How ‘House of the Dragon’ and ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Made Me a More Resilient Mother

This Emmy season was filled with mothers who defied the odds and often put themselves in harm’s way to protect their children. In the past, I’d watch characters like these with admiration and awe, but never truly understood the gut-wrenching pain that comes with creating and protecting life. 

That changed last fall thanks to two mothers in particular — a dragon queen and a defiant handmaid.

These figures, despite coming from vastly different worlds, helped me through one of the most difficult and beautiful periods of my life — becoming a mother. That journey can be absolute hell and heaven at the same damn time. For those who are already mothers, you know this all too well. 

I gave birth to my first child last summer and was not at all prepared for the emotional rollercoaster that comes with bringing a tiny human into the world. As odd as it may sound, Princess Rhaenyra from “House of the Dragon” and June Osborne from “The Handmaid’s Tale” gifted me moments of reflection and understanding that would help me through this incredible transition in my life. They each approached parenthood with fierceness and strength, even when faced with incredible odds and tragedy. 

Looking back, I spent much of my pregnancy feeling fairly upbeat about becoming a mother. From picking out tiny onesies to deciding upon a nursery theme, I was enamored by what was to come and not too fearful of childbirth or my body changing. 

Things changed rapidly for me, though, a month before giving birth last June. I was calling my parents to discuss last-minute items to buy for the baby, when my dad picked up and said, “Your mother has breast cancer.” I could hear my mother screaming and crying in the background. She just kept saying, “I don’t want to die. I want to see my granddaughter grow up. I can’t die.” I fell to the ground. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t lose my mother, not now, not when I was about to become one. 

Over the next month, my family and I worked tirelessly to secure the best care for my mother, eventually setting her up at M.D. Anderson in Houston, Texas. We learned she had Stage 1 breast cancer, which was a bit of a relief. Still, we knew there’d be a difficult road ahead for her physically and mentally. This diagnosis also meant she would not be with me for the birth of my first child and well after, as she needed to prepare for surgery and radiation and avoid any risk of getting COVID-19 amid her treatment. 

I started to fear having a baby because I had always imagined my mother with me at the start of the journey. We had made so many plans and they were falling apart. Regardless, though, of how terrified I was, I put on a happy face for her. I didn’t want her to worry or make her feel any guilt for not being there for me.

On June 24, at 2:40 a.m., I gave birth to a beautiful little life and named her Zahra Esperanza, for she was radiant and full of hope. She was such a spark of joy for everyone in my family, especially for my mother, who saw her as a guiding light to stay strong. 

Something, however, changed within me. My spark faded and extreme depression and anxiety set in. I had heard about postpartum depression, I knew it was a possibility, but never did I think it would hit me so hard. I became a shell of myself, sleep-deprived, constantly worried about Zahra, unable to produce milk, and feeling like a complete failure. At night, I’d battle exhaustion, begging my body to let me sleep, but I couldn’t turn my mind off. All I could think about was if my mother was going to be alright, if I was going to be a good mother, and if I had made the right choice in having a child at all. 

Then in August, Princess Rhaenyra appeared. I had not watched much television the first month after giving birth. Any free time I had went to cleaning, prepping bottles or desperately trying to catch some sleep. But when “House of the Dragon” premiered, I felt a tinge of excitement. As a “Game of Thrones” fan who loved Daenerys and her dragons most of all, this series came at the perfect time. 

The first episode stung as I watched King Viserys sacrifice his wife Aemma in hopes of gaining a male heir. By the end, I was sobbing, thinking of how much I care for Zahra and devastated at the thought of something happening to me and her being alone, all the while realizing this must be how my mother feels right now. Despite how hard that first episode was, I kept on watching the series, eager to see how Rhaenyra would overcome this loss and grow into her own power. I watched as she matured, became a mother and fought for her right to the throne, all the while defending her children and doing everything she could to keep them safe.

Rhaenyra, though fictional, inspired me because despite taking hit after hit, her fire would not be put out. Even in the final moments of the first season finale when she loses someone yet again — her son Lucerys — we see her face is filled with grief and rage, yes, but also the strength to fight back. I felt that so deeply, both for myself and for my mother. 

Another mother whose fire is incapable of being put out is June Osborne of “The Handsmaid’s Tale.” Since the show’s first season aired in 2017, we’ve watched as June rebelled time and time again against the totalitarian government of Gilead, where women are forced to become reproductive vessels as the world grapples with an infertility crisis. Her ultimate goal is to be reunited with her husband Luke, who eventually makes it to Canada, and her daughter Hannah, who is being held captive in Gilead. 

The fifth season finds June liberated after having led a mob to kill her former captor Commander Waterford, living free with Luke and her second daughter Nichole in Canada, and doing everything possible to get Hannah back from the clutches of Gilead. Watching this season as a new mother, I understood more than ever the urge to protect one’s child while also working tirelessly to provide a safer, better future for them. 

When June tells Serena at one point in the series that she prays their children “live a life of peace, a life without all of this hate and violence” and that she hopes “may they do better than we did,” it brought me back to when I gave birth. 

Zahra was born the day the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to an abortion, reversing Roe v. Wade, which had been upheld for nearly half a century. I remember calling my mother from my hospital bed that day, stunned at what I was watching unfold on television. I couldn’t believe this was happening, and that I had just brought a new life into a world where this could happen, and possibly worse.

“Look at what’s on the news. The world is on fire. Women’s rights are being stripped away. There are school shootings every day. I don’t know if I should have done this,” I wept, overcome with all the emotions of childbirth and wishing my mom was there beside me. 

“This is exactly why you should have done this,” my mom told me. “You’re a good person. You care about the world and you want to make it a better place. And now, you made a life and you will teach your daughter to do the same. She is our Zahra Esperanza, she is full of hope.” 

It was hard to accept that truth for some time. I couldn’t understand how my mom could be so positive despite what she was going through. I struggled to believe I’d made the right decision to have a child, to be a mother. 

But as great storytelling often does, through the tales of Rhaenyra and June, I’ve come to understand that becoming a mother means not only gifting a new life, but becoming a better, stronger version of yourself too.  

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