Kat shares her experience of maternity leave second time round – in lockdown.
In December 2019, I left my office based position to prepare for the birth of my second baby. Like my first, this baby had no intention of hanging around and just ten days into my maternity leave, my little boy made his safe arrival into the world two weeks ahead of my due date.
Luckily for me, in December 2019 we were all blissfully unaware how much the world was about to change in the next 12 weeks. So, I enjoyed the winter months finding my feet with a new born again as it had been six and half years gap since my first. Charlie, our baby boy, just loved to sleep – so he spent the first few months sleeping. In late February 2020, we started our first baby and mummy classes, I signed up to two classes. The first was sensory play and baby massage and it was to help with socialising him, and for me to meet other mums with babies the same age. The second was a post-natal work out class where I could take the baby with me and start to slowly exercise safely again. Again, this was with other mums and babies. We were also looking at starting baby swimming classes.
A few weeks into the classes COVID-19 began to dominate the news, and before we knew it March 23rd hit and the UK went into a full lockdown, stopping all baby groups and shutting the schools. I found myself with a 15 week old baby, a six year old at home, and a partner working long days in the home office.
I now had to home-school my daughter and fulfil all the needs of a nearly four month old baby, with the stresses of a very ‘lived-in’ house due to all four family members being at home 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If I’m honest, I felt at the time I was being robbed of my maternity leave. We were just a point where life was becoming a little bit easier, his naps and feeding were becoming more structured so I was able to get out more, meet friends and attend the baby classes. I believe these are for a mum’s healthy state of mind , especially in those early days.
Being in lockdown with a very young baby could take its toll mentally – especially on first time mums which the rest of my NCT group were, they often found it hard and very lonely at times. We ensured we spoke regularly over social media and messaging, sharing any worries really helped, I wanted to really ensure none of us felt isolated or in it alone. I know being away from our families and friends was really tough for a lot of us.
With the classes, luckily some were able to go online, so we were able to take part via Zoom, which helped but it was still hard not getting out in person – the interaction with other parents in those early months really helps. I did a lot of reading on how to ensure my baby didn’t suffer from missing out on being socialised - luckily a lot of the research did show as long as he was interacting with someone, smiling, singing, laughing he was still going to be stimulated and not suffer.
So we got on with our lockdown life, I couldn’t change it, it was totally out of anyone’s control, so as a family we just had to adjust to a new norm with a very small baby in the house and enjoy the time we were getting at home as a family.
At times it was extremely hard. If we had a restless night, or a bad teething day, trying to home school was difficult. I felt as though I couldn’t split my time, and I felt guilty for not being able to give my daughter the time she needed or for finding situations more stressful than I felt they should have been and then feeling bad for ‘over-reacting’. I knew I had to relax the home schooling as we got to mid-summer and it became clearer the schools were not to open until September. I made a conscious decision to keep the three main subjects ticking on in her mind: Maths, English and Reading, and then I let her enjoy the rest of the time with crafts, walks, playing in the garden and, of course, lots of films , this was to keep the balance in the household as happy as we could and keep things positive as we could.
I managed to pick up a few baby swim classes, and a few soft play visits when the restrictions lifted before returning to work in early November. Charlie was able to start nursery, again an experience which was very different this time round as I wasn’t able to go into the nursery on his settling in sessions. I wasn’t even able to take him to his room on drop off or pick up, but thankfully, the nursery workers in his bubble are excellent and it helped me to feel relaxed knowing that he was going in happy, and coming out happy.
I was worried if Charlie would be impacted as he had spent all his time with us, luckily with the ease of restrictions when schools opened we could attend places like soft play which I did, to ensure he wouldn’t be so taken back with lots of children and louder noises when nursery started.
My maternity leave experience in lockdown was certainly a very different one, it came with negatives but also many positives! My eldest got to build a bond with the baby that would have otherwise taken much more time, it was lovely seeing their relationship blossom, the same with his Dad, Although he remained working throughout lockdown, he was around more which helped build that bond in those early months and, of course, I’m so thankful we had our health in these worrying times.