Nele Anders is an illustrator and educator living and working in Berlin. She currently holds a professorship at the design akademie berlin where she teaches on the BA Illustration course.
“When I was approached to contribute towards this exhibition I was apprehensive at first – memories and emotions came to the surface that I have managed so well to push to the back of my mind since having returned to work after one year of maternal leave. But then I thought this might be cathartic and helpful for me and my son to make sense of what happened with us and around us over the past two and a half years. Maybe, I thought, if I turned this into some sort of visual narrative, I would be able to gain a different perspective on our time at home.
(I) I gave birth on the height of the first lockdown, in April 2020. I remember being terrified of letting my son go – I wanted to keep him in my womb, as this felt like the safest place for him. I was lucky that my husband was allowed in the labour ward, I know of women who had to deliver without their partner during that time. I was also allowed to take my mask off once labour set in – again, I was lucky. I also know of women who had to deliver with their face masks on.
Everyone else around me was of course wearing masks, and maybe that was the most difficult part – not being able to find reassurance in the nurses’ faces or my husband’s, when the baby’s heart rate dropped. After twelve hours of labour my son was delivered via suction bell. He was healthy. We were relieved. It felt like the world around us was lying in pieces. There was chaos and uncertainty. I knew it was now our responsibility and our duty to keep our son safe and protected. I was happy but this also felt bigger than anything I’d ever had to do before.
(II) Our first months at home were emotional. On one hand they were idyllic, full of love and marvel. On the other hand they were turbulent and isolated – I yearned to have family and friends by my side to talk to, to share this responsibility with, to help me when my husband had to be at work and the baby was unhappy. During this time I started feeling overwhelmed by all these things we had to do alone. And I started feeling heavy, sad and fearful. I was worried about leaving the house but also felt incredibly isolated at home. Other people became potential dangers for the baby. Our flat in Berlin never seemed so small.
Whilst trying to be the best mother I could, I also eventually realized that I wasn’t well. It took me a few more months until I finally was able to admit this to myself and seek help. When I was diagnosed with exhaustion depression I felt relieved. Now that the elephant in the room had a name I could start to help myself and get better.
(III) My son is now 2 1/2 years old and the world has changed again. Even though COVID doesn’t make the daily headlines of the news anymore, other crises feel more present and threatening than ever. There are still days where I feel overwhelmed and overworked. Then my son asks me: ‘Are you ok Mama?’ And puts his little hand on my arm. And then I always tell him that I am. And then I feel ok.
Someone has recently said to me that there has a never been a right time for children to be born into. There have always been wars, catastrophes, crises, pandemics, illnesses. I try to see our current reality as one that we need to manoeuvre through as peacefully, lightly and optimistically as possible. And if we teach our children along the way to be mindful, loving and caring towards each other and our environment, this is the best we can do.”