Jude and Lyra - 16th February
I was one of the lucky ones. I had Lyra on 16th February 2020, one day before she was due, and five weeks before official lockdown began. This means that she had met family members and some close friends and there was no anxiety surrounding her birth in terms of my hospital stay. In fact, both of my children came in to visit that day and held their new baby sister in hospital, no masks, no gloves, and I was able to enjoy the post-birth hours, with the traditional tea and toast and no worries.
As February progressed I was keeping half an eye on the news. Coronavirus had been making a few minor headlines, and I had subconsciously started to wash everything that I was buying for the baby before use ‘just in case’. As well as this, Lyra had been admitted for a short hospital stay at 9 days old, due to a mild water infection. This caused me to pay extra attention to what was being said about the increasing risk of this elusive new illness. I was still not too worried and Lyra was discharged after a course of anti-biotics.
As time went on, I was reading more and more about the impact of the new virus on other countries, watching videos of people in Italy singing to each other from their balconies whilst in lockdown, but still thinking ‘it couldn’t possibly happen here’.
When I had my first daughter, 11 years ago, there was little to do during those long wakeful hours at night. Thanks to new technology and social media, I was now looking at my phone at all hours, becoming increasingly more concerned with what I was reading. I remember distinctly reading a tweet from a local Doctors Surgery to say that they had been forced to close for cleaning due to a suspected case of Coronavirus. This felt close to home, and I think it was then that I realised it wouldn’t be going away. Still, other people joked on social media about washing their hands while singing ‘Happy Birthday’ and other such British approaches to this illness. I remember looking at Lyra during the quiet of the early hours and apologising to her, that I had brought her into the world at this time when I could feel things were spiralling. It was then that my husband, Dave, suggested I turn off the news and social media - particularly at night - as sleep deprivation, coupled with media panic, had made me slightly hysterical.
On Sunday 15th March (one day before Lyra was a month old), we went to my Mum’s for lunch, as we do most weeks. My sister and her family were there, as they are most weeks too, but it felt strange, as though we knew that it was the last time we would all be together for some time. Everyone seemed to hug Lyra a bit tighter for a little bit longer before we said goodbye that day.
The following day, Boris announced that schools would be closed that Friday and GCSEs and A Levels would be cancelled. As a teacher, on maternity leave, this presented me with many different thoughts and emotions. I felt guilty that I was not at work supporting my colleagues (and a bit relieved at the same time if I’m honest, that I wasn’t having to deal with all the difficulties this situation was presenting in school). I felt sad for my Year 11 and Year 13 students who had worked hard only to have their efforts seemingly reduced to nothing overnight (not to mention their end of year prom cancelled – I was also secretly pleased not to have to deal with the fall out of that)! But, also, I felt a bit robbed of my maternity leave with Lyra. I am a 37-year-old mum of three lovely girls but this was definitely the final child. I had planned to enjoy every second; take her out to places with my sister and her toddler; go and meet new mums and make new friends; enjoy one on one time with the baby while the two older ones were at school. I felt sad that this was not now going to be the reality.
After the lockdown announcement, I made the decision to take my other two out of school immediately, rather than waiting until the end of the week. When I look back on this now, I can see that this is because I needed to make a quick break for my own sanity. At this point, the government were still, optimistically telling the public that pupils would be returning to school in the summer term. Despite this, one of the first things I did was put all the school uniform in a big bag and clear it away into the loft. The next thing I did was sit and cry because I knew everything was about to change (and hadn’t my two older girls just had enough of a change with a new baby sister to deal with)? I tried to hide how I was feeling from them, like a good and responsible mum, but I ended up sobbing as I realised that this would be the state of affairs for the foreseeable future. I wouldn’t have my Mum or my sister for support. I wouldn’t be seeing friends or going anywhere, and I would be teaching my other two from home, as well as taking care of a new baby. This was not the maternity leave I had envisaged.
Jasmine, who is my 9-year-old (the hugger) threw her arms around me and Lyra as I cried. And then Kezia (aged 11 – not a hugger), joined in our group hug while I cried and apologised for everything they might miss out on over the next few months. At that point, the girls told me that they didn’t mind and they were happy to be at home with me, their Dad and Lyra, which for the most part – with only the occasional wobble – has absolutely been the case.
Then everything shut down and it was just us. And it was great, and it was hard, and it was sad and it was happy. We went for walks and played games and ate dinner together and argued and made up. And I sat up at night, not worried or stressed about the fact I might be tired the next day as we had no where to be. I just enjoyed sitting with the baby, watching it get light outside. And I enjoyed watching her little face, with her eyes refusing to close at 3am.
Before lockdown, I had been contemplating stopping breastfeeding. It had been a difficult and painful journey and I hadn’t done well the first couple of times around. But the threat of formula shortages at the supermarket and the fact that I had more time and no visitors inspired me to persevere. This is something that I am so grateful to have achieved for both Lyra and me.
The older two spent time getting to know their baby sister (Jasmine even mastered the art of changing nappies). They learned how to bath and change the baby and were delighted when their efforts to make her laugh were rewarded. Lyra joined our home school class of 3 (Jasmine insisted we took a register daily) and we laughed at the fact that she slept through the same lesson each morning. Lyra watched the girls’ online dance lessons and tried to join in with that and the Joe Wickes work outs each morning, and I absolutely loved having all of my girls with me all day. Eventually my tears for what might be missing became fewer, my Mum visited daily at the window and saw Lyra grow (babies change a lot in the first few months).
Ordinarily, Dave is a busy musician and would be out at gigs most weekends. Often until the early hours on a Friday and Saturday. I have loved the fact that he has been around day and night and he has built a lovely relationship with Lyra, although I know he is hoping that live music will return soon as part of our ‘new normal’.
As restrictions begin to ease and things get busier again, I can feel pre-lockdown pressures begin to creep in again. Yesterday, Dave made the observation that it seems to take us an age to leave the house with everything we need in time, as we are just not used to this pace of life. She has been able to meet members of the family and we have treasured each meeting. I have also been back at work, teaching Year 10, and hoping that they will be able to sit their exams in the Summer of 2021.
But actually, I shouldn’t worry about things like that as they are out of our control. Having a baby during this time has taught me that life isn’t a race and it is good for the soul to slow down and focus on what is really important. I may have brought Lyra into a world of uncertainty, but it is a world where she has two adoring sisters and an extended family who love her and I will not be taking these times for granted again.