Parents Reflect On Raising Lockdown Babies
It’s absolutely baffling to consider that, for many people, 2020 will have been the very first year of their life, with the unfolding events having shaped their early understanding of what reality looks and feels like.
We adults have struggled to adjust to singing ‘Happy Birthday’ while washing our hands and following floor arrows in supermarkets. But for those who have just entered this strange and unprecedented world, this is all they will have known.
Many babies will be taking their first wobbly steps in lockdown, well used to hearing their grandparents’ voices over Zoom. They will not know what it’s like to be passed around a function room packed with Christening guests, or have the neighbours pinch their chubby cheeks on the street.
This year we’ve seen rules changed and changed again. We’ve seen backtracking politicians and drive-by birthday parties and heated arguments over scotch eggs and substantial pizza slices. Surreal is perhaps an understatement for a year that has turned everything we know to be ‘normal’ on its head.
Through it all, babies up and down the UK will have been babbling away quite happily, blissfully unaware of their historically significant birthdays as they push up teeth, find their toes and become perfectly accustomed to daddy popping on a mask when out to get cereal.
They probably won’t remember this year, but their parents will. Many of whom will have had to navigate the early days, weeks and months of their child’s life without the usual routines, special firsts and reassuring hugs from best friends.
Parenthood is by no means an easy feat, and this current situation has piled on further Herculean challenges. No longer can grandma simply pop round to take baby out in the pram for an hour, and with widespread economic uncertainty, this is by no means an ideal time to be buying new cots and car seats.
I spoke with a number of parents from up and down the UK who have been busily soothing and entertaining their young babies through lockdowns, Downing Street press conferences and non-stop news alerts.
Many of us can track 2020 through horrifying charts and figures, rates that remind and warn us of our own helpless mortality. But for new mums and dads, this has been a time of new – and jarringly hopeful – beginnings.
For these parents, 2020 is a year that can also be tracked by first laughs and first shoes, of newborns delivered within hospitals straining at the seams.
I spoke with Melissa, a mindset coach, photographer and digital colouring book designer from the Wirral who gave birth to her first child, Grayson, in August 2020. Now four months old, Grayson is said to be ‘rapidly turning into a little man’ who makes his mum ‘laugh every single day’.
Melissa told UNILAD:
With being a first-time mum, I don’t know any different but it certainly feels likes a unique experience!
It’s both rewarding and challenging. I love being able to spend every moment with my son, but I would love to share it with our nearest and dearest. We very rarely manage to go out, which, had it not been lockdown, would be different.
Fortunately, Melissa benefitted from a strong support network during the first few precious months of Grayson’s life. Her partner was placed on furlough for the first two months, which she has described as having been ‘a great help’, and she speaks with both of her parents every day.
As an only child, they really are my best friends so I miss not seeing them and sharing the experiences with them. Grayson is full of character and personality already and they’re having to watch him grow through a screen even though they live less than 10 minutes away.
We have daily video calls with his great-nan, which have been a great comfort for the both of us as she has been isolating since February due to being high risk.
Being unable to see family and friends has been the biggest challenge for Melissa, and the issue of reduced health visiting services has also proven difficult. Grayson has suffered from severe reflux and colic and, in normal times, he would have been weighed and checked by professionals for peace of mind.
Instead, Melissa and her partner are keeping an eye on his weight at home using baby weighing scales, and have visited private practitioners about his reflux.
Despite the difficulties of the current situation, Melissa has learnt to ‘appreciate the little moments throughout the day – even the tough ones’, a lesson that she will carry with her post-lockdown. She even sets reminders on her phone that notify her three times each day to ‘stop and enjoy that moment’.
Looking forward to a post-lockdown future, there is so much that Melissa wants Grayson to see and experience:
As I am breastfeeding it isn’t advised to have the vaccine, so Grayson and I will potentially be at risk for some of our loved ones who are high risk. One of most important experiences he’s missed out on is meeting his grandparents and great-nan.
When it is safe, we plan to spend weekends again together, visit parks and do all the ‘firsts’ together as a family.
Although we have not been able to attend in-person baby classes, we’ve been taking them online. I look forward to being able to take Grayson to classes in 2021 when he is older, to socialise and learn from other babies and have new experiences.
I also spoke with Halima, a 36-year-old author and PR consultant from Manchester who gave birth to her second child, Ishaaq, at the end of March, just as the UK was entering the first lockdown.
Halima told UNILAD that she had been ‘very worried’ about the prospect of giving birth during what has been such an overwhelmingly difficult time for the NHS, explaining:
Back in March, there was a huge unknown and fear around Covid and I’d been largely isolating due to being pregnant, so to have to go into hospital – where the chances of catching Covid were high – was scary. I half-contemplated a home birth!
However, I’m glad I stuck with my plan of a hospital birth. Despite there being limited PPE and social distancing only just introduced, the staff at St Mary’s Hospital in Manchester were fantastic.
For Halima, the lack of support and the isolation has proven difficult, with Ishaaq arriving in a much different world than the one that greeted his three-year-old sister, Hannah:
Basic things I took for granted first time round, like going to playgroups, meet-ups with other mums where we’d have lunch and taking turns holding each other’s babies, was not possible.
When you’ve just had a baby you’re vulnerable mentally and emotionally, and you need a village. Not having that village was hard. However, it taught me to be more self-sufficient, and my family as a unit grew stronger as we had so much time together.
Fortunately, Halima’s mum only lives a short drive away, and has been making sure to send Tupperware boxes of food for her daughter and young grandchildren. They’ve also had ‘visits through the window’, a type of careful catch-up so many of us have become accustomed to in recent times.
During times when rules were relaxed a bit, they were able to take socially distant walks with family and friends, however Halima wasn’t keen on doing too much socializing over Zoom as she became understandably ‘fatigued by screen time’.
Reflecting upon what she’s learnt about parenting over lockdown, Halima revealed she’d come to ‘appreciate small, inexpensive things’ such as ‘just going for walks or being in our garden’:
First time round, I felt I had to always be busy doing ‘stuff’, but with most things like restaurants and shops taken away, I’ve learned to appreciate the slower pace of life.
My daughter has also developed a love of nature, and we installed a bird feeder in out garden, something I wouldn’t have thought of pre-pandemic.
Once rules are finally relaxed, Halima is looking forward to taking Ishaaq swimming, just as she did with Hannah when she was about the same age. She’s also looking forward to Ishaaq being able to attend playgroups so that ‘he can see and interact with other babies and kids’.
Flo, a 25-year-old communications officer and first-time mum from Buckinghamshire, gave birth to her son, Jett, at the end of May during the very height of the pandemic. A time when many of us were only permitted one walk a day, while still remaining hopeful that it would all be over by Christmas.
Now six months old, Jett is ‘teething and trying to crawl’, and is said to be ‘happiest when playing with his cuddly sloth or light up ball’. But it hasn’t been an easy time for the young family.
The birth itself was unfortunately a very traumatic experience for Flo, and her birth plan ended up going ‘straight out of the window’:
I was ignored when I was in pain, wasn’t believed when I said my epidural wasn’t working, and then was almost completely neglected on the postnatal ward; the aftercare was horrific and I really suffered.
I was worried in the lead-up to my birth about being alone in the hospital, about not being able to have support from my partner, about me or my baby catching Covid and being separated, or not being able to care for him myself.
Flo was left with ‘a lot to work through mentally and emotionally’ following the birth, which she believes has tainted what should have been the ‘best period’ of her life.
This week, it was announced that pregnant women will now be permitted to have someone by their side during scans, labour and birth, as long as this person isn’t showing any symptoms of coronavirus.
However, for months now, far too many women have had to endure such significant milestones alone, with many experiencing serious anxiety about potentially having to give birth alone.
With the strictest restrictions in place at the time of his birth, Jett – who is the first grandchild of both sides – was unable to meet his grandparents, or attend baby classes where Flo would have traditionally been able to seek support and friendship from other mums.
As health visitor visits were a no-go, Jett wasn’t seen in person until his eight-week jabs, and this lack of in-person treatment also had an impact on Flo’s post-partum health:
I had an infection in my C-Section scar that I hadn’t noticed and obviously hadn’t been picked up on, as I wasn’t being seen by anyone.
Flo ended up building a mum community on Instagram – which she has described as ‘a god-send’ – gaining the majority of her support and advice from other mothers navigating the tricky business of caring for newborns in a pandemic:
Whilst social media does leave you open to criticism and judgement, which I have faced, more often than not you can get some form of support that makes you feel better and helps you out.
Having not encountered any other babies in the first three months of his life, Jett was initially a little wary around them, but is now getting used to them.
Thinking beyond the current restrictions, Flo is looking forward to taking Jett on his very first holiday, being a keen traveller herself.
Reflecting on what she has learned from being a new mum in lockdown, Flo said:
I have learnt that I am honestly capable of anything. If I can parent during a lockdown and global pandemic, I honestly feel like anything else must be easy!
Even on the toughest of tough days, when Jett won’t stop crying and I am running on two hours of broken sleep, and I can’t leave the house and just go shopping or for drinks with my girlfriends to let off steam… I make it through.
I always make it through. This is a lesson I will take forward into post-pandemic life – you are capable of more than you think!
As per the National Childbirth Trust (NCT), the UK’s leading parenting charity, it’s understood that 2,000 babies are born in the UK every single day, meaning that more than 200,000 babies were born during the most restrictive lockdown period, between March 23 and July 4.
Elizabeth Duff, senior policy adviser at the NCT, told UNILAD:
It’s been tough for many new parents to raise babies during lockdown. Becoming a parent can be stressful at the best of times but most mums and dads are feeling more anxious than usual due to the pandemic.
We’ve seen a surge in enquiries to our helpline. For example, some pregnant women were concerned about the birth experience as some hospital trusts were not allowing birth partners in; about the lack of practical support from grandparents and other family members; worries about contracting coronavirus in hospital.
There is plenty of up-to-date information about the coronavirus on the NCT website, with the charity continuing to provide antenatal and postnatal courses via Zoom.
We’d encourage new mums and dads who are struggling with isolation to try to find local support. We’ve recently launched our Walk and Talk groups which provide face-to-face support from other parents and an opportunity to share experiences in a safe, socially distanced way.
We’re pleased to see new guidance this week from NHS England which confirms ‘that a woman should have access to support from a person of her choosing at all stages of her maternity journey.
NCT and our partner organisations, including Birthrights, have called repeatedly for these changes to be made and it’s good to see new parents’ needs being recognised.
Here’s to all the new mums and dads out there who are heroically soldiering through sleep training and feeding times in a period of profound anxiety.
It’s okay to not panic about everything going on in the world right now. LADbible and UNILAD’s aim with our campaign, Cutting Through, is to provide our community with facts and stories from the people who are either qualified to comment or have experienced first-hand the situation we’re facing. For more information from the World Health Organization, click here.