I’m among the mothers of the “OG” pandemic babies. My daughter was born in California, in April of 2020.

Remember April? Think back to the initial declaration of emergency, when Carole Baskin was in every other meme, “flattening the curve”, before mask mandates. Think back to when people waited for hours in line just to buy toilet paper and diapers, and hand sanitizer was basically liquid gold. Think back to just before we had ever heard the name “George Floyd”. To when basic necessities were nowhere to be found, and there were widespread shortages of basic medical equipment, like masks and gloves. Think back to when many parents weren’t allowed in delivery rooms when many mothers had to deliver alone. Yes, think back to the beginning, to when the world stopped, when we were all unsure, fearful and isolated.

That is the world I brought my daughter into.

It was an eerie experience, having an April 2020 baby. The hospital was silent. We couldn’t leave our room and I labored through the night by my bedside. Our town, once bustling with tourists and window shoppers, was still and unmoving. There were no people. Those who were out scurried away quickly, faces hidden. Trash rolled across empty roads. Stoplights looked lonely, with no traffic to direct. It was dark. All the lights were out and the shades were drawn.

You can never quite prepare yourself for how harrowing any postpartum journey can be. With each of my kids, I did my best to. As an athlete, and someone married to health guru and YouTuber Thomas DeLauer, I was meticulous about my health throughout my pregnancies. I focused on mental health, gut health, I ate clean, I worked out, and gained 25-30 healthy pounds. Post delivery, I was back at my prepregnancy weight within a month. Not for any reason other than preparation during pregnancy. I was the same postpartum zombie mom as anyone else.

We tend to see pregnancy and the postpartum journey as two very distinct stages for the mothers body, almost as if they are two separate bodies altogether. The delivery room is the invisible finish line of one phase, and the starting line of a whole new phase altogether. And justifiably so; in many ways. However, what we do for our bodies and our minds during pregnancy directly impacts the outcome of our postpartum bodies, and, the health of our babies. It is all connected.

But despite my physical body, my postpartum experience was like anyone else’s in many ways. It knocked me off kilter. All you can do in those first months after having a baby is cling to these small reminders of normalcy as you move through your sleepless, spit up filled, achy, bloody, shower-less existence.

Only, the second time around, there was no normal. There were no celebrations. No family or friends. There was no going out. No reason to get dressed, or to leave the house. There were no sweet old ladies at the local coffee shop, squealing with delight over a new bundle of joy. There was seemingly very little joy in the world, at all. And, perhaps strangest of all, I was a stranger to everyone around me.

See- I was quickly approaching the end of my pregnancy when the first shut down began. We lived in a suburb near LA, and my hospital was among those experiencing a massive supply shortage. The protocols were changing by the hour, and there was a good chance that I may have to deliver alone, without my husband in the room. The new Covid ward sat just down the hall from the maternity ward. LA was, by all accounts, getting pummeled.

As most of us were, I was still trying to make sense of it all, to separate facts from illusions, falsities and opinions. And with all of the unknowns I became increasingly anxious, without the luxury of time to wait it out. But, by some random miracle, we happened to have another option.

My husband and I had recently closed on a fixer in a small coastal town about 5 hours north. We planned to eventually trade in the LA hustle and traffic for salt air and cows, after some much-needed renovations. But, as I crept up on 36 weeks pregnant during quarantine, we realized that the safest, best option was to deliver our daughter there, in a small hospital, that wasn’t nearly as strained as the one I’d planned to deliver in- the same one I’d delivered my son in two years prior.

I found a doctor who would take me last minute, if I made the Monday appointment. We packed up our toddler, our animals, and some bags, and in we left LA in the rear view mirror. Two weeks later, in that small, quiet hospital, in a town where I knew nobody, with my husband by my side, my new doctor laid my healthy baby girl on my heart. Mission accomplished.

We survived it. We rolled with it. We made the best of it. We took the hand we were given and we played by our own rules. And, we never moved back to LA. Our journey was just beginning. The whole rest of 2020 was still upon us.

When the world stopped, in a new small town, with my new baby and a toddler adjusting to a new environment, where I knew nobody, I felt incredibly alone. I felt the crushing effects of postpartum depression, layered on top of pandemic depression. And, then something incredible happened. I realized that in spite of the darkness in the world, I found the most amazing joy in the simplest of places, in the simplest of ways. And through it all, I learned many invaluable lessons.

I learned that health is far more than just calories, or what you put on your plate, or how often you workout. It’s more than your weight, your shape or your appearance. It’s more than the skin you wear. I learned that when you control your perspective, you strengthen your mind, and your body follows suit.

I learned what happens when you align yourself mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically. That the secret is not letting joy come to you, it’s going out and finding the joy. It’s constantly looking inwards to shine outwards. That the goodness comes when you consistently make a series of good choices, over and over again. That postpartum health is really just a continuation of pregnancy health.

And perhaps, most importantly, I learned how much we can bend and how resilient we are. How our children become our reason to survive. To thrive. That only when we put the oxygen masks on ourselves, moms, can we truly assist others. That being the best mom I can be, means taking care of me in every way.

And, leaning into other amazing moms was key to guiding me on my own journey. Learning from their journeys. Harnessing their strength. Recognizing their struggles, realizing their perceived failures weren’t failures at all. Hearing their stories in their unique stages of motherhood, embracing their joys, and empathizing with the raw emotions that we have all collectively experienced, as parents, in the year that simultaneously knew all and no boundaries.

Mothers are irreplaceable to their children- That’s no secret. But, mothers are also a pillar of strength, holding up and carrying other mothers and mothers to be. We look to other moms to lead, guide, and encourage us. And we support one another, each of us with our own unique, equally challenging and awe inspiring birth, postpartum and gotcha stories.

Through our children, and through our stories, we become a sisterhood of incredible, strong, irreplaceable, invincible, resilient mothers. We have all felt the impacts of this year. Each of us has struggled in different ways in our unique phases. And each of us has made it through, still standing. I speak on behalf of all moms, mom to mom, when I say, lean on me when it gets tough, and don’t forget to empty your bucket of burdens and go find the joy to fill it back up with again.

After all, you are a mom. You can do anything.