When my husband and I decided to try for a baby I had a lovely idea of what my pregnancy and maternity leave would be. There would be family visiting and cooing over the baby, coffee dates and playdates with friends and their babies, breastfeeding support groups, baby swim classes…
I imagined all the lovely things we’d do as a family and with those we loved. Don’t get me wrong I’m realistic and know there’s no such thing as perfect, but never could I have imagined how different my ideal maternity leave and the reality would be. Nor could I have imagined how having a baby during a pandemic would affect my mental health.
My baby was born at just 30 weeks and that’s when my maternity leave started
My maternity leave started way earlier than I expected after giving birth to my daughter prematurely at 30 weeks. The first 5 weeks were spent in NICU away from my husband and family. Baby Freya was so tiny and needed expert care. I didn’t get to take her home as others did and couldn’t see my husband with her until our discharge (you can read my birth and breastfeeding story here). As you can imagine it was a really stressful and agonising time for us.
Once discharged from hospital my husband and I breathed a sigh of relief. We could finally be a family and I could start to enjoy my maternity leave. I was so excited to finally be able to introduce Freya to all her loved ones and start making memories together.
We got a glimmer of ‘normal life’ for a few weeks
Fortunately, when I had Freya, the UK’s lockdown had just ended a few weeks prior. However, Covid was still at the forefront of everything and it was especially on our minds due to Freya being so small and vulnerable.
We were able to go and get coffee and even went to a petting zoo. It felt good to do these things after being in hospital for so long, but Covid was always on my mind. I was always trying to be as safe as possible. I would change her in the pram instead of touching changing facilities and I would keep her away from anyone we didn’t know as best I could.
Covid was always on my mind. I would change her in the pram instead of touching changing facilities and I would keep her away from anyone we didn’t know as best I could.Georgie
My support system was taken away from me
Soon, the bit of freedom we had started to enjoy again was soon taken away from us as a new lockdown was enforced. Once again we were limited to what we could do and who we could see. Family and friends who had only seen Freya when first discharged couldn’t see our little miracle grow other than on social media. My support had been taken from me, I had to go through things as a new mum on my own when normally you could have that support that others had.
Even baby groups were not allowed. The chance to discuss things with other new mums, ask for advice and discuss any worries. The chance to make new friends was taken from us. Shopping for our babies was now done online. Baby swim classes had stopped which Freya and I had really been enjoying together. We were even prohibited to travel to go for a walk and this had been my therapy. I wondered if my entire maternity leave would be this isolating and restrictive.
I’m now trying to cope with perinatal anxiety and postnatal PTSD
We were now confined to our house and the local park. No matter how positive I would try to remain for Freya, I still struggled with not being able to go out and about, take her to meet people, meet friends for coffee, meet new mums at baby groups, and just being able to lead a ‘normal’ life with my daughter.
No matter how positive I would try to remain for Freya, I still struggled with not being able to go out and about…to lead a ‘normal’ life with my daughter.Georgie
I will always be thankful that Freya is here for me to even have a maternity leave but I do feel sad for what I believe the two of us missed out on. I feel for all the mums during this pandemic who have had so much taken away from them and will no doubt return to work feeling they never had a ‘normal’ maternity leave.
One positive that I do take away from this pandemic is that I have been able to spend so much one on one time with Freya compared to if lockdown wasn’t in force. However, I do feel that having my baby during a pandemic has exacerbated the perinatal anxiety and postnatal Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) following her premature birth. After contacting the wellbeing team in my local area I am now having Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to help me.
I have so much respect for all the mums of the Covid pandemic. They have drawn strength from somewhere to carry on despite the challenging circumstances. We should all be so proud of ourselves, and remember to look after our mental health as best we can.
Maternal mental health matters
According to the mental health charity MIND “A ‘perinatal’ mental health problem is one that you experience any time from becoming pregnant up to a year after you give birth.”
If you have concerns about your mental health and wellbeing before, during or after you’ve had a baby then please seek out help and support. Talk to friends and family about how you are feeling, speak to your doctor, midwife, or health visitor as they are there to help advise and support you. You can also make contact with mental health support groups and helplines, where you can speak confidentially.