MY SECOND daughter is a lockdown babe through and through.
he may only be four months old but so much of her life, both in utero and in the big bad world, has already been defined by rules, restrictions, bubbles and state-sanctioned 5km walks.
I found out I was expecting a few weeks after Leo’s first Big Address to the Nation, and told my mum about her new grandchild while we were sea swimming – very on-brand for 2020.
It was inconceivable back then as I treaded water that the lockdown would drag on, and on, and on.
And that when restrictions did eventually begin to lift – the needs of expectant parents and labouring mothers would be so far down the list of priorities. A secondary consideration, it seems, to games of golf, hairdressing appointments, or Penneys hauls.
That’s not to dismiss the relative importance of any of those things – I tried and failed to get an appointment for Penneys – but the lack of urgency around women’s health in Ireland is infuriating, and deeply demoralising.
It’s also totally predictable when the majority of people on podiums are men in suits. What is it they say in business? If you’re not at the table, then you’re on the menu.
Throughout my pregnancy, I tried to regain a sense of control when everything seemed to be spiralling outwards. I signed up for a home birth so I wouldn’t have to spend any of the labour on my own in a hospital ward. I borrowed a birthing pool. I Whatsapped recordings of our baby’s heartbeat to my partner after every checkup.
I also lowered my expectations. Ok, so my partner had missed all the scans and appointments but really, when you think about it, wasn’t I actually quite lucky?
After all, I hadn’t received a devastating prognosis on my own. I hadn’t had to swallow my grief before ringing someone up and breaking their heart.
Yes, I was lucky, and so it was probably best just to get on with it. I know a lot of women who did this – reduced their expectations and downplayed their own experience because someone, somewhere was worse off.
A week before my due date I was diagnosed with Group Strep B which increases the baby’s risk of contracting meningitis or sepsis. The home birth I had carefully planned was chucked out the window. I had to go into the hospital and remain there for 36 hours after delivery.
When labour started kicking off, we dropped our toddler at my parents’ house and made our way into town. My partner waited outside while I was checked in at admissions, brought to a birthing suite, and examined.
And then, for whatever reason – maybe it was a quiet night on the ward, maybe it was the Group Strep B, or the ad hoc way maternity restrictions are enforced – to my surprise and delight, he was allowed up.
In other hospitals, I know that partners have been forced to wait in car parks until the mother has reached a certain level of dilation. Not only does this seem a crude metric, but it also feels as if the onus is being placed back on the woman. “Of course we’d let your husband in, if only your cervix would hurry up and play ball.”
My own labour moved faster than any of us expected; from 2cm dilated to baby-in-arms within an hour. My partner stayed for two hours before being politely asked to leave.
Over the next two weeks I would return to hospital several times as my daughter’s weight fluctuated and then, thankfully, steadied. All the while my partner waited on the periphery.
It seems needlessly cruel that these rules remain in place, especially when in some cases people are being robbed of irreplaceable life events – the birth of a child – while less significant events are given the green light.
It isn’t just the birthing restrictions that have been hard to accept. The sense of isolation for many new mums has been compounded by the extension of lockdown 3.0 in the fourth trimester.
With my firstborn I signed up to every and any baby-related activity going – baby swim classes, baby yoga, baby cinema sessions, baby breastfeeding groups, baby massage courses, even baby raves.
I admit all of the above may sound revoltingly cutesy, but their importance is very real – sharing war stories and discussing how sore your boobs are with complete strangers is an essential part of recovery.
,On top of this there is the lack of contact with extended family and friends.
Our first baby was like a local celebrity – we were simply her entourage. Everyone came to visit and she was cooed over, and doted on, and handed around like a gurgling pass-the-parcel.
The contrast between that and this time round is pretty stark. Most aunts and uncles have yet to hold her, feel her weight, or smell her velvety head. Of course she won’t remember any of this, but I will.
–I need more people in this baby’s life (so they can both share the joy and keep an eye on her while I get my nails done) and I think that’s why I am so keen to move out of the safe, heavily sanitised and sociallydistanced world and back into the real messy one.