If we’re talking cost per wear, my Baby on Board badge is probably the most expensive item I own. I never wanted one of the plastic white TFL badges (why ruin a good outfit?), and so after a not-so-subtle hint my husband bought me a beautifully designed brooch which spelt out ‘Baby on Board’ in twisted brass.
I loved the ritual of putting on this new piece of jewellery; how it looked against my bright summer dresses, which billowed around my growing bump. But, once pinned to my chest, its glimmer seemed to tease me: there may have been a baby on board, but I wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
For many people, life ground to a halt last year as the pandemic shut down any semblance of normality. For me, it changed beyond recognition. Each lockdown brought its own major milestone: I fell pregnant in the first; had a baby in the second; and settled into life as a new mum in the third (I also got married somewhere in between).
This latest lockdown will spit me out a very different person to who I was when it first consumed our lives. Early last year I was travelling for work, making the most of living in London and utterly selfish about how I spent my weekends. This year, I have taken up residency on a milk-stained sofa, sleep-deprived but happily tethered to a newborn baby. But the thing that’s made this identity shift so momentous is that it has all happened behind closed doors.
It was Easter weekend last year when my then fiancé and I found out we were pregnant. We’d started trying for a baby, but it was still a big surprise to rip through several packets of pregnancy tests and see them all come back positive. We didn’t know what to do with ourselves, so we did what anyone could do in lockdown - went for a walk and let the news sink in step by step.
I don’t know what it’s like getting through the first trimester in ‘normal times’ but having to wait out those precarious three months in lockdown felt like an advantage. No one could see the second breakfast I had every morning, stacks of toast crumbling onto my laptop. Or the lunchtime power naps in front of old series of The O.C. And when I started to leave the top button of my jeans undone, I had Zoom to thank for concealing my little secret.
But I also felt uncontrollable anxiety, particularly about early appointments that were moved to phone calls (what if something was missed?) and scans that I knew I would have to go to alone. It was hard to distinguish between pregnancy worries and the wave of Coronavirus anxiety that engulfed us all; the apprehension about the kind of world our baby would be born into.
When we passed the three-month mark, it was a joy to tell people, even though we had to do it via screen rather than in person. I remember Facetiming my brother while out in the park; the signal was dodgy, so we broke the news and then we were immediately cut off. It felt bittersweet that we couldn’t hug friends and family after sharing such special news, especially at a time when the actual news was so bleak.
As the weeks crept on, I loved watching my belly pop and took regular selfies standing sideways in my bedroom mirror. Having always been so conscious about staying fit with punishing HIIT classes and long runs, I enjoyed being less hard on myself. There was no internal voice telling me I could look better or be stronger; rather I made sure I slowed right down and stopped to admire the fullness of my pregnant body. I’m not sure I would have allowed myself this newfound softness had we not been in lockdown when time itself seemed to stop. I’m certain I would have still been adrenalised by the fast pace of London life: fitting in a million things in a day and keeping up appearances at pre-natal-friendly cardio after work.
But I’m sad there was no real opportunity to show off my pregnant body more. I regret not being able to be out in the world, pregnant and proud. I may have escaped the unprompted comments from people about the size/shape of my bump and the wandering hands after a ‘Can I just touch…?’ (the answer is always NO!), but to most people I remained the same old face on Zoom, now concealing my new state a little too well.
I know for some people the invisibility has been liberating: not having to deal with any preconceptions or special treatment from anyone. One friend who works high up in the City told me most of her colleagues didn’t even realise she had been pregnant. ‘When I came back to the office after maternity leave people were like, “Oh good to see you, have you been working from home?” It was quite nice actually as it meant people didn’t take as much note that I was on mat leave. And I hadn’t missed out on much because colleagues hadn’t seen each other or clients during the time that I was out.’
As Coronavirus affected maternity services, preventing partners being present for all scans and all stages of labour, I found solidarity online from campaigns such as ButNotMaternity, which urged NHS Trusts to relax restrictions, so women didn’t have to go through so much alone. It was important to me to help spread the news of the campaign and so I wrote about it, interviewing midwives as well as the people behind the movement.
When it came to my labour, I did spend most of it on my own, pacing an empty ward at night, clinging to walls during each contraction, after my husband had been sent home. But I don’t resent this, in a way it added to the superhuman feeling that surged through my body like electricity after giving birth.
Even though our son is now only three months old, I sometimes look back at those bedroom-mirror selfies and feel a disconnect with the pregnant woman staring back. Maybe this is something that happens to all mothers: those nine months become a distant memory as the haze of caring for a newborn sets in, clouding all perspective. But much like my pregnancy, the first three months of motherhood have happened very privately.
The selfie-taking has continued though. When I’m out for a walk with the pram (I never thought I’d yearn to sit inside a café with other new mums so much), I often stop in the middle of the pavement and capture the moment with a selfie. Not because I want to post it anywhere, but because I want to remember that yes, this did actually happen and yes, I am a mum now.
It’s a small affirmation in lieu of friends and family witnessing my new role. My identity as a mother has been shaped so independently that it hasn’t been reflected back to me through other people yet – in a shop the other day someone peered into the pram and started cooing over the baby which took me by surprise because that kind of interaction hasn’t happened much.
As one friend put it, it’s like we’re playacting at being mothers because our previous, pre-lockdown lives haven’t yet crossed over with our current existence: there have been no Sunday lunches with friends at the pub with baby in tow or going to someone’s house for a cup of tea and using their sofa to breastfeed on.
While it’s been hard not to share our newborn baby with friends and family (and even harder not to have any physical help when you’re so clueless and starved of sleep), it’s also been an amazing time to just be the three of us. We have embarked on family life in our own little bubble, without the pressure to do too much too soon.
In a warped way, the seclusion has given me more confidence as a mother: I haven’t been shaped by other people’s views or opinions, I’m just doing what feels right to me and my little family. Maybe I’m invisible to the world right now, but I know I’m not invisible to the person who it matters to most, my son.
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