How 6 women’s lives have changed, 2 years into pandemic

That was back in February 2020, Zamorano said, before the coronavirus was more than a faint blip on her radar. It was shortly after her state reported the first confirmed case of the virus in the country, but before the ensuing outbreak was declared a pandemic.

“A lot has changed” since then, said Zamorano, now 24. As stay-at-home orders began taking effect, her final semester at Western Washington University moved completely online, followed by a commencement held virtually in June 2020. Not long after that, Zamorano said, she found out she and her husband were expecting.

“When I graduated at Western, I just decided to get off birth control and whatever happens happens,” she said. “But it did catch me off guard, because I got pregnant like two weeks after that.”

On March 10, 2021 — almost exactly one year into the pandemic — Zamorano gave birth to her daughter, Camila.

Months later, Zamorano took her signature mirror selfie — this time with Camila in tow. Dressed in matching pink with her daughter propped up on the bathroom sink counter, Zamorano said the photo illustrates a clear contrast of her life during and before the pandemic. “I was like a person who didn’t really show emotions,” Zamorano said, “and I’m full of emotions now that I have a baby.”

In some ways, this year has brought her to a full-circle moment. Just like in 2020, she’s getting ready to graduate in the spring — this time with a master’s in teaching. Plus, she said, “I’m also pregnant again.”

For many like Zamorano, the pandemic has completely redefined their lives, inciting major life events and decisions. For some, it has also marked a period of deep reflections about their identity, relationships, career and health. For others, it’s just been about surviving.

In recognition of the two-year anniversary of the pandemic, we asked other women to share “then and now” photos revealing the big and small ways their lives have changed.

Responses have been lightly edited for clarity.

‘It would feel wrong not to celebrate the return of some normalcy’

Moroti Babayemi, 27, Hradec Králové, Czech Republic

The first few weeks of the first lockdown, I was entirely alone — an extrovert’s nightmare. I study in the Czech Republic and felt more isolated than ever; my screen time definitely skyrocketed. I remember doing workouts with my family over FaceTime just to have some company. Restrictions lifted slightly just before my birthday, and I was allowed one friend in my house at a time. One celebrated with me at midnight, another brought over a birthday cake, and another cooked for me. Love in the time of corona.

For my second “covid birthday,” I hosted a sushi night/paint-and-sip in my apartment with a few friends. Everyone agreed it was just what we all needed. This year, I’m hoping to travel for my birthday, maybe to Amsterdam. It would feel wrong not to celebrate the return of some normalcy, and being two years closer to finishing med school.

‘I feel more like myself than ever before’

Becca Wildsmith, 39, Nashville

When the pandemic struck, I was due for my much-needed monthly root touchup. I had one box of hair color under the bathroom sink and decided I’d hoard it until the “safer at home” orders were lifted and I had a reason to dye my hair. As more time passed, I got curious about what I would look like if that little expanding strip of silver — which began when I was only 14 — was all over my head. While searching for gray hair inspiration online, I stumbled upon a massive global movement of people just like me embracing their natural hair color.

I was blown away by the #SilverSisters community and their bold and fearless attitudes in the face of outdated aging and beauty standards. I was a little nervous and unsure, but I knew I had to be a part of it, too. I didn’t want to spend another minute (or dollar) trying to cover up something that was normal and 100 percent me! Looking back — just having celebrated two years dye-free — I can honestly say I feel more like myself than ever before. And getting to document the journey and build community alongside people from all over the world has been the very best part.

‘I’m grateful that all of the togetherness has made my babies close’

Meghan Gaffney Wells, 37, Philadelphia

Two years ago, our son was 18 months old. He loved watching trucks pass our house on our arterial road in Philadelphia. Then the world stopped, and he waited. Nothing passed for months. You can see our neighbor’s pandemic sign. This photo always makes me shiver.

Today, he is 3½, and we have a pandemic baby who is 19 months old. The pandemic is not over for us because they are unvaccinated. Here they are on Feb. 22, 2022, walking through our desolate local mall during a rainstorm to get their wiggles out. There were less than 30 people in the whole building, but I kept us all masked. Parents of small children are still living in 2020 in so many ways. I’m grateful that all of the togetherness has made my babies close, but I grieve all of the experiences they’ve yet to have.

‘Our semesters apart had paradoxically brought us closer together’

Audrey McNeal, 20, New York

My first semester at Columbia University was held virtually in fall of 2020 as a result of the public health crisis. It was definitely difficult to connect amid our global disarray. Our virtual presence also seemed increasingly important. Nevertheless, we reflected more deeply about the meaning of connection and what our experience is really about.

Upon arrival to campus in the spring of 2021, we became more intentional in our efforts to get to know each other and create a community. Even upperclassmen would observe that our year seemed exceptionally outgoing and supportive of one another, despite our lost time. Our semesters apart had paradoxically brought us closer together. I’ve found that my generation, while living in times that are so uncertain, is actively trying to create a sort of stability that is found within communities — one that recognizes the probable frequent adjustments in the years to come, and the sort of togetherness and understanding that empower us to thoughtfully overcome today’s challenges.

‘I became her full-time caregiver while also continuing to work’

Feylyn Lewis, 34, Nashville

Before the pandemic, I was living in Brighton, England, where I worked as a research fellow at the University of Sussex. I led the United Kingdom activities of a nearly 4 million-euro research project with adolescent caregivers. Six months into lockdown, my mother suffered a debilitating stroke caused by medication at one of our hospitals in our hometown of Nashville. I immediately flew from London to Nashville to be at her bedside. As a result of the stroke, my mother lost movement on the right side of her body and has lymphedema and apraxia.

I became her full-time caregiver while also continuing to work my U.K. research position remotely. In spring 2021, I also worked as a research director for a national nonprofit. Juggling two full-time remote jobs internationally while being a solo caregiver proved to be too much and I resigned. I stayed unemployed seven months, focusing my days on my mother’s care. Now, I work as a program manager at my alma mater, Vanderbilt University. The hybrid schedule, slower pace and flexible work environment allow me to care for my mother and also take better care of my mental and physical health.

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