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At this point, it's become something of a ritual for America Ferrera.
Whenever she and husband Ryan Piers Williams take nearly 3-year-old son Sebastian and 12-month-old daughter Lucia to the park "and you see a mom with a baby under 1, you're like, 'Oh, pandemic baby! You too? How's it been for you?'" she detailed in an exclusive chat with E! News.
She actually spied a fellow warrior just the other day. "I met a mother and father with a sweet young girl who's basically the exact same age as my daughter and we started talking about our experiences," Ferrera revealed. And while the other couple's had been particularly harrowing—"It had become a life-threatening situation both for mom and baby"—the talk reinforced something that's been top of mind lately for the Gentefied producer and director.
With each connection she makes, the actress said, she remembers "that mothering and parenting and birthing and pregnancy are a unifying experience, a global experience."
Thus her motivation for teaming up with global nonprofit Vitamin Angels. The mom of two is celebrating her third Mother's Day by encouraging her 1.2 million Instagram followers to support the organization, which provides vital nutrition and prenatal vitamins to millions of expectant and new moms and their babies in vulnerable communities worldwide.
Though the Los Angeles native, 37, said the charity's work resonates with her on multiple levels—"As a human being, as the daughter of very hardworking immigrant parents, mostly a single mother who struggled to give her six children what they needed"—it's her role as a mom that enables her to so easily put herself in the well-worn shoes of struggling parents.
Noting how the coronavirus pandemic and all of the economic anxieties that followed "only further highlighted the huge gaping disparities between what some parents and children have access to and what others don't," Ferrera told E!, "I have always been a pretty empathetic human being, but once I became a mother, the thought of other parents not being able to provide for their children what they want to provide for their children is heart-shattering."
She's spent a lot of time this past year thinking about how fortunate she is even as she faced the type of hardships that can't be fixed with a famous name or a starring role.
Take her second pregnancy, which was cruising along smoothly until roughly seven months in when the world shut down, the hospitals filled up with COVID patients and visitors were limited, with scores of mothers enduring labor solo, no birthing partner by their side.
"Things were really quite scary," she admitted of that uncertain stretch. "I really found myself having to take very deep breaths and try to keep a larger perspective and really trying to connect on some level, even just on a heart level, to all the other moms globally, and truly across time, who have had to be pregnant and give birth and raise children in unsure and scary times and unsure and scary circumstances."
Set to deliver her daughter by C-section, "not going to the hospital was not an option for me," she explained. "And hospitals were ground zero at that time and a little bit scary to not know how that would be or whether or not my husband was going to be able to be with me during and after the birth and, you know, if I would be safe, if my daughter would be safe."
Spiraling into a worried mess of hormones and stress would have totally been a valid option there. But Ferrera, instead, posted an encouraging Instagram message to "all you other mamas bringing new life into this world right now."
For her, that felt as soothing as, say, screaming into a pillow. (Also a totally valid reaction.)
"I really do think that for me the most grounding and calming way of getting through that was to know that there were so many other mothers and parents going through the same things as me," she said, pointing out with a laugh, "You know, a lot of babies were born this year! So I was far from the only one and I was a far, far cry from so many women around the world who couldn't access what I could access in that time."
It was a perspective she held tight to even as she navigated a new world of parenting a not-quite-2-year-old toddler and a newborn without many of the support systems she'd leaned into the last time around.
"It was definitely survival mode for a lot of it," she admitted. "I had a C-section and I, myself, was recovering and, you know, everything that comes along with being postpartum and learning to adapt to being a mother, now of two children, without the help or the community that I might normally have around me: Friends and family and other resources that would help make that time feel lighter."
Like everyone else, she missed the things we never considered to be luxuries before 2020, such as face time with people we're not related to.
"I mean, even just a walk with friends, what it does for your mental health as a mother to be able to take 20 minutes and grab some fresh air and talk to another mother and feel seen and acknowledged by somebody who's just gone through what you've gone through," Ferrera said. Being stripped of "those small things that make those difficult times feel a little bit more bearable, like you can get from one sleepless night to the next," she continued, "really changed the experience."
Still, she insisted, "This year was hard for everybody on some level. And for me, whenever I was struggling, all I could really think about was other mothers who don't have what I have. How much harder it is."
So, yes, she'll be celebrating Mother's Day with a healthy serving of largesse and the hope that moving forward we can start to address the cracks in the system that this past year have illuminated.
Childcare workers, for instance, "are the real heroes in this world," she said. "The people in the institutions that help us raise children and keep children safe and keep children fed, what we know is that they are not equally accessed on the best of days and in the worst of times, that access only becomes much more difficult."
So while this past year has been unspeakably rough, the longtime political activist and cofounder of Harness, an organization that seeks to amplify the experiences of marginalized communities, hopes that it will serve as a springboard for change, "an opportunity to be very thoughtful about what is it actually necessary and what is actually essential to a happy, healthy, meaningful life moving forward."
More hard work lies ahead, but first she's going to celebrate.
Her eldest will turn 3 at the end of the month, her husband of 10 years will mark his 40th days earlier. And before all that, it was time for her little pandemic wonder to celebrate her first year of life May 4.
If the Superstore alum is being honest, she kind of can't believe it's been a full year since those weeks of uncertainty. But she got through it, quite simply, by just getting through it. "Going as easy as we could on ourselves and each other," she said, "and trying to make the best of the time at home and the time together, but also not denying that it was hard."
And somehow, as is the case with newborns, those weeks of sleepless nights and round-the-clock feedings transitioned into days filled with baby giggles and and favorite new foods.
"You go from feeling like you're in crisis mode to trying to find a groove," said Ferrera. "The good thing about newborn babies is that they change so much every week. And every week felt different and before you know it, you have a 1-year-old. And they're standing up and starting to walk and you're like, 'Wait a second, I thought I just had a baby?'"
She's not big on elaborate bashes for someone "who will never, ever remember that birthday party," she admitted. But it's still a moment worth recognizing.
"It feels very internal and personal, really marking and celebrating what this last year has meant for our family and for us as parents and my daughter's first year of life being in the midst of so much happening," she said. "I think it will be a very intimate and sweet family celebration and just marking of the year that we've had together as a family. So it will be joyful, I'm sure, but it will also contain all the feelings that this past year has had."