Pets aside, COVID is about babies
As for me, apart from our family of stick insects, we have managed to get through the lockdowns without taking on a new pet, we have purchased TWO air fryers and use both regularly and, like any good doomsday prepper, I managed to stockpile children before COVID hit, so did not need to have any more babies (First, I accumulated four, then I got a two-for-one bargain!).
But it did get me thinking: what must it have been like for those who had a baby during a global pandemic? I spoke to four families to find out.
Jane and Scott gave birth to baby Addison in September. Addison is their fourth child. “We found out we were pregnant on New Year’s Eve. There was not much COVID then. We kind of went into the pregnancy thinking that we wouldn’t have to deal with it.” When Addison was born, Melbourne was in strict lockdown.
Liz and Jack also have four children, but unlike Jane and Scott, whose other children are six and older, their eldest child is six. Baby Atticus was born in June. “The break-down of support networks has been a real challenge,” says Liz.
Monica gave birth to her first child, Leon, in 2020, whilst Melbourne was in lockdown. She and her husband Rob are now expecting their second child. “Having babies in lockdown is what we know. We don’t know any different!” she laughs.
James and Kathy are expecting their first babies, a set of twins. When we spoke, the babies were only a week from being born. “So much of what we are doing is to do with pregnancy. We haven’t really thought about what it will be like when the babies arrive. That’s still an unknown, I guess.”
One of the realities of having a baby in the middle of a pandemic is dealing with increased hospital restrictions. “The birth is booked in for next Friday. But there is no rule saying they won’t come before then,” James says. “We are taking COVID tests every few days in case the babies come early.”
Liz had booked a doula (birthing coach) to help her with her labour. “It was super-stressful because I didn’t know if she could come in or not,” Liz says, “She told us she doesn’t do Zoom Doula anymore. She tried it, but it didn’t work.” Zoom Doula? We both need a moment to marvel at the idea of a lady trying to coach a mother through labour via a video call before the conversation can properly continue.
Liz’s doula, thankfully, could be there in person. On the other hand, her husband was expected to go home. “Jack was going to have to leave a few hours after Atticus was born. But I was feeling really raw emotionally … I just really really did not want him to leave me.”
The midwife was adamant, however, and would not allow Jack to stay. Liz decided that if Jack was going home, she would go with him. “The nurse said that was fine, but I couldn’t be discharged until six hours after the birth. Jack was allowed to stay with me until then. But by the time it came to 2am a new midwife had come. She said, “Don’t go! If he just stays in your room and doesn’t come out, I won’t tell anyone.”
So, then he ended up staying. By 8am the next morning he would have been allowed to come back anyway, so he just stayed hidden until 8am!” Liz says, “I thought it was a bit silly honestly. The dad has already been there for the labour. If he’s got covid, he would have already exposed everyone and he’s coming back at 8am anyway. It seemed a bit ‘Computer says no.’”
“Leon was the first grandchild on both sides of the family. So, it was really sad that no one could come,” says Monica, “My dad was trying to make plans as to how he was going to break into the hospital.” She laughs. “He said, ‘Just tell me what ward you’re in and I’ll just go.’ I said, ‘Dad, that’s not quite how the hospital system works!’”
There’s an added challenge for new parents with families overseas. “My whole extended family is in India,” says Monica, “We can’t see them. We probably would have taken Leon to see them when he was eighteen months or two years old, but now that’s not happening.”
Kathy’s parents live in Greece. I spoke to her at the height of Melbourne’s lockdown restrictions. “It’s funny. While it’s hard that my family is in Greece and we can’t go to see them, James’s family is in Melbourne and we can’t see them either!”
Liz misses the support of her children’s grandparents. “It takes a village to raise a family. I think that’s true,” she says, “but at the moment, it’s like ‘no’. Every household is expected to raise their children all by themselves. That loss of network, the loss of a safety net, is really hard.”
With her three older children at school, Jane was looking forward to spending school hours bonding with her newborn in a quiet house. Remote learning has stymied these plans. “I feel a bit ripped off,” Jane says, “but it’s all about adjusting expectations, I guess.”
All the families I spoke to were quick to point out the hidden blessings of having a baby in lockdown. “We had a lot of really positive experiences out of COVID,” says Monica, “Rob never envisaged that he would be at home for the first six months of Leon’s life full time. He got to see Leon’s first smile and he got to see Leon’s first roll. All these things he probably wouldn’t have been able to because he would have been at work for nine hours a day.”
It is easier being at home with a baby when you don’t have to disrupt their routines with outside appointments. “There’s no FOMO,” laughs Liz, “You know how you have a new baby and it just seems too daunting to leave the house? It was kind of nice because I didn’t have to do any of that stuff. If we’d had a terrible night … there’s nowhere to be. I can wake up later.”
For those with older children, lockdown has meant finding time for the wholesome family activities they had always aspired to do. “Lockdown has meant good compulsory fun. That’s definitely been a perk,” says Liz.
Jane’s eldest daughter, Estelle, has quietly joined our conversation. “At least we will have an interesting story to tell Addison about when she was a baby,” says Jane. And as for friends and family who aren’t allowed to visit? “She will just have to meet people later.” Jane says. “If we ever get out of this mess!” chimes in Estelle, with all of the world-weariness her ten years can muster.
Kathy and James gave birth to two healthy babies, a girl and a boy, ten days after our interview. They are named for their grandparents, Kathleen Chrysanthi and Nikolaos Alan. Despite difficult circumstances, the new little family is thriving.
The past two years have been tough. Having a baby is intense and difficult even when the world hasn’t been turned upside down. On the other hand, having a newborn provides such hope and joy in troubling times.
And that, I believe, is worth SEVERAL new air fryers.