On Mother’s Day this year, I woke up to find my sleep-deprived face with my uneven foundation and slightly askew eyebrows staring back at me. I’d already had a heavy heart: due to COVID-19, I couldn’t celebrate my first with the mothers in our lives. But then the post on the hospital’s social media channels piled on: a reminder that I was a working mom who was leaving her baby at home to do her part in this pandemic. I didn’t even know there’d been a campaign- I was shooting an instructional video on PPEs for our staff.
At that point, I’d only been a working mother for less than 20 days, still very much grappling between my desire to be back at work and not being with Raneem all day, a feeling that still lingers to this day.
Ahmad and I had always known I was going to be a working mother. And because of that, we were well aware there were going to be difficulties. Some days were going to be tougher than others and we knew it was going to be a juggling act.
We never foresaw ourselves becoming parents in a local economic crisis and a pandemic.
Now while, I don’t understand the economy, I’m no stranger to viruses and other pathogens. Preventing and controlling infectious diseases in the hospital setting is how I’ve made my living for the past several year.
And yet, everything about this coronavirus is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I was quick to voice my opinion that it wasn’t something we couldn’t handle before the news from Europe and the United States proved otherwise- and my initial nonchalance gave way to alarm.
And so, while everyone, Ahmad included, were getting used to the new normal of working from home, I’d begun adjusting to my own, trekking an unrecognizable Beirut to do my job.
In a pandemic, our small but wonderful team of infection preventionists are more essential than ever and staying home just isn’t something I could imagine myself doing.
Before I returned to work, I had prepared myself to see Raneem in scheduled intervals: the morning diaper and clothes change, as she nursed in the late afternoon, the very sacred bedtime, middle-of-the-night wakeups, and weekends of course.
But I didn’t imagine that as an effect of the ongoing pandemic, my head would not stop spinning with thoughts even as I held, played with, or put her to sleep. That those little moments weigh heavier than they should and I could not focus my attention on her and her alone.
My mind races with the numbers reported in Lebanon and the world. With the compulsion to check social media to see what was going on at that very instant. With the uncertainty on how and when this will end. With panic every time my chest hurt and my breath felt heavier, fearing it was a symptom of this disease (it was a stupid strained muscle from lifting baby in the air).
With all the plans we’d made that had to be put on hold, like baby getting to experience her first spring as she finally sat up in her stroller.
With the feeling of helplessness that so early in her life, there wasn’t much I could do more to protect her from the evils and unknowns.
And maybe because of that, I find myself missing the baby when we are apart in ways I could have never imagined, looking at her photos and videos. They bring me calmness in this chaos and are a propellent to get through even the most difficult situations or tasks.
But at the same time, I really want to be at work, especially in these historic times where what I do can and will make an impact somehow.
Maternity leave was not a vacation, and it was not easy. More often than none, I felt like I had no idea what I was doing with Raneem or if I was taking good enough care of her. While at work, I am in control even when faced with the unknown. Even accomplishing the most trivial of tasks makes me feel like a freaking rockstar. And I’m proud of myself for being able to readjust as quickly as I did.
So, like many a working mother before me, I cannot shake off the guilt or the feeling of wanting to be two places at once, forever feeling like I can’t give my 100 percent to both, that I’m falling short, especially when it comes to the baby since I’m so new at it.
If you told me I’d feel like this just a month before all of this happened, I would have laughed at you. I would have argued at length that work is work and home is home- a clear separation between the two that I could easily accomplish.
But the truth isn’t so black and white, let alone in the middle of a global emergency. I am unable to draw a line in the middle of my heart and mind and compartmentalize these parts of myself, because they have to overlap.
To constantly wonder how our home life has been changed because of this virus we’re fighting at work is only normal- normal when everything is not.