Sunday 4 July 2021

To My Pandemic Baby

I was six months pregnant when the pandemic hit. I remember feeling nervous when it arrived in London and started to spread. I cancelled plans that involved busy trains and decided to stay closer to home. 

The country locked down. Children were sent home from school. The final week of school, I felt guilty about sending the girls in, I knew I should be keeping them at home, but I needed the time to prepare for the lockdown and the new baby. 

I tidied and organised. I ordered workbooks and craft materials. I took a hypnobirthing course. I wrote lists and ticked things off, and tried to get prepared for the unknown. Nobody knew how long the lockdown would last. Some people thought schools would reopen by Easter, but I thought they would stay closed until September. 

The final months of pregnancy were not as I had expected. I would wake early and take Ebony out for our one hour of exercise of the day; that's all we were allowed. We would walk a 6km circular route that took an hour at six months pregnant but more like an hour and a half by the end of the pregnancy. I would arrive home as Laurie started work, and I'd have a bath to ease my aching hips.

The rest of the day was spent in the garden, collecting new freckles and reading books. The girls splashed in the paddling pool or did workbooks in the treehouse, or painted on the picnic table. It felt like a gift, those extra months of the kids before becoming a family of five. 

You were born in early July in an eerily quiet hospital where we seemed to be the only patients. The midwives wore masks covering their faces, their welcoming smiles evident only from the noses up. Healthcare workers touched you with gloved hands, only when needed; there is no time to cuddle babies in a pandemic. 

Restrictions eased just a little. Grandparents came to see you in the garden. They squinted at you from a distance of 2 metres, longing for newborn cuddles. Then, restrictions tightened again, we lived in a covid hotspot, and the numbers kept going up. 

More restrictions, more emergency laws passed and more school closures. Self-isolations, grumbling children sent home from school, days to kill at home over winter. You spent a lot of time getting to know your sisters when they would otherwise have been at school, but you do not know your grandparents very well. 

You don't yet know the chaos and joy of playgroup. The excited screeches of other children and the frustration of having toys yanked out of your hands by unknown toddlers. Instead, you have discovered the world from the safety of a sling. Cradled high on my chest, peering out at people on our daily walks. 

If I'd lived through this isolation the first time, I'd have been lost. I wouldn't have known how to parent or what to do with you. You're lucky I've been through this before. You have big sisters there to play with. You've benefitted from Laurie working at home, and you've been able to spend so much longer getting to know him. This year, which could have been terrible, has been a gift. 

I'm sorry that your first year has been so slow. I'm sorry you haven't had many visitors and that most people have only ever seen you on screens. I'm sorry you don't reach out for grandparent cuddles or have a gang of baby friends to fight with. I'm sorry your first birthday was small and filled with umbrellas in a rainy garden on a miserable day, though you didn't seem to mind. 

In fact, you don't seem to be unhappy at all. You are just the excited, happy little explorer I always hoped you would be. So perhaps those overpriced baby groups where they rub you down with soft fabrics and sing trademarked songs at you aren't important after all. 

Perhaps all babies really need is to feel loved and be cared for. Perhaps they're not bothered about day trips or holidays, or coffee mornings. Maybe for babies, being stuck at home is just fine, at least for a little bit. Maybe these pandemic babies have had a good start in life, with their basic needs met. Maybe they have benefitted from the world slowing down just as much as the rest of us have. 

Happy first birthday, Ettie. I hope you have enjoyed this year as much as I have. 

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