She's got it 14:28 02 Aug 2023

"My children were left with nothing, not even a home": the challenges of motherhood during the war

War is a tough period for anyone, but motherhood brings another level of responsibility and fear. During the shelling, mothers grab children and run into the corridor, are deprived of sleep because of explosions and anxiety, and miss their home, which they might have lost because of the war. This is the reality for women whose babies were born after February 24, 2022. How do they overcome the challenges of motherhood, what fears bother them, and what can be done about it? Rubryka dives into the topic and explains how to reduce anxiety.

What is the problem?
"My son did not choose to be born in the war." The story of Anastasia and Matvii

Anastasia comes from Donetsk. In 2014, after the start of the war in the east of Ukraine, she moved to the Kyiv region. In 2021, she met her future husband, Zhenya, they got married after the start of the full-scale invasion in 2022, and in April 2023, the couple became parents: their son Matvii was born.

"We knew we would get married one day, but the war hastened it. After February 24, when Russia started its full-scale invasion, we were in Brovary, not far from Kyiv," Anastasia continues. "At the beginning of March, we went to Ivano-Frankivsk in Ukraine's west. During all these events, we realized that we didn't want to wait to get married. Our ceremony was simple: we bought embroidered shirts, and wedding rings, signed our signatures, and a friend took photos of us."

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Anastasia and her husband Zhemya planned the pregnancy — underwent examinations and took vitamins.

About two months after the wedding, Anastasia got pregnant as the couple had planned. "I remember being very worried during the Kyiv region's air alarms, but I tried to distract myself, be in the moment, and enjoy the pregnancy. I was subscribed to many news channels on social networks and constantly read them, but it was really bad for my mental health, so I left only one," Anastasia recalls.

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Anastasia could leave abroad but didn't want to live without her husband by her side.

In Brovary, the couple lives on the 23rd floor in an apartment with large panoramic windows. It turned out that Anastasia could neither go down nor go up to the house during the blackouts after Russia shelled Ukraine's energy infrastructure. She left the house only when there was light for two hours. If missiles flew at the Kyiv region, she and her husband hid in the corridor or the bathroom.

Relatives suggested leaving Kyiv region, but now there is no safe place anywhere in Ukraine. There were options to move abroad, but Anastasia did not want to live without her husband.

"War is war, but I still enjoyed the pregnancy period, prepared for childbirth early. We bought everything we needed. Missile attacks did not prevent this process. Only if earlier I would have done it offline — now, I have to do it online," Anastasia told Rubryka.

In April 2023, the couple's son Matvii was born. "I tried to give birth myself, but my son was rather big, so I had to have a cesarean section. Thank God I did because my son was wrapped three times around the neck and once around the head with the umbilical cord," Anastasia continues. "I remember how Matvii was put on the table and how he screamed. They wiped him, let me kiss him. Next, they stitched me up, and the baby was taken to my husband behind the screen and placed on his chest. I heard Zhenya sing him a lullaby. It made me cry from happiness."

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"It's hard for me, but I still consider motherhood a blessing." 

"It was just difficult and painful for me in the delivery room, I felt bad after the operation, and I still had to take care of my son. Then my husband helped a lot, and I only fed Matvii," Anastasia recounts the delivery aftermath.

When they were discharged home, Anastasia cried a lot and was sad for a while because her husband had to work, and she was always with the baby. Problems with breastfeeding also upset the new mother, and her condition was affected by a complete lack of sleep. The constant air alarms only deteriorated the situation.

"This difficult period lasted 3 to 4 days, and conversations with my husband and relatives helped me overcome it. They supported me," Anastasia says with a smile.

Matvii is now two months old, and this is a period when he is always in Anastasia's arms and always wants attention. "It's hard for me, but I still consider motherhood a blessing," Anastasia told Rubryka.

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"My son did not choose to be born into the war. It was our desire to give birth to him, so his peace is our responsibility"

The family moved to the other side of the Kyiv region, to a village. Here they hardly hear the alarms but can hear the air defense work. When this happens, she grabs the child and runs into the corridor. "I don't think about myself. My husband constantly asks if I want to leave the Kyiv region. Well, how can I? My family, my home, my friends are all here. I answer my husband: 'If it gets worse — then I will go.'"

In general, they couple almost never sleeps now: either because of the child or because of shelling. "When you look at this miracle, at his arms and legs, strength comes to you. You have to live for this — for the sake of the child. My son did not choose to be born into the war. It was our desire to give birth to him, so his peace is our responsibility," Anastasia shares.

"The news about the death of children affected me very much." The story of Alexandra and Liya

Oleksandra is from Zaporizhzhia but has lived in Ukraine's capital for the last few years. She met her husband Anton while studying in Kharkiv. They have been together for over ten years, married in 2022, and got pregnant shortly after unexpectedly.

"Probably at the beginning of the relationship, we understood that we wanted to have children, but all the time, it was not the time: my husband was getting a second degree, then it seemed that he needed a little time to get back on his feet, the COVID-19 suddenly started, followed by a full-scale war. For three weeks after February 24, we were under occupation near Bucha, then went to Lviv. At that time, Anton had already proposed, but we did not think we would marry soon," Oleksandra told Rubryka.

In Lviv, Oleksandra realized that she was late. It had happened to her before, but at that moment, it seemed that, for some reason, it was necessary to take a pregnancy test. "I was anxious because I felt it was not the time to have children. I did everything secretly and saw two lines on the test. When I left the bathroom, Anton understood everything from my face and asked: 'Are you pregnant?'. Later he explained that I had both surprise and fear on my face," Oleksandra recalls.

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Oleksandra thought about leaving the Kyiv region but decided to stay with her husband

After May 9, 2022, the couple returned to our native Irpin, where they lived in an apartment on the 15th floor. At that moment, Oleksandra stopped letting the news pass through her, although it was difficult to abstract. She was afraid that her bad mood could affect the child.

There were thoughts of leaving the Kyiv region, but Oleksandra wanted to be with her husband at this moment, to go through pregnancy together. It became more difficult when the infrastructure shelling began because when the electricity went out in their house, all communications also stopped working. Being pregnant, Oleksandra found walking up to the 15th floor difficult.

In those moments, there was the constant fear that they would have to leave home suddenly, and they would buy things for the child that they would not be able to take. "There was a background feeling of tension. On the one hand, I want the pregnancy to pass, as in the movies or the stories of friends. But in reality, I lived in anticipation of the worst that could happen," Oleksandra shares.

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In January, their daughter Liya was born

A little person appeared in the family whom you do not know how to take care of. "Although I read a million articles, I completely forgot everything the moment I had a baby in my arms," Oleksandra recalls.

The worst was the first day after discharge. Someone was always around in the maternity ward, but the new mother was alone at home. "The child had a low temperature, and I was very scared. On top of that, I got the baby blues — strong mood swings after childbirth. I remember just crying all day. I was worried about my daughter, alone at home. It was scary because of the possible shelling. There was still no light because then we had it only for two hours, and then five hours without it," Oleksandra recounts the tough period. "I was so glad the baby blues didn't turn into postpartum depression. I have a friend who has faced this. My condition passed after a few days, and I began to get used to the child."

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Oleksandra felt the new responsibility and was anxious because of the possible shelling

Oleksandra noticed that the news about the death of children began to affect her very strongly. There was news about a boy who died in Sloviansk. First, a photo of him having fun, then, how they get him out of the rubble. "I began to let the news about the children greatly pass through me. This is obviously because I now have a daughter. I was scared for her."

During the continuous shelling in May, even when it was quiet, she was worried. If the missiles were flying at Kyiv, what should she do? Grab the child and run down the hall? "You understand that it is important for a child to sleep. At the same time, it is terrifying that you will not go out into the corridor once, and something will happen."

"Where is our nursery with purple walls and bunnies?". Svitlana's story with Yeva and Emma

Svitlana is from Debaltseve and lived in Luhansk until 2014. After the beginning of the war in Ukraine's east, she and her husband lived for a while in Odesa, and then they built their lives in Sievierodonetsk. The couple could not have children for a long time, Svitlana managed to get pregnant only in 2021, and due to the war, she had to give birth in Chernivtsi.

"We couldn't have a child for a long time and were treated for infertility. In 2021, I left my job to fully focus on my health. I got pregnant in the fall. It happened very suddenly: I just went to the gynecologist for a routine check-up, and the doctor said I was pregnant," Svitlana recalls the happy moment. "When an hour later, at the ultrasound, they said that we had twins, it was a total shock. We really wanted a daughter, but now it turned out that there would be two of them."

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The couple had an apartment in Luhansk but left because of the war. 

They lived in a rented house in Sievierodonetsk. Her husband didn't want to buy property because the city is located near the demarcation zone. However, after the pregnancy news, Svitlana convinced him to buy a three-room apartment.

Svitlana was told that with twins, she would have to be on bed rest during the pregnancy, but she did not lie down for a single day. She was engaged in repairs in the purchased apartment. They were in a hurry to finish everything before the girls were born. "I wanted all that so much — I was my own designer. I made a large dressing room, ordered a nice kitchen, and the children's room was almost ready. The equipment was standing in the corridor, ready to be installed," Svitlana told Rubryka. "We were supposed to move into the renovated apartment on March 5, 2022."

The family left Sievierodonetsk on the first day of the full-scale invasion. Then the city was already shelled. "The windows were shaking. I sat alone at home and cried in the seventh month of pregnancy. I was very scared. I told my husband to pick me up, and we left town," Svitlana recalls.

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"I don't remember how I threw three swimsuits into the bag. I was pregnant, and it was winter, but I somehow packed three swimsuits." 

They took only as much stuff as would fit in their small car. "If there was time, I would take something useful. I don't remember how I threw three swimsuits into the bag. I was pregnant, and it was winter, but I somehow packed three swimsuits. My husband calmed me down and said that we were going for a short time. After 2014, I understood that it was unlikely that we would return to Sievierodonetsk."

The couple drove for twelve hours to the Dnipropetrovsk region and reached Pavlohrad. At first, they spent the night in a hotel, then rented an apartment. They stayed in the city for only a week, although Svitlana even had time to register for pregnancy. "I understood that the Dnipropetrovsk region is close to the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. I persuaded my husband to go on. We left for the western regions of Ukraine," Svitlana told Rubryka.

Due to traffic jams, the road took four days. They mostly stayed with friends but had to sleep in the car one night. Svitlana felt sick in those traffic jams and thought she would give birth there. She started having health problems. "We got to Chernivtsi and settled in an acquaintance's apartment. A week later, I ended up in the hospital in pathology," Svitlana recalls.

народити дитину під час війни"It was very difficult to realize that my children were left with nothing, not even a home."

"I felt bad — morally, physically, and psychologically. After the shelling of the maternity hospital in Mariupol, every time we went down to the basement during the alarm, those photos immediately appeared in our heads. And then… And then I got used to it," Svitlana sadly confessed.

In the spring of 2022, she had a cesarean section, and Emilia and Evanhelina were born, or Emma and Yeva for short. The first days after birth, everything was like a fog. She did not sleep at night and fed her daughters every half hour. "In general, it was very difficult for me. When I was discharged from the hospital, it became easier because there was already help from relatives," Svitlana recalls. "I constantly had thoughts about our apartment, about the war. Friends started posting photos of our house in Sievierodonetsk, and I saw that the house was partially destroyed. It was very difficult to realize that my children were left with nothing, not even a home. Now we live, but what will happen tomorrow? Where will we be? Where is our nursery with purple walls and bunnies holding balls?"

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The family's house in Sievierodonetsk was destroyed 

In general, after the birth, Svitlana did not have time for depression. There were sad moments, but these surges passed due to constant worries around her daughters.

"The girls are now a year old. My little girls are very different: Yeva is a fighting girl, runs and screams, and Emma is calm, plays by herself, and smiles at everyone. Now it's relatively calm in Chernivtsi, but the sirens still disturb me. There is a constant fear for the children — both at night and during the day."

What is the solution?
How can young parents reduce anxiety? Psychologist Ellina Karepova explains

The specialist says that you need to prepare before the child's birth. Stay with relatives or acquaintances who already have a child to understand the future workload. Weigh your strengths and capabilities.

If we talk about postpartum depression, one of the important reasons for it is hormonal failure. If a person was previously unstable, had emotional swings, and was prone to such conditions, then it is quite likely that their condition will worsen after the birth of a child. "During the war, everything is different. On the contrary, a person can be hyperactive or anxious. Some Ukrainians are so determined to survive that this symptom may appear even less because you have to live somehow," says Ellina Karepova.

According to the specialist, at a time when Ukrainians live in constant threat, it is impossible not to be afraid. Constant anxiety is normal in such conditions. You need to consider how much it bothers you.

"If it's about sleep disturbances, disturbances of vital activity, then it really makes sense to turn to specialists because human endurance is not limitless. In two years, the nervous system is already exhausted. It needs support," says Karepova.

What can young parents do to reduce their anxiety?

  • Plan everything. For example, what you do or don't do during anxiety. You can list what you take to the bomb shelter, what you need to take from children's clothes or things.
  • If you stay home during air alarms, you must justify this decision to yourself. "If parents decide this way, there are probably important arguments. Then this is the right decision for them," says Karepova.
  • Pay attention to mental hygiene: reduce the amount of news. For example, leave one Telegram channel with verified facts where there is no place for emotional manipulation.

Give yourself time to rest and recharge.


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