I gave birth to my first child in early March this year just as COVID-19 started to infect the nation and the toilet paper shortage wrecked social havoc in supermarkets across Australia.
Unaware the pandemic had hit home soil in a serious way, my first days of motherhood were spent in a blissful maternity ward bubble. Just as Australians hoarded packets of pasta in preparation for isolation, I hoarded newborn cuddles, short daytime naps and C-section pain relief in hospital.
It wasn’t for a few weeks after my son’s birth that I watched the news on TV and suddenly discovered that threat was real. In an instant, my idyllic baby bubble was destroyed. I hadn’t even spent two full weeks as a new mother before I was forced to embrace the reality of this new world.
I felt an immediate sense of mortality and panic, and had more questions than answers. What happened to babies who, in a rare instance, caught the disease? What would happen to my boy if my husband and I got COVID-19 and we had to be separated from him? What had I done in bringing an innocent baby into such a world, tainted by a global pandemic and toilet paper quarrels? Much to my regret, the virus had forced me to abandon the state of blind positivity that I had wanted to give my son at the start of his life.
How social distancing hurt
In my first month as a mother, my emotions presented themselves within a confusing mix of hormones and exhaustion. I often felt helpless in protecting my new child from a global threat of disease I couldn’t control. I felt guilt that, due to social distancing restrictions, I was depriving my baby of life’s simple pleasures – like a picnic in the park and time spent outdoors without looking over my shoulder for police or swarms of people doing exercise.
I felt ashamed for feeling too afraid to go for a walk, visit the GP or shop for groceries in person. I felt mean for refusing friends and family – especially my father, a cancer patient and recent widow – the opportunity to get to know the child they had waited years for me to have. But most of all, I felt unprepared – I didn’t know how to mother a newborn during a pandemic and was concerned that I had no role models to teach me how to navigate such disease-ridden postnatal waters.
The reality was that, although I had social support at a distance, my husband, my child and I were physically alone. Yet, in the loneliness of it all, we found each other and I discovered my parenting stride.
I realised that if I could somehow forgive myself for being human, accept that it was natural to feel a degree of fear and guilt as a mother, and learn the importance of being kind to myself during a pandemic, then I would have acquired valuable tools to use for the rest of my life as a mum. So I did just that – each day, I meditated as I rocked my newborn to sleep and reminded myself that I was doing a great job.
My husband and I also relinquished any desire to control a situation that was uncontrollable and instead, exercise power over the things we could actually affect – like our perspective. I decided to use the period of social isolation as an opportunity to create a time capsule for my son.
My husband and I also relinquished any desire to control a situation that was uncontrollable and instead, exercise power over the things we could actually affect – like our perspective.
I invited family and friends to write a letter to his future self, explaining what happened to the world when he was born and what their wishes were for him, once the pandemic lifted. The purpose was for my village of distant supporters to dream about our future and also remind ourselves that one day, COVID-19 would be nothing but a faint memory in the minds of those who lived through it.
In writing my own letter, I remembered what my late mother used to say, ‘all a baby needs is food, shelter and lots of love to be healthy and happy’. The fact is our son really was in receipt of everything he needed, especially love. His newborn heart wanted for nothing and I felt content that I had so much quality time alone with him as a baby.
ISO shielded me from social pressure
The upside of living in a socially isolated bubble was that I remained shielded from common postpartum judgements from people outside my household on how I ‘should be’ raising my child, how much weight I ‘should’ lose after having a baby and how clean my house ‘should’ be while caring for a newborn.
As my husband and I only had each other, we also learned to troubleshoot our baby problems ourselves and had no choice but to work together as a team. My husband wasn’t pushed to the side, as sometimes happens when a new mother invites another female into the household to help during those early days. Instead, he became my fall guy and acquired a strong paternal role in raising our son. Thanks to a COVID-19-induced social isolation, my son now has an involved father with valued voice on matters regarding housework, nappy changes, feeding and sleep. And I seek my husband’s opinion on all baby matters first, before I consult any person outside the household.
A more resilient future
Although COVID made us into a more resilient set of parents, I’m well aware that our parenting future won’t be without its challenges.
The recent lifting of restrictions means that although the disease is still a threat, I can now invite five people into our home. This also means that as I mix my baby with loved ones, there’s a risk that we may be in contact with individuals who are in contact with other people who may have the disease.
But I’ve come to terms with the fact that, without a vaccine, there’ll always be some risk of contracting the virus. I’ve learned to make decisions about who sees my son by balancing the fear of infection with current facts on the rate of community transmission and my emotional need to be physically close (but still 1.5m away) to people I love.
We’ve recently started allowing family and a select few long-time friends to visit our home and spend time with our son. In the past few weeks, I’ve watched my sister play with my boy and witnessed the expression on my father’s face as he observed the colour of my son’s eyes, close-up. As these moments unfolded, I absorbed them – without fear or regret. They were gifts that I perhaps wouldn’t have appreciated in pre-COVID times.
We’ve recently started allowing family and a select few long-time friends to visit our home and spend time with our son.
Now, as I taste small drops of what a socially active parenthood may feel like when this pandemic is over, I feel gratitude. I’m so thankful that, to-date, no one I knew tested positive to COVID-19 and that my son remained protected from the disease. I’m also grateful for what social isolation gave me. It presented me with an opportunity to be protected from outside opinions, time to listen to my intuition and develop a strong sense of confidence as a new mum. I’m now an expert on what my son needs and I’ll always cherish the time I had with him alone, cuddling him as a baby.
Yasmin Noone is a freelance writer.
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