Wonderful and memorable as those weeks were, we took them for granted. We had no idea that just a few months later, new mums would be preparing to give birth in a pandemic, any help and support from family and friends stripped away.
Emma went into labour before the lockdown and emerged from hospital to an entirely different world. Baby Faolan’s first introduction to his grandfather was posted on Twitter, with a poignant photograph of the new grandpa gazing through the window at him capturing the hearts of many. So near and yet so far.
Just as the virus has required us to cancel plans and diary engagements for the foreseeable future, so new mums and mums-to-be have had to be flexible, holding any birth plans and arrangements for the first weeks of parenthood lightly. Home births and elective Caesareans will be at the discretion of individual Health Trusts, and, in some cases, even thoughts of a partner being present may be in jeopardy. My husband missed out on the birth of child #4 (he was in the hospital corridor with our other three still in their pyjamas waiting for grandparents to arrive), and I still feel sad about that – but it doesn’t come near to the prospect of giving birth solo in a pandemic.
Jo, who is expecting her first baby next month, commented:
“It’s been a big readjustment from imagining friends and family being around to knowing that you are going to have your first baby on your own. We’re also disappointed that grandparents, aunts and uncles won’t be able to meet our child as a newborn – they’ll have to be content with video calls, and there won’t be all those photos with family and friends to look back on.”
Nia is on maternity leave with her four-month-old daughter Betsan. For her, the most difficult thing about the lockdown is the lack of friends and support.
“When I was struggling in the first weeks after Betsan was born, my mum would come round and give me a hand, but now we have to manage on our own, which is hard. I was looking forward to my maternity leave as a time to meet other mums with new babies, and I’d joined a mums’ keep fit group and baby swimming class. I was just beginning to make new friends, and now it’s all had to stop. I feel sometimes as if I’ll have wasted my maternity leave being stuck at home.”
Whilst recognising the challenges, both Jo and Nia were also able to stand back from the situation and share some positives:
An opportunity to slow down
Jo: “If we hadn’t been in lockdown, I’d have been dashing around, finishing off projects and buying last-minute ‘essentials’. But this enforced time at home has given me an opportunity to rest well and prepare for the birth. And once the baby is born, we’ll have uninterrupted, unpressured time to get used to being parents.”
Nia: “I love to be busy, but this has been an opportunity to slow down and to bond with Betsan. Already I feel I’ve got to know her better, and I’m becoming more confident by the day. My husband is working from home which means he’s also had more time with her than if he’d been out at work all day.”
The importance of friends and family
Jo: “Although I’ve felt scared at times, keeping in touch with friends who are also expecting, and knowing we are in the same boat, has helped me keep a sense of perspective. We remind each other that whilst the COVID-19 has changed lots of things, it hasn’t changed our ability to give birth.”
Nia: “We plan regular video calls with family which have been a lifeline for us. We’ve also made a point of keeping in touch with old friends.”
Nia: “Being able to take Betsan out for a walk each day in the pram has made a big difference. It’s given structure to the day and definitely helped my mental health.”
Nia: “A new baby can put pressure on any relationship, but having this time together has been good for our marriage. We’ve tried to make normal things more special and do things just for ‘us’ – for example, planning to watch a film and getting in some favourite snacks and drinks as a treat.”
Don’t sweat the small stuff
Nia: “I would say to any new mum: don’t sweat the small stuff. I haven’t managed to get Betsan out of her pyjamas for two days, but the world situation has given me a sense of perspective – there are more important things to worry about.”