The name’s HJ – a mental health advocate from Bristol. I had my first baby 6 weeks early on October 11th , 2019. We had a 3 week stay in hospital and for all it was worth, I was relatively high-spirited. Midwives were our family; the corridors became worn with my footprints. Familiar and content.
I had a very calm state of mind, but as it always is with (new) motherhood – it was being tested. I was on a 3-hour feeding regime which meant I was up every third hour, 24 hours a day, to express my milk and feed her through a tube. Breastfeeding was my focus pre-baby. But for a host of reasons, breastfeeding didn’t happen.
Regardless of our tricky start earthside, I adored the newborn stage. I found great calm I’d never experienced before in the heavy, warm weight of her body wrapped in fresh cotton, and I was relishing in the soft cuddles between my dressing gown and the distance between my nose and the top of her head. We were told that due to her prematurity, it would be best to keep her inside as much as possible. To look forward to the Spring.
Spring didn’t really happen in the ways we imagined. In March 2020 we were told to stay inside as the world we once knew plunged into a global pandemic. We were allowed out once a day for an hour. All baby classes were closed. All family and friends were forbidden. The ‘village it takes’ was slowly burning.
We spent the first lockdown in a one bed flat with no outdoor space. My partner was a key worker and worked 7am-7pm for a lot of it. It was me. And her. Every evening I wrestled with the choice of taking her for a walk and wrapping her in a plastic rain cover (despite the heat) in a hope to avoid the deathly bug or allowing myself a run.But again, with great refusal to be defeated and feeling such gratitude for a safe home and a fridge of food, I found joy in making sofa dens, inventing new ways to finish every flake of food in the house, and the turning of the key when my partner got home.
It wasn’t until we moved out into our first family home that things started to change. When life started to ease, I started to crack. Unknown even to me, my mind was a bottle of lemonade. The pandemic kept the lid very tightly on the cap, and shook the bottle up, down, and round for many months. In a bid to protect my mind, everything seemed fine and good. As the pandemic ‘eased’, the bottle cap twisted, very slowly, and out poured trapped energy, anger, loneliness, and missed expectation; bubbles fell out of my mind and spilled on the carpet. A mess no one recognised, wanted to acknowledge, or wanted to clean up. Particularly myself.
I found little joy in most things, which was very against my character. With a baby that didn’t sleep for 2 years, I was suffering from a great exhaustion that made the weight of my body almost unbearable, and rational thinking often went out the window. I had no friends with babies, and I went weeks without seeing anyone. I was luckily furloughed, so although I had financial support, I had no work as a welcome break or distraction to delve into a little bit of ‘me time’. Every morning I woke with a silent dread that I had another day to plough through; time moved like heated tarmac. If I stood still, I realised I started to sink.
It’s a weird one to write about because there’s so much to say, and it’s so complex. But I didn’t realise my own pain until it got so much worse. I had no previous experience of Motherhood to go by, and I had no one close to me that understood – I was the only mother in all my friendship groups, and no matter the compassion of others, motherhood is something you only ‘get’ when you’re in it. It is hard to say what part was the pandemic, and what part was simply the brutality of motherhood – its blurred lines. But the loneliness was suffocating, the anger was terrifying, the boredom was deafening, and the loss of joy was brutal.
As the journey progressed with my beautiful daughter, we realised she had multiple additional needs to support. Due to Covid, I had to attend all her hospital appointments alone. For anyone reading this that can resonate, for those that just wanted a hand to hold, and meanwhile outside the consultancy room thousands of football fans were back-to-back watching the game ‘potentially-but-not-quite-come-home’ – I see you. Your anger is valid at the way we were systemically unsupported.
I often write with an ode to positivity, a twist, and a lesson learnt. But I’m not going to do that for this one. What many of us have gone through does not deserve to be made into a Disney fairytale. Sometimes – it is what it is. I feel completely disregarded when someone tries to cover up my sadness with this expected maternal joy. So, I won’t be doing this here, either.
I just want to be an unapologetic voice for mothers who think they are wrong for not enjoying every minute, or barely any minute. I want you to know that I’m listening.
And through it all, my biggest wish is that these words help those feel less alone and/or a failure. And that the people I love that aren’t on the motherhood journey, can spread the word with honesty, understanding and power – that I suffered, that I despaired at so much of every day, but that they have never seen or witnessed a love and sacrifice like they do between me and my baby. That the pain of parenting in a pandemic and the love of your child can co-exist.
With all my love and admiration to the mothers of 2020,
Dedicated to the reason why and my second heartbeat – baby AG