Everyone was required to wear a mask

Lottie_Bolster_With Child masked_unmasked2
Lottie_Bolster_With Child masked_unmasked close up2


A mother holds her baby for the first time. She writes 'I wished so dearly to show him my face. But I couldn't. Everyone was required to wear a mask.'

This woman's testimony of birth during the pandemic is one of a series I embroidered as part of 'With Child', a collection of prose, poetry and images reflecting experiences of pregnancy and new motherhood at this time.
Whilst the need for physical masks is dissipating there is an enduring pressure on parents to mask themselves metaphorically, to hide negative emotions and mental health struggles.

My experience of this began during my own pandemic pregnancy. Despite feelings of loneliness and hopelessness I sought to project excitement in order to meet others' expectations. And it’s not just societal expectations of joy that parents feel the need to live up to, but also of being perfect parents. This is especially true for women, whose ability to birth, bond with and devote themselves to their child is seemingly tied to the very essence of womanhood. Combine this with stigma, that having poor mental health equates to being a bad parent, and it’s socially unacceptable to admit to suffering.

This same stigma often leads parents to mask difficulties from the medical professionals whose raison d'être is to help, for fear of judgement and the initiation of child protection procedures.

Meanwhile, parents are also inclined to hide feelings from family. As protectors we want to shield our children from our suffering, and the same often applies to our partners who are equally likely to be struggling.

To whom can such a parent 'show their face'? How can we as medical professions, artists, friends, and members of society create safe spaces for parents to put down their masks?

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