Written by Jess Raubenheimer-Free
It was March 18, 2020. My family and I were traveling back to Dunedin after a visit to Auckland. We'd been visiting family, and all the while we'd been worrying about Covid-19 and whether the risk to us and our daughter was higher while we were traveling. At the airport, on the plane, picking up the rental car - I kept wondering if I had done the right thing by traveling, or if I was putting my daughter at risk.
Fast forward a week and New Zealand was in lockdown. Alert Level 4 meant not leaving the house unless it was for essential reasons (e.g. buying food) or recreational exercise within a 2km radius. At first I didn't think we would be that impacted by it, apart from not being able to see my husband's family. After all, we were already playing it safe, and having a small baby, we couldn't really go out for meals or anything like that.
As the weeks wore on and lockdown life became our new normal, I started reflecting on what it's like to be the mother of a baby under the age of one during a pandemic. We have all had different experiences during this time, but these are my reflections on lockdown with a baby.
Juggling work and motherhood is really hard
I've been working from home for 5 years now, and I've always been really good at balancing my work and life. Working from home was always easy for me, no I never got distracted, and yes I do manage to avoid snacking all the time. But add in the dimension of a baby who needs to be breastfed every 2 hours and a pandemic that means I can't ever leave the house to get some 'me-time' and you have a pretty interesting scenario. Unprecedented, at least for me.
A typical day is me working for a bit while my husband watches our daughter, then popping out to feed her, then back to work, then back to help settle her if she just wants mama, then back to work, then out for a feed again, then back to work, and so on. Sounds easy, but it can be really hard to get into the headspace of anything particularly productive. Often I'm trying to work on something and I can hear her crying, or worse, laughing and giggling with her Daddy. I feel left out, like I'm missing out on these precious moments with her.
I have wondered if it would feel like this without the pandemic going on, and I'm not sure. All I know is that when there's a global pandemic ravaging our planet, you definitely start to reassess your priorities.
Babies need social interaction
Until it happened, I didn't even think about this aspect of lockdown. When we moved to Alert Level 3, we welcomed my mother-in-law into our bubble. The first time she came to visit, we didn't think anything of her holding our daughter or giving her cuddles. Until the tears started. Then it hit me like a tonne of bricks. My daughter literally didn't know that other humans existed, apart from the three of us. She hadn't seen anyone apart from us for 6 weeks, which is a very long time in baby development.
It's taken a couple of weeks of seeing other people a couple of times a week to get her to be comfortable with other people. I can't help but wonder whether this time has impacted her social development. Babies are supposed to see others; their grandparents, our friends, their aunts and uncles. We didn't have a choice, obviously, but I'll always wonder what the psychological impact of lockdown was on my child.
Sometimes it's the simple things that bring the most joy
We've never really been a couple (and now family) who went out a lot or did loads of things in the weekends. During lockdown though we did feel the desire to leave the house from time to time! We started going for walks in our neighbourhood, exploring streets we hadn't been down before and visiting parks we would only rarely go to.
When we're out on our walks I try to look at the world through my daughter's eyes, and it's been incredible how much joy you can get when you do that. Seeing a fat wood pigeon weighing down a flimsy branch, or our dog frolicking in the stream at the park, are things I've seen hundreds of time in my life, but seeing them as though it's the first time has been wonderful.
Being in lockdown has given me opportunity to focus on being present, on enjoying every moment with my family. When your choices of activity are limited to only spending time with each other, you start to see the magic in doing just that. Plus it's the only way to make sure you don't end up killing each other (I kid, of course).
I'm sure as we emerge from lockdown towards a more normal life (even if it's a new normal) other feelings will bubble up, and I'll share those as they do. What are the things you've experienced/learned during the lockdown period?