Chai Khana asked talented photographers from Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia to speak to women about the realities of motherhood during a pandemic—the real cost on their health, the impact on their relationships and how the experience has shaped their identities as parents.
The result was an intimate portrait of women and their unique perspectives on what it means to be a mother and how the pain, sacrifice—and unexpected joys—of the past 20 months has affected them and their children.
For some, it meant being cut off from their children or their parents, losing the support systems that they counted on. For others, the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns spawned weeks of heightened risk and fear. And for the lucky, the pandemic-driven restrictions on movement allowed them to slow down and enjoy the magical chaos of parenting without distractions.
Piruza Khalapyan,38, Hakob, 38, Laura, 86, Karpis, 7, Gabriel, 4
Photographer Piruza Khalapyan ended up parenting mostly alone since her husband, Hakob, had to work during the lockdown.
“It was difficult. Karpis, my eldest son, had just been admitted to school, and the excitement of the first year ended with a lockdown. In general, the lockdown was a big challenge for all of us. After it ended, I realized that you should never rule out unexpected situations and you should try to relax… In a strange way, we fell into a seemingly trap when we were just at home, surrounded by things we had created, with our own children. But we fell into a deep depression, which now seems ridiculous.”
“It is different when you hear about a problem from the international press, it is different when it comes to your city…When it rained [during the lockdown], Karpis and Gabriel used to pick up umbrellas, put on their rubber boots and go out on the balcony. They would peek their heads out from under the umbrellas and get wet, as if they were playing in the yard.”
“My husband and I stayed at home for a week. After that, my husband was always at work. I was alone with my children… Covid gave me an artificial feeling, as if it were a fabricated, artificial creature that has not completely formed. I associate it with plastic--plastic takes many years to disappear, it does not assimilate with nature, so Covid also seems like it will not disappear for a long time, it will not assimilate with man.
At that time I felt calm in the kitchen, which was funny, because I had never felt that way before. I really liked the window here during Covid.”
“During Covid I started drinking a lot of coffee. The things I used the most during the lockdown were a cup I received as a gift just before the lockdown, my camera and a diary, where I wrote about what happened during the day. I had never had such an experience before. Photographers always take pictures of others, but we do not study ourselves, our private space as a photographer. During that time, I began to study my home, my family and myself. It was also a way to overcome that difficult situation by documenting it. I thought that the children should have an interesting photo memory of these days when they grow up.”
“Then Gabriel, my youngest son, and I got sick. My husband was working at that time and could not stay at home. It was me, my two children and grandmother.
The most difficult thing was the incomprehensibility of this disease, the fluctuations, the uncontrollability. Sometimes you are good, sometimes you get worse.
It was as if we were participating in a big game, but did not know it.”
Lusine Mkrtchyan, 39, Vardan, 42, Ani, 10, Van, 7, Nushak, 4
Lusine Mkrtchyan and her family started off the lockdown at the family’s hotel in Tsakhkadzor, a resort city about 50 kilometers from the Armenian capital Yerevan, in a paradise of nature and family time. But once she had to return to the capital with the children, life became more difficult.
“At the beginning of the lockdown, I was in Tsakhkadzor. We were staying at our hotel, where there was no one but us. Before, my busy work schedule and life did not allow me to be with my children often … Covid reminded us of the existence of people around us, the attention we lose because we were busy. I did not feel alone… It was a miracle of freedom that was not possible before. It was a bright period.”
“Then it was different. On September 21, 2020, our entire choir got sick, including me. The schools were closed, and practically at the same time, on the 27th, the war started. It was terrible…My husband brought food, left it at the door, and did not enter the house. He worked in another city, in Tsakhkadzor, at the hotel where he provided shelter to the elderly who had left Artsakh [Karabakh]. He tried to not get infected so he would not infect them.
My strength was depleted, because I had to take care of my three children, work online, and do housework. I had pneumonia. During the lockdown, we used to stage a night shadow theater in Tsakhkadzor in bed. But once we got to Yerevan, we were shut in at home, and surrounded by the sounds of the children and their fighting, cartoons and online lessons!”
“The shape of your ordinary life is changing… There is a constant feeling of anxiety. Constant panic. Covid was sometimes associated with the war, with war reports….I was constantly following the news of the battlefield during my illness. Both the house and the big world had become scary. It seems that someone decides for you who should live and who should not.”
“I dreamed about sleep the most [when I was sick]. The noises and voices of the children disturbed me, but they did not allow me to grow any weaker, they brought me from that world.
I would have liked to be a stronger parent, but I felt fear. I was afraid that I would pass the infection on to my children, so I wore a mask at home. I did not know what other protective measures to take.”
“The world is not what I thought before. I discovered my naivety during this time, I had always treated the world with confidence in the past.”
Lusine Ghevondyan, 41, and Monika, 8
Artist Lusine Ghevondyan is a single parent so when she tested positive for Covid-19, she had to find a way to keep her daughter safe and care for herself.
“On September 16, 2021, the test came back positive. I have had a fever since September 13, but I did not think about Covid. I never get sick, I do not even have a thermometer at home… The first days of isolation evoked serious fears about how I would live. I was brought food that I did not want to eat, but nothing seemed to depend on me, everything was out of my control and I was powerless, I could not change anything. I cried.”
“After Covid, I began to understand the meaning of time, not only for me, but also for my relatives. Before, I never seemed to notice that others were also busy, I was only aware of my own busyness. Now I understand that what we need the most is today and this moment. I began to appreciate everything I have in my life.
I am divorced, I have two older sons. I do not live with them but I received a lot of warmth and care from them during this period. It was just hard that I could not hug all my relatives.
I will miss the fact that during this period I was given the chance to just be. I will miss this period, a time that gave me the opportunity to hug my little one more.”
“Monica, my daughter, was the light of my dark cave. During the isolation period, Monica drew, told fairy tales and took care of the cat--and the cat took care of her. When Monica had a temperature or felt unwell, the cat would not leave her side. She would lie down and sleep with Monica as if she were my baby's nanny. During that time Monika began to show independence. She prepared a salad for us for the first time and went shopping on her own.
I learned to accept that I am powerless in the face of certain things, accept what is happening here and now. This was the most important discovery for me.”
Kristine Baghdasaryan,49, Avetis, 15, and Gohar, 70
“I got sick for the first time in February 2020, the antibiotics did not help, I could not breathe. Water had accumulated in my lungs on the right side. I had a high fever for 25 days. There was no room in the hospitals.When the ambulance finally took me to the hospital, they immediately transferred me to the emergency room. I thought I would not make it. I cried out of impatience, I never cried so much before. I called my sister and told her to take care of my son. I thought it was the end. I told my son, ‘Your aunt will take care of you, you will take good care of your grandmother [Gohar].’ My son was 13 years old at that time.”
“There were positive things about that period. It was interesting that I was at home. I always work, I come home late. I often go on business trips for a few days. And my son and I miss each other a lot. And this was an opportunity to stay at home for a long time. I have never had the opportunity to stay at home for so long. It helped me to recover, after the virus. It calmed us down and brought us closer together.”
“I got sick for the second time in April 2021. This time all my family members were infected. My health worsened again: I lost my senses of taste and smell, I had pneumonia again. This time we treated ourselves at home.
My son had a trachea. I was anxious because he plays the saxophone and I was upset about how it could impact my child's lessons, the obstacles it caused for him and his training. My son was quite calm about the lockdown period. He often calmed me down, saying that everything would be fine. Since he wants to become a musician, the lockdown gave him more time to practice his music. He only missed his friends, and he spoke with them online. In the end, he achieved positive results with his music. In November 2020, he participated in two major international competitions online [and won prizes].
It seems that the world order has changed after Covid. But for us, Armenians, the war added to Covid and we forgot about Covid. People are frozen, indifferent to it. People are tired. You can not suffer much from this. You start to ignore it.
There is a sense of artificialness associated with Covid. It evoked apocalyptic feelings globally. You expect that it will pass in a day, two days, a year…but it does not.”