Family & Education

The joy and sadness of lockdown with a new baby

Amy Schreibman Walter's baby Max was born in February. Weeks later the whole world changed.


On the day that my son Max was born, in February, newspaper headlines warned of the impending threat of something called Covid-19, and for weeks after his birth, radio presenters would reveal the rising hospital admissions and increasing numbers of deaths. I didn’t pay too much attention; I was high on hormones and busy falling in love with my beautiful baby boy. I was much more concerned about breastfeeding and planning Max’s bris than a virus that felt far away.

When I was out and about in the neighbourhood, people would peer into Max’s pram: the woman behind the counter at the supermarket, the elderly woman I stood with as we waited for the lights to change. I remember remarking to my husband how lovely it was that a newborn baby had the power to make so many people smile. I miss those interactions now: as the weeks went on and news of the virus became more prevalent, I was no longer comfortable with strangers leaning into his pram.

Six weeks after Max was born, lockdown began, and I received a phone call from our GP. The receptionist told me that she was going to have to cancel Max’s routine six- week baby check, as well as my six- week postnatal check -up, and also his upcoming eight week vaccinations. All the GPs were self-isolating and the surgery was closed until further notice. “Everything is cancelled,” she told me. I could hear the sadness in her voice. That was the precise moment when the veil of naivety that I’d been wearing around the threat of Covid-19 was lifted.

Max had his six- week health check via video call; he was fully clothed, asleep and snoring. The doctor was visibly stressed as she told me that there was no need to wake him but just to hold him up to the screen. “This is largely a pointless endeavour, if I’m honest,” she said, shrugging her shoulders. I can’t assess him through a screen.” Later that day, I googled: “Six- week baby check NHS.” My husband and I tried to do it ourselves, but we had neither the skills nor the equipment. It was a frustrating experience.

Two weeks later, the surgery reopened, for baby vaccinations only. Masked and gowned, in an eerily dark and empty surgery, the doctor performed the six-week check a few weeks late, just before giving Max his eight-week jabs. While I’m relieved that he is able to be vaccinated, I remember the easy access to healthcare that I had in the first few weeks after Max was born and I wish for it now, too. There are days I want to call the GP to ask a question about Max but that is just not an option at the moment.

A good friend of mine, Jamie, has a baby boy, too — Harry is just two months younger than Max. Born during the lockdown, Harry’s bris was performed by the same mohel who did Max’s, but where we had upwards of 50 people in our living room pre-lockdown, Harry’s April bris was a virtual experience. “The Zoom Bris was much better than I had thought it would be,“ Jamie told me. “We had about 100 people, which was more than would have attended in person, as, pre-lockdown, people would have been at work. It was a surreal experience to have so few of us in person but it was lovely to see so many familiar faces on the screen, especially during a time where you’re not really seeing people because of the lockdown.”

Leslie Solomon was the mohel for both babies. “The Covid-19 bris has a different feeling,” he says. “Lots of parents quite enjoy the intimacy and serenity of the Zoom bris. Though some parents have a hard time with the whole concept of a virtual bris and no doubt are delaying the bris as a result.”

Jamie and I Facetime frequently; we hold our babies up to the screen and we talk. Euphoria about being a new mother is intermingled with worries about when our families will be able to snuggle with our babies. We discuss the hopes we had for our maternity leave — coffee-morning meet-ups, baby music classes, morning swims at the local pool. The emails for baby classes keep arriving, each one hopefully pronouncing the plan to start the class up as soon as lockdown ends, whenever that might be. These meet-ups and classes are middle-class privileges, to be sure, but when you look forward to these things as staples of your maternity leave, it helps to acknowledge the disappointment you feel about them not happening.

A positive of lockdown is that my husband is home all the time; the bonding time he has with Max is endless, and I can dash upstairs for a nap in the middle of the afternoon while he tends to Max. This much family time at the start of Max’s life feels somehow sacred. Max’s older sister is home from school, and the huge amounts of time she is spending with her brother feels like a very special gift for both of them.

And still, my husband and I miss our mothers, and the rest of our families, with whom we are close. The Jewish grandmother who cannot hold her grandson is an anguish that nobody could have predicted a few months ago. My maternity leave plan involved both grandmothers taking turns to lend a hand with the baby each week; this is a plan I, perhaps naively, hope can come to fruition before too long.

Harry, born in lockdown, has yet to meet so many members of his family for the first time. I have a few friends whose husbands are key workers, so these women are now alone at home with their babies, unable to have their mothers and mothers-in-law help them out. Jamie’s husband is a urologist, working away from London in a hospital; he’s on the front line, so she has moved in with her mother for the time being. Jamie’s mother, who couldn’t meet Harry after his birth or attend the bris, is now getting cuddles with her grandson every day. Some things are unexpected and joyous amid all of this.

I know the day will come when Max will be able to sit on the laps of family members again and flash them one, or ten, of his winning, drooly smiles. Being a new mother is intoxicating. It’s a rapturous experience, falling in love with this new little person and learning his preferences and personality. Lockdown or no lockdown, the three months following birth is a time of being in a bit of a family bubble at home. I just never could have imagined just what a bubble it would be, and I can’t wait to share the delights of Max with the rest of the family, face to face.




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