If there’s one thing I didn’t prepare for when entering into new motherhood, it was a deadly global virus that would wipe out enough of the population to have us all go into hiding for a year. Naive, I know.
My son was just five months old when the news broke. ‘Three week lockdown,’ the reports said, after endless days of hushed whisperings to the tune of ‘what do you think to this Coronavirus business then? Just another flu?’ The headlines were followed by more, even stranger happenings: ‘toilet roll shortage throughout the UK’ and ‘people are buying up all the formula milk to use in their tea,* mums in meltdown.’ Overwhelmed, I sat on the edge of my bed, and cried.
*Absolute monsters, honestly.
New motherhood is a bewildering time. The highs are unmatched except, perhaps, by the lows, until that one glorious moment arrives that everything falls into place, and you start to get the hang of this new life order. For me, that moment came no more than a month or so before the world went topsy turvy, when I began to get the hang of leaving the house before 1pm, scheduling full days that held something beneficial to both myself and my little one, and getting my change bag packed with enough supplies to help us survive three days in the wild, should we become lost in the uncertain terrains of Cheshire, without snapping my spine in the process. Finally, I felt confident in myself, in what I was doing, in being a mum.
And then our days went from this:
Monday: Coffee & cake > baby cinema > lunch
Tuesday: Rhyme time > coffee & cake > walk in the park
Wednesday: Early morning play group > Rhythm time > coffee & cake (yes, a normal mat leave really is all about the coffee and cake)
Thursday: TinyTalk > a lengthy catch up with mum friends, usually with coffee, not often cake
Friday: A very lengthy dog walk, then snuggles at home
Saturday & Sunday: Family outings, visits to relatives, eating out
Monday – Sunday: Stay at home. Protect the NHS. Save lives
And we had to learn how to survive all over again.
I want to caveat the rest of this outpouring by saying I am aware, obviously, that this pandemic isn’t all about me, or my child. It isn’t about any one person, really. But it’s been a rough old year for so many, for so many different reasons that all stem from one place: COVID-19, and I think it’s important that we cleanse our worried souls by talking about what this experience has done to our own lives, so we can begin to understand how it has impacted each other’s lives and perhaps continue in the vein of empathy that became prevalent in so many throughout this experience. I also think mothers – all mothers, whether pregnant, trying, or already in possession of a tiny unpredictable human – were completely forgotten by the UK government when things started to improve. And that’s simply not good enough. And we need to make our voices heard.
But back to when it all began.
Suddenly, the days stretched out before us, with nothing to fill them. The baby classes went online, losing all appeal to my son, and losing their purpose for me, as a means for socialising with other mums. But we had pre-paid, and we had no option for refunds, so we dutifully cast them to the TV each week, promptly ignoring them the moment they began. The health checks we were told were essential suddenly became unavailable. Doctor’s appointments in person weren’t allowed. We, the mothers, were unanchored and cast out to sea, left to simply float there as the world shut down around us, not one of the higher ups considering that we might need a helping hand to get back on solid ground.
But it was only three weeks. And we could cope with three weeks.
The activities began in vain. Five minute slots (the length of his attention span at this point) filled with sensory tubs and incy wincy spider singalongs, and any other thing I could think of, for upwards of 14 hours a day. And it was fun, in parts, and painful in others, as my energy drained and his did not, and the outside world remained off limits. Food deliveries became impossible to access, as the government repeatedly stressed that no-one go to a supermarket unless they had to, and only buy essential items whilst there, making a visit to the local Booths to buy bread feel like the biggest crime one could commit, once a chocolate bar was added to the basket.
The three week deadline came, and it went, with an extension. ‘Three more weeks,’ they said, before administering the final blow: ‘at least.’
And all hope was lost.
We became a country of citizens living in their own personal hell, each person looking at someone else’s experience and thinking ‘that must be nice’ in comparison to their own. An old friend contacted me at one point to say she was bored, and that I was lucky to have my little boy as ‘something to focus on.’ She was right, in a way, I am extremely lucky that I have my son, and that we were safe, and that he was too young to know any different to what was happening in the world around him.
But also, his being in these so called ‘interesting times’ was an added stress on an already new-to-this-and-learning-on-the-job mother. Without a schedule to stick to, our lives took on a groundhog day-esque existence, with nothing to look forward to, no chance of rest within sight. The local mum shaped support system I built pre-lockdown was a salvation via WhatsApp, sure, but it wasn’t the same as seeing other people in person. The experiences we would have shared were instead experienced alone, and no-one was there to reassure us that we were doing OK, or let us know if we were doing anything wrong. Or even just to hold the baby for an hour so we could breathe.
Which all would have been fine, I guess, if it weren’t for the fact that, pre-COVID, we were emphatically told:
- You must get your baby weighed at least once a month, more if possible, so we can monitor their progress, and pick up on any problems early
- Any temperature spike or sudden illness should be seen to, we will try to get you in on the same day if at all possible, this is very important
- Same for rashes, or any discolouration of the skin you are uncertain of the cause of
- It’s super important that you socialise your baby as early as possible, so they get used to being around others, and get a chance to build their immunity
- We would really stress the benefits of attending all of your children centre’s development workshops, so you know you’re on the right track
- Make sure you get some time to yourself every now and then, for your own wellbeing
- It takes a village
And then we were told… absolutely nothing, actually. The children’s centre stopped answering their phones. Health visitors disappeared off the face of the earth, and doctor’s didn’t have time to see to a rash, instead having their receptionists call to ask for photos, to which a prescription would be administered ‘just in case the issue is what I think it is, call back if it doesn’t help.’ The ‘essential’ checks we were assured would be the backbone of our first year as parents, seemingly designed to help us all have the happiest, healthiest start, were pulled out from under us, without so much as an apology from dear old Boris Johnson, who promptly forgot that children outside of his own family existed. And that village needed to raise my child? Well, that was essentially burned to the ground, leaving us in the ashes with nothing but dancing question marks hovering over our charred, hopelessly ungroomed heads.
Which brings me to the truly concerning thing: if all of those things were essential to the health and wellbeing of our offspring before Coronavirus, surely they were still essential during? What exactly have our children missed out on here, and what will be the long term impact of that? None of us mums, first time mums especially, have any way of knowing whether our children are developing at a normal rate, whether there are behaviour markers we should be concerned by, whether they’re growing fast enough or eating enough or even whether we’re doing things in such a way that they’ll be OK out on their own in wider society as they grow. We are winging it, in the purest sense of the term, with absolutely no outside help from the people that promised to be there when our children were born. And I can’t even imagine what it’s been like for those that had to homeschool whilst working, or anyone who gave birth to their first child during the pandemic itself. My heart goes out to each and every one of you. The only way to get through this is together.
As the year progressed, we adapted. My husband has been working longer hours throughout due to the impact the virus had on his workforce, and Rory and I got used to spending long periods of time alone together, with no interruptions. We got into a little routine, he started nursery two days a week in order to be around other people, and it has been, though weird and scary and not what we wanted at all, a generally happy time overall. But the lines about this being a precious time to spend together that we wouldn’t have otherwise had are thoroughly lost on us, as maternity leave was that time, and we have been deprived of all we could do. But still, again, we are healthy, and he has turned into the most beautiful, loving, smiley little boy imaginable, so we can only hope the impact on him won’t be long term. Though the fact he doesn’t see a face without a mask whenever we venture anywhere is, I’ll admit, a concern.
One that I doubt will ever be addressed by anyone in power.
The world is now on the brink of change thanks to a vaccine, and we will soon be able to hug our loved ones again, without threat of lockdown, or higher tiers, or total loss of freedom in some other form. And I will takeaway from this time the moments we shared that were full of joy, and love, and compromise, whilst also feeling proud that we have made it through at all. I look forward to experiencing what it’s like to be a mum in a normal, less restrictive, world… And to figuring out if I actually find parenting harder than I had expected, or if I simply don’t do well in captivity.
Just a few more months.
Unless, of course, it takes another few months on top of those few months…
… At least 😉