Sunday, 7 March 2021

Back to School (Again)

Schools go back tomorrow, apparently for good this time. I think there will be a few bubble closures before it’s all truly over, but hopefully, the schools will stay open from now. I have mixed feelings about this. I can see that it’s good for schools to reopen; I know some kids will have had a tough time at home and that many people are feeling burnt out, but I’ll be sad to return to an almost-empty house tomorrow. 

I’ve loved having the kids at home this year. I know I’m in a lucky position in that I’m self-employed and can focus on the kids and not try to juggle a stupid number of commitments. I know that not everybody has been able to do that. And please don’t think I’m claiming to be some kind of earth mother. I’m not. I have cried in the kitchen and wailed that I can’t go on like this anymore. I have silently prayed to the covid gods for schools to reopen just so that I can hear silence, instead of arguing, once again. 

We didn’t get home from school. We didn’t go to the class zooms or upload daily work to the class dojo. My children have most played and argued. They have done bits of work. Ebony has done a maths exercise every day and some English. We haven't done the work set by the school. I can’t cope with the printing or the screen time, so we just used workbooks. Ember has learned to read, but she hasn’t perfected her cursive writing. She hasn't learnt how to negotiate the complex social side of the school. I think they’ll be fine, and I hope that they have enjoyed our time hanging out at home over the past twelve months. 

This past year has been such a strange time. Stressful, anxiety-inducing, unchartered, but the lockdowns have felt like a gift in some ways. I’ve had the opportunity to spend extra time with my children, and I feel very grateful for that. We’ve learnt how to slow down and how to simplify life. We haven’t been rushing around or trying to please other people. It has been all about us. 

We’ve figured out how to live in harmony, how to read each other’s moods, and how to hold space for each other during moments of sadness. In the past, a crying child was always a challenge; I must stop them from feeling sad. Now, I know it’s ok to feel sad. It’s ok to cry because you miss your friends or worry about going back to school, and I don’t need to say or do anything to minimise those feelings; I just need to be there while they feel them. This is probably the lockdown achievement I’m most proud of.

I think Ettie will miss her sisters when they return to school tomorrow. She is used to a noisy house and lots of chaos. It will be strange to have her all to myself. I will be missing two babysitters, which will certainly be noticeable when I want to get anything done. I’m glad we were able to have this time as a family while Ettie was young. It has been nice for her to get to know her sisters properly and be so involved in the baby stage. I hope, though, that she will enjoy waking from naps naturally rather than being jolted awake by the sound of another sibling argument.  

Sunday, 15 November 2020

5 Best & Worst Things About Having a Baby in Lockdown


Fiona wearing a mask in the birth centre

Ettie was born in July, in the middle of a global pandemic, and while I wouldn’t recommend this timing as ideal for a stress-free pregnancy, I do think there were some positives. Ettie wasn’t my first baby and, if she was, I think I would feel completely different. I think I would have struggled with isolation if she was my first because I wouldn’t have had existing mum friends around me to offer support and listen to me moan. 

This list is a personal one based on my circumstances, and it won’t apply to everyone. Probably a lot of the things I class as benefits won’t apply to other people, but equally, there will be things I found difficult that perhaps other people wouldn’t have struggled with. I don’t live near to my parents, and I have missed them a lot this year. I would have loved to have been able to walk past their house regularly and wave at them through the window so they could see Ettie growing bigger (and me, during my pregnancy), but alas, it’s not possible for us. 

Now the disclaimers are out of the way; I am going to move onto the actual post. So, pregnancy and birth and babycare in a pandemic. What a headfuck. If you think your anxiety has been out of control during the pandemic, you should try being pregnant. It was stressful. 

Here are five of the best things about having a baby in lockdown:

  1. Being cocooned 

I was six months pregnant when England went into lockdown. At the time, nobody knew how long it would last or what it meant for the future. I knew I wouldn’t be re-entering society until after the baby was born, however. Even when discussions started about when to re-open schools, I had decided I would be keeping my older children home until after the summer holidays. 

I stopped working pretty soon after lockdown because it wasn’t possible to juggle childcare and two working parents, and my job is flexible enough that I was able to stop. I know how lucky that makes me and that most people didn’t have a choice. I stopped working by April and then spent the new few months merely being pregnant and not homeschooling my kids. 

I would wake up early every day and take my eight-year-old out on a long walk. We walked for an hour and a half each morning (started as an hour, but by the end of pregnancy, I was sloooow). It was lovely to spend that time with her, listening to her chat absolute shit about Harry Potter and her future career as a librarian and her dream garden. When we got home, I would sit in the bath trying to pretend I wasn’t dying from the walk (my poor pelvis). Then, slowly, I would get dressed and ready for the day. We spent most of our time in the garden. Me, reading a book, lying on my Holo (a lilo with a bump hole - pregnant women, you need this).  The kids, completely feral, running wild in the garden.

I was in charge of feeding the kids, which was a fulltime job, but aside from that, I had very little to do. I was just pregnant, and it felt like a real luxury to be able to focus on that and take a break from real life. After the birth, I continued in this lockdown cocoon until the kids went back to school in September. 

  1. No ‘Still pregnant?’ comments

As a woman who gestates for approximately 87 years with each pregnancy, I liked not seeing people. I don’t care who you are; I don’t want to hear your thoughts on the size of my bump or how long I’ve been pregnant. With my previous pregnancies, I have endured plenty of “Is it twins?!” and “Still pregnant then?” comments. This pregnancy, I only got one comment from one old man on one of my early morning walks with Ebony. I can handle one comment; I can’t handle weeks worth of comments. If I’d been on the school run in June, I’d have had to endure countless “Have you tried curry?” comments and the rage would have been difficult to manage, so for that reason alone, I’m glad I was on lockdown. 

It’s not fun going so far past your due date, but it felt manageable because the lack of other people’s opinions gave me space to relax and endure those final weeks of pregnancy (I was going to say enjoy but who am I kidding). 

  1. Laurie was around

If somebody had asked me a year ago whether I would like Laurie to work from home fulltime, I would have said no. Then felt stressed that they were asking for a reason. Then rung Laurie to check he definitely wasn’t planning on working remotely anytime soon. But actually, having Laurie at home this year has been amazing. For me. Probably not for his clients and colleagues who have had to listen to our four-year-old screaming during meetings.

When I was pregnant and uncomfortable, Laurie could jiggle his work schedule to give me a break in the day. He started taking the kids out on a lunchtime bike ride every day. When I couldn’t sleep, he took the kids out for 7 am walks so that I could catch up on sleep. When I was 87 years pregnant and emotional, he could take over the parenting while I sat in the dark and pretending I trusted my body and everything was Fine. When I had hospital appointments at short notice, he could drive me there and look after the kids. Everything was more manageable with him at home.

And now, with three kids in the morning, his being home takes the stress out of the school run. Life just feels so much easier with an extra pair of hands around to help out. 

  1. No visitors

It’s lovely when people want to come and visit your new baby. But, it’s also tiring and can be overwhelming in the early days. I had said right at the start of the pregnancy, long before anybody ate the bat, that I didn’t want to have any visitors for the first two weeks after the birth. After Ember’s birth, I felt very vulnerable and having visitors was just too much, and I didn’t want the stress of that again. 

Having a baby in lockdown means you can’t have visitors anyway. And, of course, there is a sad side to that, but in a completely selfish way, it was nice to have time to bond as a family of five. It’s tough when you’ve just had a baby. Physically, it takes weeks to heal even after a positive birth. Emotionally, your hormones are all over the place, and you feel insane. You are tired and overwhelmed and worried you will always feel this way. It’s not a good time to have people visit. I think we should all take it upon ourselves to leave new parents alone for the first few weeks so that they can bond with their babies and feel sane before they re-enter society. 

  1. The sense of community

I quite like that I had a baby during the pandemic, partly because of the reasons mentioned above, but also because it’s a little bit different. I have a special face mask in her memory box, which I wore to the hospital for her birth. I think having a baby during lockdown has been strange and while there are definitely downsides, it’s also pretty special. I can see myself as a grandma telling stories about when I had my baby in lockdown. The hours spent in an online Ocado queue will be like the stories my grandparents told me about ration books. 

It’s also been nice to see the community coming together, not just for vulnerable people at risk of the pandemic, but also for new parents. In the village I live in, mums have organised walks for new parents so they can meet up and talk. There’s a socially distanced baby group in the church. There’s a WhatsApp group for local mums with babies (and ones for dads). Yes, some parents have found it harder to access proper services (my Health Visitor just didn’t show up to our appointment, so my only contact with her has been over the phone), but it’s been nice to see mums supporting each other to fill that void. 

It’s not all been positive, though. Some things have been pretty crap. Here are five of the worst things about having a baby in lockdown:

  1. Extra anxiety

I think everybody felt anxious in March. There was an awful period where nobody knew what was going to happen. It was tense during those weeks; I was obsessively checking the news and death stats on my phone all day long. My screentime was about eight hours a day the week before lockdown. My eyes can’t cope with that level of screen use, and I had many headaches. 

Pregnancy heightened this anxiety. I wanted a home birth and home birth services across the country were getting cancelled, and I spent a lot of time worrying about that. I was afraid that if the kids or Laurie came down with symptoms, then I would end up having to give birth alone. I was worried about everything. It wasn’t fun, and it wasn’t easy to find reassurance to any of my worries because nobody knew what was going to happen. 

  1. Attending appointments alone and trying to have serious conversations through masks

Masks aren’t fun, are they? The first time I wore a mask was for a routine midwife appointment, and when I tried to talk, I ended up yelling, which was funny but also awkward and embarrassing. At that midwife appointment, it took a long time to find the baby’s heartbeat. I was lying on the bed, under a bright light, trying to breathe through a mask, while the room was way too silent, and it wasn’t pleasant. 

What was more difficult, however, was trying to speak to doctors through a mask. It’s also worth noting that you have to attend all these hospital appointments alone. I would have been heartbroken if Laurie couldn’t attend the earlier scans with me, and while he did miss out on the later scans I had during pregnancy, I wasn’t too bothered about this because we weren’t supposed to have them anyway. Attending the Antenatal Day Unit alone was a terrifying prospect, but I actually found it ok. I seem to cry more if Laurie is there, so going alone meant I cried less (still managed to ugly cry once though, go me) which I was ok with. 

Masks, however, made it all feel quite stressful. I found it difficult making myself heard (this feels silly to say now because I’ve gotten so used to wearing masks, but at the time, it felt challenging). I had one very frustrating conversation with a doctor, and although I think it would have been stressful regardless, I don’t think the mask helped. I guess I rely on facial expressions a lot during conversations, so not having that element made it a lot more stressful. 

  1. No visitors

I talked about the benefits above, but there are downsides to not having visitors. I was looking through old photos the other day and found some photos of my first child as a baby grinning at my mum, and it made me cry. It’s heartbreaking that Ettie doesn’t know who any of her grandparents are. Sadly, she hasn’t had regular contact with them or the cuddles that my other children had enjoyed by this age. It’s hard not living near my parents because it means they haven’t been able to see Ettie grow and she’s already changed so much. I’m glad we live in a time of smartphones and social media, but it in no way makes up for being there in person. 

On a selfish note, I missed my mum visiting in the early days because it meant our kitchen was a mess. My parents make my life easier. When I have a newborn baby, they appear with fresh fruit and homemade soup and by the time they leave, the house is less chaotic, my kids are happy, and my load feels lighter. I missed that a lot, especially in the early weeks. 

There are also lots of friends who haven’t met Ettie, and that feels weird. Quite a few of my faraway friends have had babies this year, and we haven’t been able to introduce them. I know this year would have looked very different without coronavirus. It’s been weird to have a year of minimal socialising, and I am so looking forward to things returning to normal again.

  1. No baby mates

I know, babies don’t really have friends, but also the do. I miss the days of going to the pub and plonking the babies down on the pub sofa and pretending they were best friends. I miss lying all the babies down next to each other at baby group. I miss watching them interact, even though it is inevitably scratchy and drooly. 

I am lucky to live a few doors away from a baby group that has found a way to continue in a socially-distanced capacity. That baby group is over-subscribed (as I’m sure you can imagine) because of the limit on numbers. However, the woman who runs it is lovely and is going above and beyond to make sure mums are still able to find the support they need (I think she might be an actual angel). We sit on mats and can’t move around the room, the babies don’t get to interact, but it’s a nice play to go and chat with other mums, and it has been a life-saver. 

I am so glad Ettie wasn’t my first baby and that I already know plenty of mums I can meet up with for walks. When I had my first baby, I didn’t know anybody in my local area, and not many of my friends had children so I would have struggled so much with loneliness if we’d been in lockdown. I feel for all the first time mums trying to navigate parenthood for the first time this year. 

  1. Her baby book is a little sorry

There is definitely a market for pandemic-specific baby groups because the regular ones don’t work very well. There’s a big focus on visitors and cuddles and things that just weren’t possible in 2020. I would prefer a place to stick the facemask from her birth, and photographs of loved ones waving through windows, and perhaps maps of the many, many, many walks I took her on when there was nowhere else to go. Instead, the baby book is like a collection of what should have been—the special occasions and the family meetups and baby showers that were not to be this year. 

To all those of you who have welcomed babies this year, I hope you have found some positives to take the edge off. It has certainly been a strange time to have a baby. 

Saturday, 24 October 2020

Maternity Leave Lockdown

Ettie is three months old now. I don’t know how that’s possible, but there it is. It feels like she has always been here. The pregnancy feels like a distant memory now. I was thinking recently how strange this year has been, and how I’ve barely written so there will be no record of how I felt during this time. I don’t know whether that matters, but it seemed strange to live through such a strange time and not have written about it. 

I wrote that first paragraph a month ago, I am really struggling for time at the moment. Sitting down at my laptop isn’t easy and on the rare occasions I manage it, it’s usually because I have something specific to do. I often find myself trapped on the sofa under a sleeping baby, but that’s not a great position for typing so I’ve been using that time to read books. I like reading books so this has been lovely and I’ve read lots about birth and motherhood. 

I think the past month has felt harder pandemic-wise. I was ok being in lockdown when I was pregnant. I felt pretty safe cocooned at home with my family, knowing we were keeping ourselves safe. I may have been the strictest person, in fact, I was so terrified that one of us would come down with symptoms and it would me stop me having a home birth. We got all our shopping online because I just didn’t want to take any risks, which seems a bit silly now but nevermind. 

Having a new baby in lockdown was ok, too. We didn’t have to worry about visitors and that was quite nice to just spend that time as a family of five (so many) getting to know each other. There are so many hormonal changes happening in those early weeks, it’s actually quite ridiculous how much socialising new mums are expected to do. I wasn’t struggling with breastfeeding or anything so the reduced support didn’t bother me personally. I felt really looked after by my lovely midwife and I didn’t feel like the pandemic had caused me to miss out on any care of anything. 

But now, I guess now that the protective bubble doesn’t feel quite so necessary, it feels more restrictive. Ettie doesn’t feel like a vulnerable newborn anymore, and I miss my parents. It’s hard not being able to see them or my faraway friends. I find all the uncertainty around the guidelines and laws and restrictions quite unsettling. I wish there an end date, I think a lot of people are feeling that. I totally understand why the rules are there and I’m certainly not breaking them, but I think mentally it feels harder now than it did in the summer. 

I spend a lot of time walking with Ettie in the sling. My mum bought me a big babywearing coat to keep us both warm and it’s just lovely. It’s like wearing a big hug and I love it. I wish I’d bought one two babies ago instead of waiting till Ettie. I bought myself some walking shoes, too, which means I can stomp down the canal even when it’s very wet and the path is covered in giant puddles. Every morning, I drop the older two at school and then go for a big walk around where I live. It’s beautiful at this time of year. But I get back home at about half-past ten in the morning and then there’s really much to do until I pick the kids up again. There aren’t many baby groups, I can’t meet friends in cafes, it just feels very different from my previous maternity leaves. 

I go for walks with other mums some days. Other times I end up going for a few walks by myself just to fill the time. I’m not sure Ettie will ever learn things like rolling over or crawling because she spends so much time in the sling. I hope the babywearing coat and the walking shoes will mean we can keep walking every day even when it’s wintery and cold because otherwise, it’s going to feel like a very long winter. This has certainly been a strange year to have a baby, and I’m very glad this wasn’t my first (or only) maternity leave. 

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