Sometimes I’ve found it hard to put into words what it feels like to have a baby during lockdown. Being pregnant during a global pandemic robbed me of a lot of expected experiences and feelings. Aside from the obvious; James not being allowed at the scans, him having to wait outside until I was dilated enough for coronavirus to somehow bypass us, etc. There was a host of other small – but significant – differences.
I didn’t have to avoid the clammy hands of acquaintances beelining for my bump, nor did I have to thrust my ‘Baby On Board’ badge at sitting strangers on the tube. Sweaty hands and sweaty underground stations certainly aren’t situations that I longed for, but they represent something that has been in short supply for us all for a while now; normality.
So far, that has been my tale of motherhood, too. While a house filled with tea-guzzling guests or loud mum and baby classes in village halls that smell like feet may not be top of anybody’s wish list, to me, they exhibit normality and it’s normality I crave.
I haven’t told my full birth story to anybody other than my mum. Sure, I’ve WhatsApp’ed the shortened version, but I haven’t enjoyed the experience of going into granular detail to a captivated audience.
There are swathes of my 39 hour labour which go entirely undocumented. The stops we did in the car on the way to the hospital, where I was acutely aware of other cars having to overtake us as I writhed around in the passenger seat. Walking down the dimly lit hospital corridor alone because of coronavirus and having my contractions stop entirely because I was terrified and wanted James to be with me.
To me, telling your labour story is a rite of passage. I’ve devoured other people’s labour stories. In fact, I’ve loved hearing them just as much as the newborn cuddles from their babies. I’ve asked questions, taken mental notes and built my entire opinion of childbirth (up until giving birth myself) on these fascinating stories.
As somebody who writes stories as a job, it’s particularly difficult for me to be robbed of this experience. It’s something that I envisaged myself telling my friends over tea as they took it in turns to pass around the beautiful end result of my hard work.
How will this affect our babies?
I won’t pretend it’s all bad. Isaac takes up most of my thoughts and having a welcome distraction during such a miserable time has been the biggest blessing both myself and James could’ve asked for.
I certainly have days when I worry about him. Will he be overwhelmed by big groups of people when we’re finally allowed out? Will he get upset when he’s held by somebody other than me or James because he’s not used to it? I think it’s natural for me to have these concerns. I’ve spoken to countless parents – both of newborns and older children – who have their own versions of these concerns.
Parents of toddlers worry that their babies won’t know how to play with other children properly. Parents of school-age children have the obvious worries about how Covid is impacting their learning development. Let’s not forget that some almost one-year-olds have only ever known the pandemic.
We’re certainly lucky in so many regards – we haven’t been impacted health-wise or financially and during a pandemic I guess that’s all you can really ask for. But, that doesn’t make this time easy at all for new parents.
I’m so grateful for the introduction of the under 1 bubble. The cynic in me thinks it could’ve come sooner because it’s the mums who have been struggling through since March 2020 who have really seen the worst of it.
Anyway, I’ve wittered on enough about my experience. I just wanted to give you a few recommendations of things I’ve found really helpful at getting us through this very weird time.
These aren’t for everybody. I think we’re all feeling a bit of virtual fatigue almost a year into this, but online classes have been a bit of a lifeline for me as a new mum.
I made friends with the mums on my NCT course, so for me it’s less about finding a support network and more about giving me something to do with Isaac.
At three months, Isaac’s now at the age where he wants some level of entertaining. It’s not just feed, change, sleep, repeat anymore. There’s a healthy dose of playtime chucked in, too. I feel bad for him when I’m just doing a circuit around the house, so online classes have been good for breaking that up – for both of us.
Most of the usual classes are doing online versions of their usual offerings. I’ve signed myself up to sensory, baby massage and reflexology and baby yoga. I’m also doing postnatal yoga for myself. These are still paid for classes (rightly so, they put in a lot of effort) but they’re not as expensive as they would be if you were doing them live.
If you’re looking for something free, the Positive Birth Company is doing daily live classes on its YouTube page. You have to subscribe to get access to them, but they’re great. We’ve done some signing, story time and baby massage. It just passes the time, really. The YouTube videos stay on the page so you can go back and watch it at any time.
Using our support bubble
I really feel for parents with children under one during the first lockdown. Now, as a parent of an under one year old, we’re allowed to form a support bubble with another family.
This support bubble isn’t like a childcare bubble. It means you don’t have to socially distance with whoever you choose and you can pick somebody close by or far away. There are no restrictions on how far you can travel to your support bubble in the UK.
I sometimes feel guilty for packing up Isaac and going to my parents house. When I’m driving I somehow feel like I’m breaking the rules even though I’m not. But, without a doubt, I feel so much better for getting out and letting other people make a fuss of Isaac for a bit.
The Huckleberry App
Without too many plans during the day, I found myself losing grasp on when Isaac had last fed, when he needed a nap and when he needed his nappy changed. Of course, I could make an educated guess. But, I’ve found he’s a lot happier now we have some sort of structure to our days.
I appreciate tracking naps, nappies and feeding isn’t for everybody – I wasn’t even sure it was for me – but it has given me such an insight into his little brain that I now can’t imagine not doing it. He’s three months old now so he’s at the stage where we’re doing a little bit of a routine. Nothing major, but it helps settle him at night to know what’s coming next.
With all the uncertainty in life, the Huckleberry app just keeps me on track. There is a paid for version, which I think helps you if you’re having problems getting them to sleep etc. but I’m just using the free version.
Time for me
Before having a baby, I never thought I’d feel guilty about having time to myself. When I first started having a bath in the evenings after he was born, I used to sit in the bath thinking ‘I shouldn’t be in here, I should be looking after my baby’.
It sounds ridiculous, but it was a bit mental shift for me to go from being pretty selfish (aka, daily long baths) to having to think about a little human 24/7.
I’ve quickly found out that in order to be a better mum to him, though (particularly in a pandemic) I have to have time to myself. I’m a big bath fan at the best of times, but now they’re something I look forward to. It helps me to reset my mind – and body (I didn’t realise how physically demanding carrying a baby around all day would be).
The daily reset
I’m going to do a full blog post on this because I think there’s a lot to say, but just to quickly sum up, a daily reset is so important. As a neat freak, I think it has been the single best coping mechanism.
I’m somebody who is very impacted by their surroundings. If my house is messy, my head feels messy. Hence why I try my best to keep my house clean.
Every day I take half an hour to tidy the house. I put everything back where it belongs – washing, dishwasher and any random stuff I’ve strewn around the house during the day. Sorting the washing is definitely the biggest shift in my life – I cannot believe how much washing a baby can produce. Like I said, I’ll write a blog post on how to structure that 30 minute blitz, but it has definitely had a huge impact on my happiness.