Last week was a huge one for us. We stopped breastfeeding for good and we had THREE garden meet ups – two with new NCT friends who we’ve only previously met virtually, and one with my best friend and her partner who were able to meet Sadie for the first time. The sun shone (before it started snowing again), I drank more than one glass of wine without feeling guilty and things felt more normal than they have for months.
Finally, we’re on our way out of (yet another) lockdown, and this time feels so much more positive than the others. The vaccination programme seems to be going to plan, summer is on the way and maybe this time we’ll finally get on top of this thing for long enough to hug our friends, have conversations with strangers in the pub and travel again. At the very least my other half will get his hair and beard trimmed (probably with hedge trimmers at this rate) and I’ll get my eyebrows waxed, which is reason enough to be over the moon.
So why do I still feel anxious at the thought of lockdown ending? And talking to my new mum friends, I’m not the only one.
As all parents know, nothing’s more precious than your newborn baby. Your natural instinct is to protect them from everything big or small – and for those of us who have given birth at this crazy time, that includes a deadly virus that’s sweeping the world. Thank goodness it doesn’t seem to affect children in the same way it does older adult. But that doesn’t mean you want to take any chances with your new little human.
So far, all we’ve had to do to make sure our families are as safe as possible is stay indoors, watch hella Netflix and wait for people way cleverer than us to create a life-saving vaccine. With a newborn, when you sometimes get to 4pm before realising you’re not even sure if you brushed your teeth that morning, staying indoors could not be easier. And for all the downsides of not having the physical support I’ve craved, it’s actually been quite a gift to be in lockdown for this crazy first three months with no pressure to meet anyone for coffee, tidy the house for visitors or sign up to dozens of baby classes. Now it’s time to break that spell, I’ve got mixed emotions.
The main concern for me and my husband is that, in terms of COVID at least, our friends are still young! And that means they won’t be vaccinated for a good few months yet. Most of them don’t have children, have been stuck indoors for months and live (in my biased opinion) in the best city in the world for eating and drinking – so of course they’re going straight out to the pub faster than you can say ‘mine’s a bottle of Prosecco’. And while we’re desperate for them all to meet Sadie and have those precious first cuddles while she’s still tiny, we can’t help but worry about someone giving her the virus. She’s at that stage where she’s trying to grab things and has her hands in her mouth constantly — and you can’t make a three month old anti-bac while singing Happy Birthday (is anyone still doing that?!).
We’re also worried about bringing the virus home ourselves, so every decision to go to a beer garden or a friend’s BBQ feels huge. Of course we’re desperate for the social interaction, and particularly as new parents we need that time away to remember who we are again. I’d love to go the gym or on a non-essential shopping trip to buy some clothes that I haven’t chosen because of their elasticated waistline and button-down front, but every time I’ll be weighing the risk vs. the benefit.
And then there are the baby classes that are due to open up soon. In many ways I can’t wait – both Sadie and I need that support network, and I’m already signed up to swimming and baby massage. But they all come with added pressures – only ten minutes allowed in the changing rooms, instructors not allowed to touch your baby, having to bring your own equipment. For mums who are still new to all this, the added rules feel overwhelming.
As always during this pandemic, the list of ways new mums are unfairly disadvantaged goes on. Other things that have been raised by my peer group include babies being counted in the rule of six (Sadie is literally attached to me 24/7, we really should be counted as one person), nurseries not being allowed to run visits for prospective parents and having to register the birth of our babies from the registry office car park rather than being allowed inside (I still can’t quite understand this one!).
While it’s all frustrating and worrying, I like to think we’ll take a balanced approach – we know the old cliché of getting run over by a bus, and it’s true that there are thousands of risks we won’t be able to protect Sadie from. We don’t want to wrap her up in cotton wool, and we need to get out there again as much as everyone else. But there will be some things we say no to because we don’t want to take unnecessary risks. I just hope that won’t leave us and our child feeling penalised by this pandemic yet again.
UPDATE – SO FAR SO STRANGE
We’re now in May, and have reached the major milestone of being able to meet indoors (thank goodness, because battling the British weather to sit in a wet and windy beer garden with a 4-month-old has been doing nothing for my bid for Mum of the Year). We’ve also marked Mental Health Awareness Week, which feels more important than ever, so I thought I’d give a quick update on how some of the above has been going (albeit a bit late because we’re deep into sleep regression and leap 4…)
I have to start with how good it’s felt to meet up with friends and family again, and for Sadie to see some of the people we care about most – she is such a smiley baby and is really enjoying seeing faces other than mine and my husband’s! My parents are now fully vaccinated and some of our friends are starting to get their first jabs, so we’re cautiously getting back out there. I wouldn’t say we’ve got back to our old life, but we’re taking baby steps!
One of our best days has been a day out shopping at Bluewater. We went midweek to avoid crowds and earmarked which shops we wanted to go to beforehand, but I still felt nervous. What I hadn’t realised is how much Covid has delayed some of the things I would have had to work out how to do with Sadie weeks ago under normal circumstances – driving, bottle feeding outside the house, changing a nappy in a public toilet. It felt totally overwhelming, and I spent the morning looking for any excuse not to go. But luckily the facilities were excellent, we loved taking Sadie on a little adventure, and honestly came home feeling as refreshed as we used to from a week on the Costa del Sol! The change of scenery was life-giving.
I’ve also done a few things independently for the first time, which has done my mental health the world of good – going into London for an outdoor brunch with my girlfriends, and getting a much-needed haircut. This must be a hard adjustment for any new mum, but I think the ‘lockdown generation’ parents are finding it even harder. We’re so used to not being able to leave our babies with anyone that we’ve become overly possessive. The kids are going to have a hard time getting rid of us when they’re teenagers and just want to be left alone!
The hardest thing so far has been the swimming classes. Not only are we not allowed to bring pushchairs or car seats inside as the corridor is being used to give extra space to gym equipment and maintain social distancing, we then have full-size tents erected by the side of the pool as we aren’t allowed in the changing rooms. This means carrying all our belongings from one side of the slippery pool to the other at the end of the lesson, dripping wet, with a screaming baby in the other hand. During the lesson, we aren’t allowed to sing along with the songs designed to engage the babies, and the instructor isn’t allowed to get in the water and help us. The whole experience is hugely diminished.
I’ve also felt the pressure of the diary quickly filling up again. I don’t feel I can go back to the same pace of life we had before, particularly with a new baby, and I’ve already said no to a few things that I normally would have jumped at the chance of doing. I think that will be the same for a lot of people – and maybe it won’t be a bad thing for our mental health to be a bit more choosy about what we do, and spend more time genuinely relaxing at home.
We’ll see what the next few months have in store – the Indian variant feels frightening, and as we’re not vaccinated yet we’ll still be reasonably cautious for now. But finally, mid-way through my maternity leave, I’m grateful for this little slice of normality.