“Lockdown began when I was about seven months pregnant. I work as a school librarian and it was three days before half term, so a lot of the girls had already left as they were worried about the borders closing. Some of the staff had also left in order to isolate, and colleagues began to ask me why I was still there; eventually convincing me to go home.
At the time I wasn’t that worried. I felt that Sherborne was as safe a place as anywhere – although I now realise how many people were underestimating the problem. Early on in my pregnancy we’d had someone at school with mumps, and to me that had seemed scarier when I discovered I’d not been vaccinated. But then someone in my running club in Dorchester got the virus, and I began to realise that it was actually very close to home.
We’ve lived in Piddlehinton for four and a half years, originally moving here as we loved the view from the house – over hills, fields and farms – and thought the village had a lovely feel. But I wouldn’t say we know everyone on the close where we live. One of the reasons is because our front door points towards the end of the street, so when we get out of the car and go in the front door we never really see anyone. I’d helped with the village fete, Paul and I got married in St Mary’s church and I’m in a village book club, so I’d met a few people; but certainly didn’t feel I knew my community well. Not like now.
Once I was isolating I did begin to worry about what Covid would mean to my birth plan: who would be there with me on the day. Because Paul’s a key worker, he had to continue working as a disabilities carer in a residential home. It’s had a couple of scares, with people thinking they have the virus, but luckily so far they’ve been fine. But still, it was a worry, and we had to make a lot of plans around Paul potentially having to isolate or getting sick. Every evening he’d come home and strip off his clothes, have a shower, then do all the washing. We disinfected everything – we still do – and when food was delivered we’d wipe down every item. Just doing all that kept me busy when I first stopped work.
Elowen’s birth is the end of a long journey for me: I’ve been trying to have a baby for about fifteen years. In the end it was two rounds of IVF that got us there, with the first taking place in August 2017. I know that, because I was injecting myself on my wedding day. None of my family or friends knew that we were doing it, which in a way I’m glad about, because we lost the baby early on.
By the time we had the second round I was 43, meaning that we had to pay for it – and it’s really expensive. But I like to find the positives in things, and one of them is that I now see my daughter as the world’s most precious gift. Sadly, my mum passed away three years ago, but the money we got from selling her house paid for the IVF. And I’m so incredibly appreciative of what it gave me; for Elowen’s been wanted for just so many years.
In the end Paul did manage to make it to hospital with me, but the actual birth was quite stressful. Elowen was only 4lb 14 ounces when she was born, really tiny. She’d been consistently presenting as small, with an anterior placenta which meant that when she kicked I couldn’t feel anything. So I had to keep going for scans and it was decided that I should have a caesarean.
This was scheduled first thing one morning, which meant we had to arrive at six thirty, but a couple of complicated cases meant I didn’t eventually go into theatre until five thirty that afternoon. I was on a ward that was eerily quiet, with every person I saw wearing full PPE. So I was really touched when a nurse took her mask off at the doorway so that I could see just one person’s face. Meanwhile, poor Paul wasn’t allowed in with me, and spent eleven hours sitting in a hallway.
When Elowen came out she didn’t take her first breath, so they called the crash team who took her off to a side room to sort it out. And it was an hour and fifteen minutes before they brought her back. Later, when we saw the times recorded on photos on our phones we assumed they were wrong. It was only when we saw the hospital notes that we realised how long she’d been gone. I guess that time just gets skewed when you’re stressed. When she did finally come back, one of the assistant midwives kissed me on my cheek through her mask because she was just so relieved – along with the rest of the theatre team, who all applauded. I think it had been a long day for everyone.
Elowen is my only baby, she will always be my only baby, and I didn’t get all the usual experiences that new mums have; so that does make me feel a bit cheated in a way. One of my best friends was also pregnant, and we’d anticipated shopping trips, meeting up for coffee and things – but none of it happened. Environmentally, things worry me too. Every time the Health Visitor comes she has to wear mask, gloves and apron; which she then leaves for me to dispose of. I can see it’s necessary, but all this single-use plastic is awful. Also, I couldn’t return to the shop to get Elowen measured for the right size washable nappies, so I’ve had to use disposable ones. I’m putting all this stuff into the earth that’s not going to biodegrade in my daughter’s lifetime, and I hate it.
Another sadness is that, as a librarian, one of the things I’d really wanted to do was join Elowen to the library within her first week of life… All these things I’d dreamed of doing when I finally had a child. And it’s annoying that by the time everything’s hopefully back to normal, I’ll be back at work again.
Of course there’s also been a sadness in not being able to introduce her to my family – although there have been a few sessions holding her up to the window for friends, and she’s an official internet wonder! My brother’s got four children and I’ve gone to the hospital to meet each one of them when they were a day old, so I always assumed that he and my dad would do the same for me. In fact Dad only met Elowen for the first time eleven weeks in, and my brother hasn’t met her yet, which I’m really sad about. But again, I like to counteract the negatives by looking for the positives.
Covid meant that I had a lot of time to really relax before having Elowen, meaning that we’ve really bonded. I think that having a baby through IVF makes you so much more attuned to your body; and now I feel a bit like that with her. It’s such an intense way of having a baby that you appreciate everything so much more.
And, while it’s lovely having lots of people coming round, I’ve got a big friendship group and I’ve heard that it can be a distraction – and tiring. Plus, the experience has heightened my sense of feeling much closer to Paul. We’ve felt like such a strong unit in our cosy warren.
In the end, because of how we planned it, Paul was at home for nearly seven weeks, and being in isolation together highlighted that we really do get along. No rows. You’d think that eventually we’d rub each other up the wrong way, but it just hasn’t happened. True, for much of the time he was working upstairs on a book he’s writing, but it was lovely, knowing that he was in the house.
Also, once Elowen was home we had some issues with her feeding and having gastric reflux, but we just worked it out. We had to. I think that when you have a baby a lot of people tell you how to do things, but we didn’t have any of that. Doing everything on our own has made us feel a lot more empowered as parents, for we’ve discovered that we do know what we were doing. Well, we’ve managed to keep her alive this long and everything’s fine.
Paul was a bit low a few days after Elowen was born, wondering what kind of world we’d brought her into. My low point was when he returned to work and I began to feel a bit overwhelmed and quite isolated. I’m part of an NCT group and we talk daily on WhatsApp. But I could pass them in the street and not know who they were. We plan to have a barbecue in someone’s garden at some point – but even then I don’t know if I’d feel safe doing that.
I think Covid has definitely made me warier of doing things, and while I’m sad that I haven’t been able to hand Elowen to lots of people, I think it will now take a while for me to get comfortable with that. Also, and I don’t know if this is a mum thing, but now I wouldn’t put myself in any situation where I think I could possibly catch the virus. I didn’t really brave going out just after she was born, and then it all started feeling a bit too busy for me. I worry, because I know I have tendencies for anxiety anyway, but seeing so many people in town, it can make me feel absolutely overwhelmed.
And that’s where the village has come in; for it has felt like my extended family. Lucy C, who lives over the road, has been my rock. She runs a fertility therapy business and knows my whole journey, helping me throughout my pregnancy. I was writing a diary and if I’d forgotten to update it I just needed to look at my daily messages to her to see what I’d been doing or what I was stressed about. The support on the WhatsApp group is also fantastic. People recommending a great plumber who lives in the village is just a small thing, but so useful.
Some of our neighbours had a baby in February and they knocked on the door, offering their number, then going to the shops to buy me some Ibruprofen. Others showed up with flowers and cards; while there’s been a group organised within the village who’ve collected my prescriptions for me. I’ve been gifted bags of baby clothes, a baby bath, temperature monitor… all sorts of things. I even got a new coffee machine and some oxygenating pond weed off the WhatsApp group!
My greatest hope is that the village carries on this way – that things don’t just fizzle away when everything goes back to normal. Vickey has brought round fish and chips, flowers and cards for us, and I love things like Fab Friday – giving us a reason to congregate as we eat our lollies by the stream. Not everyone is going to go to the pub, or to church, so it’s lovely if something like free ice-cream brings even just six people together; and I’m delighted that my confidence is growing again so that I can now be one of them.
I was born in the heatwave of 1976, which I’ve always felt defines me. Now, for both Paul and I, Covid19 will have an equal resonance. Because Elowen is our most precious lockdown baby, and always will be.”
ps: Thanks to Susie Lawrence for the photo of Piddlehinton church