We have all faced fears in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic: for our health, our livelihoods, our way of life. For me, a new mum in the middle of maternity leave, it was the isolation that frightened me the most. I was five months into my maternity leave when the UK went into lockdown.
Long days with a baby in lockdown
Before the Coronavirus pandemic, maternity leave was just as I had hoped it would be. I merrily filled our days with classes and coffee dates with new friends. We clapped our way through ‘Rhyme Time’ sessions at the library and went for walks with the pram, come rain or shine.
My daughter was only four months old when lockdown was announced. The prospect of long days at home with a small baby, without the structure or support of our day-to-day life, was daunting.
Those first few weeks, I threw myself into lockdown life with gusto. I planned sensory sessions with music, colours, sounds. I attempted baby yoga in the living room (far less soothing than our normal class). I scheduled virtual cuppas whenever possible. In a time of little or no control, creating a timetable for our days gave me a sense of structure.
I was also conscious that my daughter’s world had suddenly shrunk. Even as a very small baby (she could barely sit up at the beginning of lockdown), I worried that her socialisation and development might suffer. We’d gone from baby cinema, playdates and swimming pools to, well, our living room.
Looking back, I put pressure on myself to make those early lockdown days as stimulating as possible for her. It took time for me to realise that a cuddle in front of the telly could be just as important as a song and dance session.
Just the three of us: Sharing maternity leave
My husband is a teacher, and for much of lockdown he was working from home delivering online learning.
The loneliness I feared at the start of the pandemic was softened by popping my head round the spare room door to say hello whilst he was working. We tag-teamed walks so we both had a chance to get some space (and so our daughter, then an exclusive ‘in-the-pram’ sleeper, could get at least two naps in). I berated him for not switching off from work WhatsApp chats. He gently reminded me that our daughter wouldn’t mind sitting in the bouncer for ten minutes. We looked after one another.
There have been frustrations and tears (mostly mine… sometimes the baby’s). But having so much time together has been one of the greatest silver linings of this experience. We have been able tackle the gruelling days of no-naps together. He has been there for almost every bedtime. We approached weaning as a pair.
During the past four months, our daughter has transformed from a baby into a little person who can crawl at a million miles an hour, loves eating (especially mashed potato) and has two tiny front teeth. The thought of my husband missing so much of that time now seems unthinkable.
Accepting my maternity leave experience
The ‘baby bubble’ is fleeting, and some of us will only experience it once in our lifetime. New parents have lost something very special during the Covid-19 pandemic.
I am painfully aware that this sense of loss is not exclusive to maternity leave. From weddings to graduations, so many of us have missed precious moments and milestones during this pandemic. I’m conscious too that I have been lucky in many respects. My husband has been home more than we expected. Our friends and family have remained safe. We even have a little patch of garden! For a long time, I felt almost ashamed at my sadness when so many were struggling, whether it be with their health or home-schooling, furlough fears or family worries.
I’m now at a point where I have accepted that I will never get this time back. Saccharine as it sounds, I try to focus on what we gained during lockdown, rather than what we lost.
I also still have a few months left before returning to work, so am soaking up ‘new normal’ moments that now feel momentous. My daughter’s first time in a shop since lockdown (fascinated by everything). Her face when she went on a swing after the parks reopened (a mixture of joy and bewilderment). Being able to see her grandparents, auntie and uncle again (just beautiful).
Looking back and the return to ‘normality’
At the time of writing, my daughter has spent half her life under some form of Covid-19 lockdown restrictions.
So, what have I taken away from this experience? (There must be a take-away, right…)
Well, I now know all the words to Say Hello to the Sun. I’ve discovered that the washing machine is a brilliant babysitter. And I’ve finally realised the value of a waterproof picnic rug (as opposed to a ratty old blanket) to see us through our socially distanced park meet-ups.
On a serious note, I think I’ve learnt to be a more playful parent – to not fill every moment with scheduled activities. I’ve let go of some of my guilt and embraced the Jumperoo and the telly. And I have seen my husband be a truly wonderful father.
The idea of returning to an uncertain world of work is daunting. I had always imagined skipping back into the office with new work clothes and a handbag (instead of a nappy changing bag or sensible mum rucksack!). Now, I might be reunited with colleagues virtually rather than in real life, and that feels a little odd. But if there’s one other thing I’ve learnt from this time, it’s how quickly we can all adapt.
I always knew parenthood would be an adventure. I didn’t expect the first few months to take place during a global pandemic. I also did not expect it to take so long to write this blog post in between my daughter’s naps. And as someone has just woken up again, it’s time for me to sign off…
Hannah Vincent is Hireserve’s Marketing Manager and is currently on maternity leave.
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