This is everything, and at the same time, nothing like I imagined.
I became a mother for the first time when my son was born on the 22nd March, the day before Boris announced the UK lockdown. I was induced, and our much-longed-for baby arrived rather eventfully, 35 hours later, via emergency caesarean section; which meant we had to stay in the hospital for a few days afterwards. Due to restrictions my husband couldn’t stay, and when he came to visit, he told me that the PM was about to announce a UK lockdown, but like everyone else, I hadn’t a clue what that really meant, and how it was going to impact us; our new little family.
Using the word “bubble” doesn’t seem right now, almost 8 months on, but at that time, I felt my baby and I were safe in the hospital. This may sound strange, given we were in fear of a virus that was snatching away the lives of many; we had our own room, I had a contouring bed that helped me move and painkillers every four hours that took the edge off the burning, empty pain across my tummy. In the days leading up to my admission, it seemed the media were working us up into a frenzy; the supermarket shelves were bare, and it was increasingly difficult to get hold of the essentials; not just toilet roll, but other important items like baby products and paracetamol. I was worried about what kind of world I would be thrown back in to, and what to expect of being a new parent in completely unknown territory.
What followed was such a strong mixture of emotions, which started from the moment the doors of the maternity ward closed behind us, and we walked down the quiet corridors towards the exit. I could feel it in the atmosphere, something had shifted. I felt excited, proud and emotional, but at the same time sore, scared, and so, so vulnerable. I was about to take a seat on the “corona-coaster”.
And so, it began. We were told to stay at home, so we did. We stayed at home for another day, another week, another month. All the while, it felt like nothing was changing, there was no progress, but actually, there was so much change and progress happening right before my eyes. My baby was changing. He was growing heavier in my arms each day and showing new expressions on his perfect, tiny face. I would spend time after time just looking at him with absolute wonder (and I still do!). I’m in complete awe of him, and I remember feeling the pang of reality starting to kick in…thinking “oh my gosh, he is so perfect, and we get to keep him!”. The feelings of worry began to surface a couple of months in for me, when the excitement became overshadowed by anxiety and to be honest, a bit of shock; as I transitioned into motherhood, I felt overwhelmed at the thought of responsibility for this little one. I think that Covid-19 heightened these emotions for me, everything felt so intense within the same four walls every day.
I’m thankful that I took so many photos (and continue to do so) as when I look back on those from the early days and weeks, I can see how overwhelmed with emotion myself and my husband were, to be able to spend that time with our son alone. He is ours, and ours alone whilst we are wholly his. I relished the feeling of him falling asleep at my breast, his soft breath on my chest, his little hand wrapped around my finger. I spent hours just looking at him, trying to comprehend how it was possible that he was a part of me for so long, I nurtured him, grew him inside me for nine months and now he was finally here. My husband and I had longed for a baby for years and our journey to become pregnant was a stressful one at times, but my goodness it is worth it for our beautiful boy.
With each morning and evening similar to the last, the concept of time had no importance. Instead of being marked by deadlines, jobs, or travel, it was now replaced with feeding, nappy changes, and sleep. I am lucky that our home feels safe, but equally, it feels strange that we think of it like that now; it isn’t just a place of comfort and solace, but a place of safety. Outside these four walls, the unrelenting world was spinning, but inside, white noise filled the empty space whilst I rocked my newborn baby to sleep. Every day he grew bigger, heavier in my arms, all the while, my heart ached with love and sadness all at once. What an amazing joy our beautiful boy brings to us every single day, and I feel so incredibly lucky throughout that first lockdown that we were able to have protected time with him; but at the same time, upset for the many friends and family members that were longing to meet him. I did have an occasional moment of wondering whether a lack of interesting new humans and stimulating environments would affect my baby boy’s development. But to be honest, I’ve more often felt sorry for myself. My situation is privileged in certain ways, but it was hard being housebound with a baby. I was often advised not to worry, that “he has everything he needs right there”, and I have since read to reassure myself that babies enjoy growing up with a daily routine and a safe, caring environment. I’ve been reminded that they gain a sense of security and resilience from their closest caregivers, so really, there is no need to worry about the absence of wider family and friends. But it doesn’t address the support that I need(ed).
I reluctantly embraced the many Zoom calls with friends and family (not easy to do when you’re exhausted), but each time my heart felt like it was breaking, thinking this shouldn’t be the way my loved ones first meet their grandson/nephew/cousin. The first time my mother-in-law saw her new grandson was through the window of a patio door, behind streams of tears. It’s so upsetting to think of so many meaningful experiences have been taken away by this dreadful virus. The tender moments and new experiences I have imagined and looked forward to from the moment I found out I was pregnant had been taken away. I felt cheated.
During the first lockdown, the baby groups I had planned for us to go to had been cancelled or were being held virtually. Our newborn photoshoot had been cancelled. My baby had been held by more medical professionals than my own family. There are still so many friends and family that haven’t met him yet. I had only spoken to my Health Visitor over the phone (until recently). I had to wait 75 days to register his birth. My beloved Grandma never had the chance to hold her great-grandson before the wretched virus took her away when he was just two weeks old.
I felt like I needed all the support I could get, and I knew I certainly wasn’t alone. My husband and I joined an NCT group antenatally, and I am thankful that we both have the support of others sharing similar journeys in these unprecedented times. However, it was lonely in the time of isolation and with little opportunity to meet new mums, I looked to connect with others via social media.
As well as the Harrogate Mumbler Facebook group, I also found a Facebook group that had been created for local people who had become parents during lockdown. I joined it (and then the WhatsApp group soon after), and I can really say, what an absolute lifeline it has been. With more than 40 participants made up of women all going through the same or similar situations, (I will admit it’s difficult to keep up with at times!) but it really has been an invaluable source of support, and I am so thankful. When we were allowed, we arranged socially distanced meetups. It was so exciting (but equally quite nerve-wracking) to get out there and do what we imagined doing; having the chance to look each other in the eye and say “No, you’re not going crazy, this is really bloody hard, and I feel it too.” I have met some amazing ladies in the group, and some whom I have no doubt will become life-long friends. When lockdown eased, and we were able to see family and friends again, I couldn’t wait to get out there and meet face-to-face. The Mumbler website was invaluable in helping me to find local groups and classes and information on what was going on in the local area.
I greet my son when he wakes with “good morning, sunshine!” because that is what he is, our sunshine. Our bright light, in the darkness. With each new day, he dazzles me with his glow and ability to light up every day. In the future, when people think of 2020, I think they will likely remember the stress, the fear and sadness and they’ll recount the things that have brought tears to our eyes more times than we can count. But I am grateful that when I get to think back on 2020, I will think of my boy. He is the sweetest gift and greatest blessing.