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.
Gvantsa Margvelashvili, 29, Liza, four, Nikoloz, 15 months
When the pandemic started Gvantsa Margvelashvili, 29, was expecting her second child. As a safety precaution, she stayed isolated with her husband and daughter. “When we first heard about the lockdown, we didn’t take it seriously and we thought it would be over soon
“We experienced challenges that I could never have imagined. Our daughter Liza was three at the time and it was impossible to keep her calm in a flat. We decided to move to our family’s house in the suburbs for four days for her sake. But the pandemic got worse and we stayed there for a long time. Because my dad was working every day and had contact with other people, my mom decided not to visit us for my safety. I didn’t see my mother for about three months.”
“During that period, I was really stressed. I sterilized everything, from food to our clothes. I was working from home and completely lost the sense of time. It was all too much… At night, I struggled to fall asleep because I kept thinking about what would happen and how we would live.”
“When my due date approached, there were only 19 cases of Covid 19. The thought of giving birth during a pandemic added to my stress. Now, since the situation with Covid 19 has gotten worse, I am happy that I gave birth last year and not now, when the numbers are so high.
Nikoloz is almost one year old now. Seeing people in masks is all he knows. He can easily recognize people in masks considering he hasn't seen some of them without a mask. It is normal for him. Liza still struggles with it, though, and is often confused when someone is wearing a mask.”
Makuna Gochiashvili, 32, Misho, 11, Gabriel, nine, Petre, six
When the pandemic started, Makuna Gochiashvili, 32, switched from tutoring in person to online lessons. Very quickly Makuna realized she would have to make some tough decisions if she wanted to continue working. “Hiring a caregiver wasn’t an option: public transportation wasn’t working and caregivers couldn’t travel... Working with kids was not possible, so I came up with a plan: on the days when I was working, the kids would stay with their grandma and father and on weekends, they would be at home with me.”
“It was a huge stress for me and for my children because usually they were with me during the week and with dad and grandma during the weekend. Their world turned upside down. When all forms of transportation were prohibited, I wasn’t even able to arrange for the children to come home for weekends, so we ended up being apart for a few weeks. It was hard.”
“The pandemic helped me realize I had been ignoring my needs. It showed me that I need a bigger flat, the kids need private space, and I need private space, too. There were many things I saw and I think many other people also became more grounded and started facing reality. The problems we had and the discomfort we felt due to the lack of space at home became more visible. After the first lockdown ended, we moved into a different, bigger apartment and I also changed my job and started organizing outdoor camping trips for children. So, the second lockdown was much easier to deal with emotionally. I am more prepared for everything now.”
Khatia Guraspashvili, 29, Tekla, four, Marta, 20 months
The pandemic started right after Khatia Guraspashvili, 29, had her second child, Marta.
“I was a full-time mom before the pandemic, but during the pandemic, I felt more alone. My friends couldn’t visit me. The only chance I had to breath a bit was during our walks in the park, but I lost that escape, too, due to my fears about Covid.
“Eventually, however, I got tired of feeling scared and started to go out a little bit. I realized that we couldn’t hide from Covid forever. It felt like a miracle when I went out for a walk. After that, everything slowly slid back into place.”
Khatia realized that the news was affecting her mental health badly, so she stopped watching Covid-related reports. “Maybe not knowing what’s happening it’s not the best way, but it is what I needed.”
Keti Nikabadze, 32, Murtaz Chikovani, 30, and her twins Luna and Nensi, two
Keti Nikabadze gave birth to twins during the pandemic. She said her husband, Murtaz, has been an equal parenting partner since their girls were born, which made it easier for the family to survive Georgia’s three-month lockdown in 2020.
“In general, it was difficult for me to decide to have a child. I had these high existential dilemmas about having kids in this world we live in. And then I found out that I was expecting not one, but two. I didn’t fully comprehend that I was the mother of twins."
"I had postpartum depression and the pandemic made it so much worse. All I could think about was how good it was that they were small and not in school. That they couldn’t realize these times and problems. We were the ones experiencing it, not our kids, and I was happy that they were not suffering. I hope it all will be over by the time they grow up.”
“When I try to remember anything from that period, I have a feeling that it was all a dream. I lost any sense of reality. It all feels like a dream. The kids are two now and the first year seems like a dream. I had a very difficult postpartum and even though I had therapy, it still feels not real. It is as though I started to really experience things following the first year.”
“I am often asked if my husband helps me, I cannot stand the word ‘helps’ in this context. This is not help. It is dividing responsibilities evenly. We do everything exactly the same, and often he manages better than me… "
"I think absolutely all fathers should be like this. We both come home from work tired every day, we both hurry home to see the kids and spend time with them before bed. If not for my husband during lockdown, I really could not have managed those few months with the kids. He played a huge role in keeping me sane...I am very happy that my children are so lucky to have a father like him. I myself did not have a father growing up and it is a double joy for me to watch the beautiful relationship my girls have with their father and what it means when a father is so actively involved in a child's life."
To view the rest of the project, please see: