A resounding theme is growing among many of the women in my life. Cutting across all age groups, I hear it from women at home with small children, moms of teens, empty nesters, working professionals, even older women with self-proclaimed “few” responsibilities. They keep talking about being tired. And while women feeling worn out is not uncommon, this isn’t the usual multi-tasking Mama tired. It’s like extra tired with a side of shame because it’s spring and the restrictions of the pandemic are waning so we all “should” be feeling better and having more energy. What’s going on here?
Admittedly, I am feeling much of the same. The exhaustion seems to be lingering. I was texting a couple friends about this when I wrote, “I don’t remember being this tired for this long at any other time in my life than after I had a baby.”
That’s it. Coming out of this pandemic has great parallels to postpartum recovery — all the way down to the irrational guilt and pressure we put on ourselves to “bounce back.” We’re putting expectations on ourselves to recover from this pandemic the same way women put pressure on themselves about lots of other things. Notorious for the expectation to function optimally, during transitions we often push way too quickly with too much pressure and far, far too little grace. Maybe this reflection can help us think about post-pandemic adjustment differently.
Post-Pandemic & Postpartum Parallels
Adjusting to a New Reality: When we discover we are pregnant, it shifts our lives. The early days of this pandemic definitely had some similarities to finding out you are having a baby. It changed our perspective, it made us read all the medical things, and we either got sick or worried about getting sick. Now that many of our lives are starting to look more normal and we’ve birthed this pandemic baby, we seem to feel some pressure to return to “normal” life immediately. Well, it’s not that easy. We’ve spent a lot of time getting to this point and it’s going to take us a while to figure out how to function again. We have to incorporate what we’ve learned and brought into our lives. We will adjust, but give it time. Nobody would expect you to do “all the things” immediately after having a baby. Please don’t expect yourself to do all the things immediately after this experience either.
Emotional Endurance: I think this may be the strongest influence we are underestimating. When this pandemic entered our lives, we slowed down physically, but went into mental and emotional overdrive. We had an unbelievable amount of new information to learn about a virus, our safety, school, and how the heck daily life was going to work. For a year, we’ve been applying additional mental and emotional energy to everyday decision making in a way we never had to before. We’ve worried about and prayed for ourselves and our families and general humanity. Consider this quote from a beautiful memoir I read recently:
“…it occurs to me that maybe the reason my mother was so exhausted all the time wasn’t because she was doing so much but because she was feeling so much.” ~ Kelly Corrigan, Glitter & Glue
Yes, we must honor how hard our hearts have been working. Our caretaker selves are tired.
Weight Gain: I read an article the other day citing, on average, people had gained thirty pounds over the course of the pandemic. Ironically, about the average gained during pregnancy. But, rather than the number, here’s what I really want you to hear. If you gained weight during the pandemic, you are not alone. You are in the company of hundreds of millions of other people who were stressed in unimaginable ways while also being restricted from their usual coping and exercise options. Remember, if it took you a year’s worth of a pandemic to gain the weight, it’s reasonable to think it’s going to take you a while to lose it. Your body that is a little bigger also survived a really difficult time. Be kind to her and be patient. She will recover.
While I know there are more than a few differences, the way women believe they “should” be recovering from this pandemic just sounds way too much like the pressure we put on ourselves after we have kids. That breaks my heart. But, no need to make the same mistake twice beloved. We have nested in fear, sadness, hope, adjustments, mask-wearing, hand-washing, distance learning, people missing, hug deprivation, and how-do-I-reengage-with-the-worldness for a year. Please don’t feel like you have to jump right back to whatever you were before. You’ll get there, and what you’ve learned and grown will be there too. New life in a new time. Let’s honor the adjustment.