Pandemic parenthood

As a parent, we are constantly tested, often trying to find answers or navigate new situations when we’re not entirely sure what we’re doing. We learn as we go; we grow into our role. Before having children, I thought I’d be the strict one, that we’d barely allow screens and we wouldn’t restrict ourselves to rigid bath and bed times. Turns out, things are quite the opposite. I’m the soft one, TV or iPad time can really save the day (and our sanity), and our night time routine means that the boys are sleeping and peace (usually) begins by 7.30pm. I look back now and almost laugh and my pre-parent self. How I didn’t have a clue and how naive I perhaps was.

When Theo came into our world nearly four years ago, our lives instantly changed. This little person was suddenly the centre of everything and all that we did. A love that I didn’t know was even possible had appeared and taken over, and so when we found out two and a half years later that I was expecting again, I began to grow anxious about what things would be like second time around. How would we love our next little one as much as Theo? Would the birth be another positive experience? Would we have another healthy, happy baby? At no point, however, did it enter my head that second time around we would be in the thick of a global pandemic which would turn our world upside down.

At eight months pregnant, we were on lockdown. Theo was no longer at pre-school and Andy was working from home; our house soon became a mix of an office space and nursery, and our days were filled with endless activities, limited resources… and a great deal of chaos. Looking back, there were so many positives in that I had bonus time with Theo before the baby arrived, and I love that we learned to slow down and enjoy simple things. But, at times the days did drag and there were many occasions where I felt cheated – this wasn’t the start of the maternity leave that I had planned. I was exhausted, we couldn’t see family or friends and of course I was growing apprehensive about bringing a baby into a world filled with so much uncertainty.

Wilf’s whirlwind entrance shone a new perspective on things though. For all my initial worries, he had his own agenda and he clearly wasn’t too keen to be in a hospital during a pandemic either, hence arriving in my car on the way to the hospital one Sunday morning. It’s as if the birth was the icing on the cake of the strangest, most unpredictable few months. The worries I’d had were instantly eliviated because our love suddenly doubled as another happy healthy boy became part of our little family. And of course, seeing Theo as a big brother, doting on this tiny little baby, brought about an even newer, even richer love.

Nesting as a four in many ways was wonderful. Our little bubble felt safe and so special too. We were forced to get on with things and find our way without being inundated with visitors, and all of our days were spent at home aside from an hour’s walk each day. This was so different to when Theo was born, when each day we would have family or friends over or we ventured out of the house more. Lockdown with a newborn could be seen as a blessing in disguise, but equally, it brought many challenges too.

To this day, and for many more I am sure, I struggle with the fact that we were unable to share newborn baby Wilf with our family and friends. There were no cuddles like there were with Theo. There was no closeness. Yes, we made the most of window visits and Facetime calls, all of which I have such fond and wonderful memories of, and we learned to be creative with distanced visits and virtual meet ups. But it wasn’t easy. I try not to let it sadden me that we will never get those days back and instead I focus on the different memories that were created – memories that we will continue to relive as we tell Wilf when he’s older about when he was born into this world. A friend whose little one is a month younger than Wilf summed it up perfectly when I saw her – that the focus on these pandemic babies has been so much about protecting them, that at times its it’s taken away from celebrating them.

I’m sure there’s a wiring within us women that means that the minute we are pregnant, worries or guilt of some sort begin. We constantly question whether we are doing the right thing and always find something to be concerned about about, be it big or small. When I was pregnant with Theo, this was certainly the case, particularly as I worried about the unknown about the birth and then parenting. Looking back though, being none-the-wiser was actually pretty wonderful. Carrying Wilf, I felt so much more relaxed in many ways yet at the same time was apprehensive because I knew what was to come. Plus, recovering from labour followed by sleepless nights and the early months with a newborn was going to be harder this time around – not just because we had a three year old, but because the pandemic meant that our support network was now very different.

As a new parent, nothing could have prepared me for the consuming desire to protect my child. I would do anything, literally anything for them. Bringing a baby into the world during a pandemic exasbabted this feeling so much more, to the point where when lockdown began to ease, I had to battle new anxieties that were buried within me. Naturally with a newborn, I worried that Wilf might be too hot or too cold, or hungry or maybe he was windy. But I just got on with it and my instinct meant that it was so much more natural and relaxed second time around to tend to him, despite his colic and reflux. I felt like I knew what I was doing so much more this time. Yet things were harder this time around and there were challenges that I didn’t face when Theo was a baby. Going out with the two boys on walks, I became terrified of anywhere that was remotely busy. I became angry at those who weren’t keeping their distance. I became upset seeing families together with grandparents, knowing that they were breaking the rules. Suddenly, having a newborn almost became the easy part. The hard part was managing everything else.

It took me a while to feel comfortable with even distanced visits with family and friends. It all felt so odd and unnatural, and whilst I was desperate for contact and for people to properly meet Wilf, I worried so much too. I understand the severity of the virus and why we have all been made to fear it, but to this day I still struggle with what we can and can’t do, and particularly in those early weeks and months with a newborn, things have felt very fragile. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined we would be raising two young children in this chaos.

As lockdown eased, it took a while for me to get to grips with venturing out. I remember my first trip to the supermarket when Wilf was around three months old. For all my worries, I couldn’t get over how safe it actually felt – there was barely anyone around and I managed the whole mask, anti-bac and baby-wearing routine pretty well. Plus, Wilf was fascinated by the lights and the colours, and to him this was a whole new sensory overload. The same trip with Theo in tow though was quite different. Aged three and a half, he is hugely inquisitive and I found myself forever asking him not to touch things and stay close to me. But, we’ve found our way and I’ve now learned to manage that this is now the new normal. But be it the supermarket, going to the park or even out for lunch, life is certainly different not only with two children rather than one, but now managing the new ways of life because of the pandemic. As well, I’m not sure whether I should have felt proud or sad that Theo once asked me for anti-bac because another child touched his hand in the park. How brilliant that he is so aware, I first thought. But at the same time, surely this sort of thought shouldn’t be going through the head of a little one?

Parenting in a pandemic requires a great deal of strength and creativity, I’ve realised. You have to find ways to adapt, find new ways of doing things and be strong in managing uncertain times and situations, because still, we just don’t know what’s around the corner. We have to protect our little ones and keep them safe, and of course, ourselves too. But we mustn’t forget our own sanity and the need to look after ourselves, which is easier said than done with so many restrictions. It’s not as easy to meet up with people now that the rule of six has been brought back in, and it’s not easy to be spontaneous any more. But, we know that we’ve just got to get through this. Together.

Wilf is now six months old and is yet to have had snuggles with many of our friends. He’s met Andy’s parents once and we have no idea when the next time will be. It’s hard to believe that this is the way, but it is, and that’s why I find it hard when we compare things to those early months with Theo when there was so much freedom. It’s not what we would have imagined or wished, but these circumstances have definitely made our little family stronger and the bonds even tighter.

Parenting in a pandemic is a huge test of sanity and strength… so hats off to all those who are finding new normals and trying their best. 2020 has been a strange old year and I’ve lost count of how many people I’ve heard say that they are done with this year and to roll on 2021. But whilst its come with all its challenges, 2020 for us has brought us our little Wilf, who amongst so much chaos and uncertainty brings us so much joy and so many smiles. No doubt many new parents are finding this year hard as they navigate life with a newborn and a new normal. So to all the new mums and dads out there and their 2020 babies, here’s to you. Parenting is tough, as is this pandemic, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that our little ones are all pretty wonderful.

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