Born amid the UK’s first national lockdown, I remember my son’s birth like it was yesterday.
I remember spending the days before filled with panic and dread. As a high-risk mother with gestational diabetes, pregnancy-induced hypertension and an autoimmune disease, he was to be born two weeks early by caesarean section.
Not only that, it was a time where partners of pregnant people were being told that they could not attend the births of their own child, at least until the person was in active labour.
I was lucky. My partner was allowed to attend, and stayed with me both before and after — the latter of which was only for one hour; but as I said, we were lucky.
Due to complications, I had to stay in the hospital alone with our newborn for four days. Struggling after the surgery, it was painful to bend down to change nappies and sleepsuits. But I persevered. I had been diagnosed with MRSA just one day before the procedure, and so I had been kept in a side room, of which the nurses barely entered because it meant gowning up in full PPE each time. My partner was only allowed to visit once a day for one hour, so for the first four days of my son’s life, it was just me and him.
It was a lonely, scary and confusing time. I couldn’t wait to get out of the hospital to experience something more ‘normal’. But what I have experienced as a new mother, right up until no longer being a ‘new’ mother, has been far from normal.
My own mum didn’t hold my son for months, time we’ll never be able to get back.
We didn’t get to experience the joys (and annoyances) of people turning up on our doorstep every twenty minutes to see the baby. We didn’t have any help from friends or family members. No respite to catch up on sleep or to grab a shower. Instead, it was just myself, my partner, and our son – which was lovely to have that somewhat abnormal early family alone time, but still heartbreaking. Family meets were done over FaceTime or across the drive. My own mum didn’t hold my son for months, time we’ll never be able to get back.
But it’s not just sentimental or emotional things like this that have been hard. In my time of writing, we have seen a health visitor twice: once just after our son was born, to get him weighed and to do checks, and once very recently to check my son’s development.
Apparently, everything is fine and my son is developing brilliantly — which is great news. But before we knew this, and still now, to be honest, it’s still a worry. My son, in his life so far, has only met one other baby once. I remember his face lighting up, as though he was in a complete other world. It was amazing but awful to see. It reminded me of everything he’s missed out on in his start to life: cuddles with family members; days out; trips to baby groups; the ability to be able to explore the world as we knew it before the pandemic.
I’ve worried about his development constantly. How will this new world affect him? If we return to normal, will he be an overly anxious, clingy child? Is he meeting all of his milestones? How do I know if he isn’t?
I was diagnosed with postnatal depression six months after giving birth. Not because that’s when it started (which was just weeks after birth), but because that’s how long it took me to seek help. It was actually my health visitor who I called — who’d had no idea (not just because I hadn’t told her), but because she hadn’t been there to see the signs.
How will this new world affect him? If we return to normal, will he be an overly anxious, clingy child? Is he meeting all of his milestones? How do I know if he isn’t?
I know I am not alone. There have been frequent reports of new mothers having not seen vital care providers since giving birth, and an increase in postnatal mental health issues. According to a 2020 survey by online chat forum Mumsnet, out of 1,517 users, 88% say they couldn’t attend parent and baby groups due to pandemic restrictions, while 74% say they have had fewer visits at home from midwives or health visitors.
With my son turning one in April, I know I am lucky to have at least seen my health visitor those couple of times; some of my friends, who had babies around the same time, haven’t even had that. Instead, they’ve been left in complete limbo, unsure of what to make of being a new mother.
It feels like new mothers have been forgotten about in this pandemic; and with mental health issues on the rise, this seems more damaging than ever.
I made the most of my son’s birthday, even though it was just a very, very small do with myself and my partner and my mum. But it was hard. It was hard to not have a room full of babies playing with his toys. It was hard not to have my friends there to support me. And it was heartbreaking not having all the people I know and love there to encourage him to blow out his first birthday candle.
Hattie Gladwell is a freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter at @hatttiegladwell
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This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.