This was the year I learned no matter how experienced I thought I was as a parent, new challenges can arise that I am in no way prepared for — and which can make me question everything I felt convinced I knew. It was a confluence of events that forced me into uncharted parenting territory in 2020: the coronavirus pandemic and an unexpected pregnancy loss.
As background, I have four children ranging in ages from 2 to 12. Having been a mom for over a decade, I thought I'd seen it all. (Well, almost — my oldest isn't driving yet!) Along with my husband, I've muscled through fevers, nappy explosions in public — always in public, why? — teething troubles, tantrums, tearful goodbyes at school drop-off, scraped knees, concussion scares, sharing squabbles, bullying, homework nightmares: you name it. All of this experience led me to develop a pretty unwavering sense of confidence that, yeah, I got this. For the most part, I was breezing through parenthood, tackling challenges like, well, one tough mother. Until COVID-19 hit.
Suddenly, I felt completely unprepared to make decisions for my family. Everything felt like it was changing all the time, and huge question marks about what was safe hung in the air like the smell of burned pizza after one of my kids tried to make their own dinner. Was it OK to go out to eat? Order a pizza? Have a playdate? See grandparents? The smallest choices felt huge and overwhelming.
That feeling was probably exacerbated by another life-changing event, because around this time, I had just finished a cycle of IVF. My previous cycle, although gruelling, went really well — as in, at the end of it, I welcomed my son. This time, I wasn't sure what to expect. But when we got a positive pregnancy test, I assumed it would be smooth sailing to the delivery room. To my shock, a few weeks later, I suffered a sudden miscarriage, ending up in the hospital where doctors told me I might need a blood transfusion. Words cannot express the gratitude I felt walking back through the front door of our house 24 hours later. I had lost the baby, but I was physically OK. Still, I felt like my world had been turned upside down. Nothing made sense anymore. That confidence I referred to earlier? Gone.
I remember lying in bed wondering what to do next. Should we try for another baby or was the heartbreak just too much? Should we send our kids back to school or enroll them in distance learning? For the first time in a long time, I honestly didn't know the answers. It was then I came to a hard realisation: even an "experienced" parent can find themselves in completely new territory. Perhaps I hadn't wanted to admit it, but you can never know everything, no matter how long you've been parenting. And as far as my pregnancy loss was concerned, it wasn't easy, but I had to allow myself to be thrown. I had to accept that the trauma of it all had shaken me up, and for a while, maybe I wouldn't know which way was up.
As we near the end of the year, with 2021 on the horizon, I keep thinking that I've got to accept that self-doubt is inevitable. I can't keep putting that pressure on — that I have to know what to do all the time, in every situation. These are unprecedented times for everyone, not just for me personally, and I think it's pretty normal to feel unsure of what to do. I'm not used to this, but lately I've been asking friends for advice. Are they sending their kids back to school? Do they think I'm crazy for wanting to try for another baby? I'm honestly open to the advice of others because I need help making decisions. The good news is, I don't have to do this all by myself. No one does.
Here's sincerely hoping 2021 is about all of us coming together — socially distanced and safely of course — and supporting one another. Because I think we're all a little scared, unsure, thrown. This past year has been challenging for everyone for a million different reasons, and I can't possibly be alone in feeling like I could really use more support as we say goodbye to a year none of us will ever forget.