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Grounded from birth: Becoming a parent in lockdown

I thought I was being hard done by having a baby during lockdown, but is there really much of a difference?

Baby lying down SI Janko Ferlič on Unsplash
SI Janko Ferlič on Unsplash.

Slumped against the bathroom wall with my wife cuddled next to me, I had just found out we were having a baby. Social distancing was not a thing, nobody knew what furlough meant, and lockdown sounded like a 90s boy band.

What has having a baby in lockdown been like? First of all, you should know that this is our first baby, and even though I’ve been around children all my life (big family), I’ve got nothing to compare the experience to. Secondly, and perhaps most crucially, we weren’t sure if were able to have kids, so for it to happen in any circumstance skews my outlook to the upper end of grateful.

When lockdown first began, my wife was 26 weeks pregnant and she was immediately told not to go into work. I transitioned to working from home the next day. Anxiety was high. The truth is that no one really knows what they’re doing when they have a child. It’s all a bunch of best guesses, unsolicited advice and joking-but-not-quite-joking comments about how much sleep you’re about to miss out on.

Certainly, no one could tell us how to have a child during a global pandemic.

We would watch the news every day, waiting for a hint of what this meant for us and our little Yorkshire pud. Can the virus be transmitted by the placenta? No one knew. Can I be present for the birth? No one knew. Will I be able to take my new family on a day out to Barnard Castle? Apparently so. It was a confusing time. Very slowly, a picture started to form.

I was fortunate enough to be able to be present for the first growth scan but was not allowed in for the subsequent ones. I often think what it would have been like to miss that first scan, that first moment of seeing our baby alive. It must have happened to someone and it pains me to think about.

We ended up having a planed C-section, meaning I was able to be present for the birth. I’ll never forget the moment she first cried, or how I cut her cord, or how my wife smiled when she held her and we both wondered how the hell a 9 pound 6 baby fitted into a 5 foot 2 human.

I’ll also never forget how, 30 minutes after she came into the world, I was asked to leave Jessop’s hospital. I felt useless and my wife felt alone. There was help of course - the NHS staff were amazing - but I should have been there looking after my wife and child.

They both came home 24 hours later and the support of my employer – Sheffield Hallam University – has been above and beyond. Working from home is a definite plus. Not only am I in the next room if they need anything, I can also roll out of bed five minutes before work after a night of broken sleep and poopy nappies.

There are times when I feel hard done by for having our first child in lockdown, particularly when it comes to grandparents and friends not being able to visit, but I wonder how much of this we would have done anyway. Last week it took us three days to go for a walk and that was all weather related. We wouldn't have visited a pub before now and going out for any form of meal with a one-month-old who has a habit of pooping up her back at the most inopportune times doesn't sound appealing.

Is parenthood similar to a lockdown? Yes, in a way. Everything takes a bit longer, there is less choice of where to go out, and you find yourself cleaning your hands at all hours of the day. The difference is that we had a choice to have a child and no one chose lockdown. As humans we need that choice. We need the idea of freedom, even if in normal times we might not use it.

There will be those who read this and immediately take to Twitter to tell me I should count myself lucky, that people have had lockdown worse, which is completely true. I’m not telling you this for sympathy. I’m telling you because right now everyone is going through something: new babies, lost love ones, money worries. We are at a point in our collective lives when we need to be kinder to each other.

We need to take the time to listen, to have a little more empathy and, most importantly, never vote Tory again.

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