Content Warning: This blog mentions miscarriage and infertility.
In the summer of 2021, my first child was born. She came into the world wide-eyed and ready. The night she was born, I held her, my whole body shaking after what had been an intensely traumatic birthing experience.
I didn’t think that my body could endure any more after a pregnancy permeated by anxiety, morning sickness from week seven to week twenty-two, pelvic rest due to odd bleeding in my uterus, working two full-time jobs from home, volunteering for a campaign, surviving a pandemic, and having nowhere to go but a car ride and back. I even had hyperemesis gravidarum and ended up in the ER, waiting for a room for over three hours because Covid patients filled every bed.
Finally, my daughter was in my arms. In the postpartum family ward, I thought about my journey, the mental mountain I had to climb. Three months later, I found myself in a conversation that would make me think about this time in my life all over again.
My name is N’Jameh Russell-Camara, and I’m a storyteller, story-gatherer, producer, curator of conversations for social change – and a new mom with an indie pop/funk playlist. Oh, and the Founder of the Pandemic Pregnancy Project. What is that? How did that get started?
I was talking with a pregnant friend, and she mentioned the #pandemicbabies trend on TikTok and Instagram. These videos of babies born during the pandemic were stunning recordings of little ones doing amazingly advanced things. My friend said, “There’s a theory that Covid babies are so advanced because their mothers got to work from home and were, therefore, less stressed.” That comment stuck with me.
I did have the privilege to work my two jobs from home. It was the only way that I could have done it while pregnant. But I wasn’t less stressed. My morning sickness/hyperemesis gravidarum made me miserable all day, every day for the first two trimesters. I was surrounded by people who had very smooth pregnancies (or had just forgotten how tough theirs were). I felt guilty for complaining. I thought I would be seen as ungrateful if I talked about how hard pregnancy was for me.
The Covid babies comment stuck with me because, during pregnancy, I couldn’t go anywhere. I couldn’t see my friends or family except via FaceTime because there was no vaccine yet and no end in sight for Covid-19. Having had a miscarriage earlier in Covid, I didn’t want to risk getting the virus and affecting my current pregnancy. Given my anxiety, I could only breathe again once my daughter was born. Shout out to my brother and his partner for buying my husband and me an at-home fetal doppler. That was a mental lifesaver.
In November 2021 while taking an online leadership course, I was tasked to create a project that I believed in. Something that had nothing to do with work, something I would enjoy creating community around from the ground up. A project that manifested who I am.
What was I already good at? Talking to people and creating conversation. What did I care about? Promoting wellness, igniting joy, shedding light on overlooked narratives. Who did I care about? My family. What if I created a project that incorporated all of those aspects? What would it be? The Pandemic Pregnancy Project (PPP) was born.
This project produces initiatives, organizes community events, and collects stories from across the country of people who grew their families during Covid-19. Within the project, we created a limited series called Pandemic Pregnancies and Popsicles! to collect twenty-one stories from people across the United States who have experienced pregnancy, birth, and/or adoption during the pandemic.
We always ask: “What was a moment of grace, hope, humor, or sweetness that can be seen in retrospect?” Hence, popsicles. Our search for a moment of sweetness wasn’t to gloss over the hard – it was to give the listener a light, a breath. We held Zoom interviews and adapted one-hour chats into three-to-six-minute monologues. At each interview, we asked the participant to bring something sweet to eat, a communal action of virtually eating together I found powerful during Covid.
What have some of these parents shared? The stories run the gamut from humorous to heartbreaking. They dance between what was missing and what was in abundance. What they didn’t expect was possible and what they learned. What they hold onto and what they let go of.
A participant from Texas, age 38, shares, “A lot of pregnant people experience their bodies in different ways. I wanted to go to the ocean. I knew I was taking risks in going: exposure to Covid, going with my partner who I was quarantining with despite our relationship trauma, and potentially facing a hurricane. Finally, at the shore, I felt beautiful that day. I felt free about myself and my body.”
Another participant from Wisconsin, age 29, shares, “Everyone thinks about the supply chain issues through the pandemic. It didn’t just affect toilet paper. It also affected IVF meds. When I went to the pharmacy for this expensive medication, they told me they didn’t know if they had it in stock.”
Another participant from Illinois, age 32, shares, “Miscarriage is not a very straightforward experience. A lot of the time, it’s not like it just happens and it’s over in a few days. My experience actually lasted almost two months. And the thing that really is, I think, unique to the pandemic is that I never saw my OB-GYN the whole time I was going through that. But thanks to technology and an incredibly compassionate provider, I was able to get amazing care despite that.”
We have a small but mighty team interviewing and archiving stories. One team member is a doula, some are mental health practitioners, others are artists. Another 30+ people also had a direct hand in the rapid growth of this project in other ways. With and through all of these hands, we are creating mirrors for people to potentially see themselves reflected.
What’s next for PPP? What the community sees is possible and wants to make happen: summer events with popsicles, a performance of the monologues, or extending story-gathering to other parts of the world. As long as we have a community to help make it happen, nothing is out of reach.
If you’d like to check out the full collection of twenty-one stories, visit our website. Follow us on Instagram @pandemicpregnancyproject. Share your story or share these stories with more people. For inquiries and partnerships, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.