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The trauma of These Times
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The trauma of These Times

Even when the world is in turmoil, you can be sure of one thing: babies will still be born.

Babies are born during pandemics. In February 2021, I talked to a bunch of Manitoba parents who had either already had — or were about to have — COVID-era bubs. It was a bittersweet time; they were thrilled but scared, mourning the loss of community during what can already be an isolating time.

Katie German, 37, was pregnant with her second son, Jasper, during the pandemic. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Babies are born during wars. On Twitter, tucked in among the horrific scenes of death and destruction out of Ukraine over the past few days, was a photo of a baby who was born during the invasion, underground, away from Russia’s bombs.

It’s always an act of hope to bring a new life into this world. Babies represent potential. Babies represent possibility. Parents, caregivers, teachers, peers, and communities will help shape and guide who they will become, of course — but they will also be who they will be. I remember hearing an Indigenous Elder speak once about how important it is for parents to give their children both roots and wings: a strong sense of who they are and where they come from, but the confidence and independence to soar.

But lately, I’m thinking about the roots tangled and wings clipped by intergenerational trauma.

From the renewed focus on the horrors of the Canadian residential school system to the disproportionate police violence faced by Black youth to the trauma cycles lived by conflict refugees, there’s no shortage of stories about the kind of trauma that lives, as a residential school survivor put it to me, in one’s blood memory. Trauma at a DNA level.

I was thinking about the Ukrainian children huddled in Metro stations in Ukrainian cities when I read this piece by my friend Sarah Lawrynuik about her baba, the intergenerational trauma within her own family, and being the first of her family to return to Ukraine. “I’m heartbroken that another three or four generations of Ukrainians now face the same healing journey that’s plagued my family, and countless Ukrainian–Canadian families that fled the last time the country was thrown into war,” she writes.

Daria Lawrynuik and her granddaughter Sarah Lawrynuik: Daria was fiercely proud of her Ukrainian heritage, but staunchly opposed to her family visiting the country.(Supplied)

Wars, climate change, global pandemics — these are all sites of trauma. Looking at what’s next will necessarily mean contending with the collective trauma inflicted on people over the past two years, and how it will continue to ripple outwards.

I’m not, at all, talking about people who were slightly inconvenienced by having to wear a mask in Home Depot. I’m talking about the loss of this time — people who lost loved ones and have yet to properly grieve, people who are navigating Long COVID, people who lost time and formative experiences, health care workers who have had to work on the front lines this entire time. (This long read from the BBC is worth your time.)

We’re nearing the two-year anniversary of COVID-19. Eventually, this pandemic will be history. How we process it, how we remember it, what lessons we learn from it and, crucially, how we heal from it — all of that remains to be seen in the months, years and decades ahead.

But, as writer Ed Prideaux writes in the BBC piece linked above, “to forget the trauma, move on, and pay it no mind, won't help. It’d be a disservice to history and our own minds. Maybe to the future, too.” 

Jen Zoratti

Jen Zoratti, Columnist

Jen Zoratti

READING/WATCHING/LISTENING

I’m currently watching Euphoria, which, speaking to theme, is not for the faint of heart if you’re a parent. The gritty drama focuses on a group of teenagers and their incredibly messy lives — I am so thankful sexting was not A Thing when I was a kid — and it is both compelling and frustrating. It’s the kind of show that generates a lot of think pieces; I have one million articles about it that I want to read and have been avoiding because I’m not finished watching the second season yet. You can watch it on Crave.

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