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 have 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.
Nargiz Ibrahimova, 30, Oljay, 33, and Shirin, four months
Over the past year, as Nargiz Ibrahimova, 30, prepared for her baby and gave birth, Covid has been a near constant companion, from catching the virus while she was pregnant to its influence on her choice to breastfeed.
“The biggest challenge I faced as a mom during quarantine was being forced to get a vaccine despite it officially being voluntary. This decision was hard for me as I had to stop breastfeeding because I did not receive a concrete answer about any side effects [for my baby]. The influence of Covid, like the virus and its consequences, has greatly affected humanity, both physically and mentally. We found ourselves locked up with our fears, our inability to be alone - with big families in small apartments, without work, relatives, the opportunity to leave or even just walk in the park. We were already locked in our smartphones, social networks, television shows and endless advertising about a better life.
“I had Covid when I was five months pregnant. I have never been so ill in all my 30 years. Unfortunately, I was not allowed to take antibiotics due to my pregnancy. I was saved by the endless care and warmth of the person close to me [ husband Oljay] and the endless attention of my friends, albeit contactless.
In addition to my health, I was distraught by what was happening to people. Social media platforms were seething with cries for help--material, physical, psychological. I wanted to help everyone, but since I knew it was impossible to help everyone, it became hellishly unbearable.”
“My biggest self-discovery has been newfound patience and the ability to make certain decisions without being influenced by emotions. Also, it is not necessary to expect that people will act as I imagine they should. And the world is not stable and will never be, because people have not learned to live with each other in peace. I learned to appreciate and hold on to people who make me better, who help me smile more and be calmer and more emotionally stable. Those who see the light in me and smile at my dark side.”
Konul Mammadova, 32, Vidadi 35, Ismayil, 5, and Jamal, eight months
Konul Mammadova, 32, had her second child during the pandemic and said the experience has helped her reexamine her life. “I arrived at a new understanding of life [during the pandemic]. The value of life. The importance of small, short moments in life. The biggest gift of this period was Jamal, of course.”
“During the pandemic, I had to move seven times (to the dacha, back home, to my in-law’s place, to my family’s home, back home, to the dacha, back home) ... So home? What is a home?”
“Due to the pandemic, [her oldest son Ismayil] started kindergarten in February 2021, when the kindergartens reopened, and not in September 2020, when he should have started. The youngest was born at the end of January and so it happened that the eldest was sent to kindergarten when his brother appeared. As a result, we noticed small changes in his behavior. We went to a psychologist, who said everything was fine, gave us some advice, and we continue to follow it.”
Nigar Mammadova, 30, and Camilla, 15 months
Nigar Mammadova, 30, gave birth to her daughter during the pandemic. She found that the lockdown helped her to slow down and reassess her priorities. “The biggest challenge of that period was that I had to be extremely careful not to get sick during my pregnancy. Also, after the baby was born, I had to do everything to keep her safe. This period was a gift, because I was able to devote more time to myself. Or rather, the inner self. To enjoy the silence and devote more time to my inner development.”
“I don't really remember what life was like before the quarantine. But it is clear that one must be able to appreciate and know the value of many things. Going to restaurants and cafes is no longer so important. I work from home anyway, and I stopped enjoying being out among people all day. I was happy with the fact that I had to keep my distance from people.
I realized how short life is and one should appreciate and enjoy every moment and little thing. I felt the value of money, how many unnecessary things were bought and made before. I learned to work remotely and I love it. I am not an office worm, and I never have been. For me, going to work every single day at the same time to do the same thing is simply wasting my life. This was the reason why I just got up one day and quit my job, and started doing what I had to do. This period and the birth itself made me understand that I am definitely a strong person.”
“[The pandemic] was the first time when my husband and I were able to have a good time together, since [before the lockdown] we were both at work and rarely saw each other.
During that period of four to five months, we became closer. But there were also difficult moments due to the lack of work and money. This affected our relationship too…I am probably most grateful for the chance to just stop and move away from the hustle and bustle, start listening and hearing the silence.”
Vera Axametova, 25, Murad, 34, and Sibirkhan, 14 months
Vera Axametova, 25, experienced her first pregnancy during the height of the pandemic and compared the experience of isolation to “entering the sea during bad weather.” She also found the change of pace liberating. “It was a gift that the whole world slowed down and was quiet. You could give birth to a child and enjoy the first months of a child's life without fuss. Take your time, contemplate, observe and experience moving gently into motherhood and just being. It was a gift.”
“I was pregnant during the pandemic, the whole reality was new. Of course, it influenced me. I was able to fulfill my dream of spending a lot of time alone and when I cut off everything material, spiritual interests and thoughts came to the surface. The universe communicated with us very carefully during the time of Covid. It was a journey, getting acquainted with a new life, both in the role of a pregnant woman and in the role of a mother. It was a very deep experience.”
To view the rest of the project, please see: