to social media to find just a sliver of connection with others. But some of it had an adverse effect on my life. The contention of 2020 with all its political unrest, violence, and hate—not to mention the isolation, frustration, and added stress that came with the pandemic—made social media a hotbed of emotional posting. On top of that, the idealized reality and debilitating comparisons that Elder Gary E. Stevenson talks about aren't all that helpful for a struggling new mom.
With Elder Stevenson's counsel that success in life comes from meaningfully connecting with others and adding light to their lives, I've tried to make my media usage less about mindless scrolling and more about the real reason I go there in the first place: connection. I intentionally do more to engage with people. I spend more time on social media platforms that are strictly for sending messages to others. I call friends and family. I video chat with loved ones across the country. And I let my little guy share the screen so he can start to recognize faces and so others can celebrate him with me even from afar.
Following Impressions to Serve
I recently came across this beautiful quote from President Thomas S. Monson:
Occasionally discouragement may darken our pathway; frustration may be a constant companion. In our ears there may sound the sophistry of Satan as he whispers, “you cannot save the world; your small efforts are meaningless. You haven’t time to be concerned for others.”
Trusting in the Lord, let us turn our heads from such falsehoods and make certain our feet are firmly planted in the path of service and our hearts and souls dedicated to follow the example of the Lord. In moments when the light of resolution dims and when the heart grows faint, we can take comfort from His promise: “Be not weary in well-doing. . . . . Out of small things proceedeth that which is great” (Doctrine and Covenants 64:33).
I can't think of a time in my life when discouragement and frustration have been so universally widespread. But service has always been a great antidote to fear and low moments in my life, and I've been grateful for the promptings I've had to serve others—even in my currently very limited capacity—because it does always make me feel a little bit lighter.
Allowing Myself to Mourn
I love the quote from President Henry B. Eyring's district president that he shared in a 2018 conference talk: “Hal, when you meet someone, treat them as if they were in serious trouble, and you will be right more than half the time.” That feels especially, if not more, true now.
I have lots of feelings about this year. I feel loss over the people my baby hasn't met, the events we had alone instead of surrounded by loved ones, the things we dreamed of doing with our baby that we couldn't. I feel sadness that those closest to me barely know my baby, and I feel resentment that so many first-time mom and new baby experiences were taken from us. And—maybe more than anything—I worry how this pandemic and isolation and the very different nature of my baby's important first year of life will affect him and his future.
And then I have to take a step back. Because years from now, we will all mourn the things we lost, and we will all be forever affected by the events of 2020. I have a sister who was denied a formal graduation ceremony from an impressive graduate program after years of hard work. I know people who had weddings canceled or pared down to a fraction of what was planned to accommodate social gathering limitations. And then I have friends who lost loved ones to this terrible virus, and, on top of devastating loss, were denied an opportunity to honor and celebrate the lives of those important people in what we would call a “normal” way.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland's talk from last October general conference was one of my favorites. He said, “COVID and cancer, doubt and dismay, financial trouble and family trials. When will these burdens be lifted? The answer is ‘by and by.’ And whether that be a short period or a long one is not always ours to say, but by the grace of God, the blessings will come to those who hold fast to the gospel of Jesus Christ. That issue was settled in a very private garden and on a very public hill in Jerusalem long ago.”
I’ve found peace, not in comparing losses or having a “well, someone always has it worse than you” attitude but letting myself mourn those important missed opportunities, and not dwelling on, but acknowledging and respecting my own emotions surrounding a globally hard experience, and giving my heaviest pains and sorrow over to the Savior.
Embracing the Blessings
On that same note, the hymn “Count Your Blessings” is full of wise counsel, and I truly have so much to be grateful for. Like Hannah, “For this child I prayed,” and he is a wonderful, beautiful blessing. If nothing else, I will always be grateful that 2020 brought him into our lives (one upside to isolation is that I don't have to share his best snuggles and giggles).
And while I'm not yet “singing as the days go by,” as I've done more to remember the things God has blessed me with, my doubts have started to fly and I have been personally blessed with more peace, more hope, more courage, more patience, more compassion, and more love. And all those attributes are things the world—and any new mom—could certainly use more of.