Acceptance of the New Normal

2020-04-14 Acceptance of the New Normal

Photo by Matt Sclarandis on Unsplash

Day 32 of our confinement to our home.  The days have now turned into a predictable rhythm of remote learning assignments from the elementary school, juggling work and a toddler, endless dishes and laundry, and time in our backyard if the weather cooperates.  We do telehealth appointments with doctors when needed, FaceTime with family, and Zoom meetings for church.  I text constantly to stay connected, but it isn’t the same.  I miss playdates, going to the museum or zoo, Starbucks, and dinners with my friends.

Everything takes longer and requires careful planning.  Take-out food necessitates removing the food carefully from packaging, with gloves, and then sanitizing anything that the packaging touched.  Pickup of groceries had to be scheduled days in advance.  Time has to be set aside to review the assignments that my kids have, because they are being asked to manage their own school days in a way that we don’t even expect until adulthood.

The early days were fraught with stress, exhaustion, and constant juggling of our energies and schedules.  We were trying to turn our home into a pale shadow of the school environment and day care, while maintaining a work setting.  Our backyard or a walk is the only change in scenery.  The first days were so hard.

I read a quote in The New Yorker:

“As space constricts, for many of us, to the four walls of our houses and apartments, time seems to have overflowed its usual containers. It feels as if we have stowed away in the belly of a ship, uncertain of the duration of the voyage and without a view of the stars to chart our positions.”

But now on Day 32, I not longer feel as stretched and uncomfortable as I did in the early days.  I cannot see an end in sight, but that doesn’t bother me anymore.  Though mundane, we have a routine in our “new normal.”  I look at what has been given up, and know that it could be a long time before we see anything close to our experiences of “before” but it doesn’t feel as confining.

We have collectively lost many things.  Graduations, weddings, and other important milestones are cancelled or rescheduled.  Partners that cannot be with each other through birth or death.  My own grandmother celebrated her 100th birthday, with her beloved family waving through a window, unable to gather and give her a collective hug.

A few weeks ago, the narrative began to emerge: “This is grief.  We can mourn what we have lost.”  That same week, I said to my therapist: “I know why I can move through the different stages of this pandemic.  Because I have done ‘new normal’ before.”

I have already had my life, in an instant, move from “what I knew” into “something completely different” when Nelle died.  It was a bolt of lightning, that split my world into “before” and “after” the moment when the doctor told me that she had no heartbeat.  Suddenly, I became the mother who had lost a child.  The way that I thought about my family could never be the same, because we were no longer complete in our presence together on earth.

I had to learn to navigate insensitivity, misunderstanding, and indifference from the outside world.  My heart ached every day after losing both Nelle and Iris – for months – and I had to wake up in the morning and face the world.

I could never go back to “before” because “before” didn’t exist anymore.  Every day, I faced my New Normal.

And now, I face New Normal again.  The world looks different, every day, from what I knew Before.  It is emotionally draining to be in a constant state of anxiety.  Much like loss, I am left without any prior experience to draw upon and help me form a way of navigating this New Normal.  With a few differences.

Pregnancy loss was an instant change in my world, from one second to the next.  This pandemic has been building, gradually, with weeks and weeks of increasing concern on the news until it spiraled within the U.S. that fateful week in March.

In pregnancy loss, that moment in time was mine alone.  Other people had experienced pregnancy loss, but not on that day, at that time.  I met mothers who had experienced loss before, and others came after.  We had some stories that were similar, and some that were very different.  What is unique about this pandemic is the collective experience.

When I talked through this with my therapist, she nodded her understanding.  She said that she had heard similar from other patients that had experienced trauma: that they felt “prepared” in a way, because they had all done New Normal before.

I know the path of grief.  I have already gone through the predictable stages of denial, anger, bargaining, and depression/anxiety.  I sit now in acceptance, in knowing that life will not go back to Before.  I navigate the waves of each day throwing some new experience at me and needing to figure out how to handle it.  One day at a time, forward into the unknown.