The spring has brought with it both life and death. I became a mother in mid-March, with our daughter Lily arriving just before the lockdown began. The coronavirus epidemic has made early motherhood a very different experience to what I thought it would be.
When I bought my diary back in December, six months pregnant, I already had a few dates to fill in for the year ahead. Weddings. 30th birthdays. Holidays. All cancelled, of course, so now my diary lies empty, furloughed somewhere in the house. I have made an effort to keep track of the days in a separate diary which I keep beside my bed, if only because it helps me keep a grasp on time passing. The entries are domestic and routine, with the occasional excursion outside.
There have been three major trips, all down to Sussex to see my family. The first time was to introduce Lily to her great-grandparents, when she was three days old. The following two trips were for both their funerals. Thankfully neither death was from the horrors of corona, which meant we were allowed a small gathering for each. Ten of us congregated twice in my grandparents’ village, grateful for the opportunity to be all together. The church was closed so instead we stood outside in the graveyard. The sun shone for the first funeral and the heavens opened for the second.
Aside from these sad occasions to gather, we have barely seen our family. Instead, my husband and I stay in touch with them via our phones. We fire off little videos of Lily gurgling away, oblivious to the world’s tribulations. Mother’s milk is all she needs right now. Friends drift by to say hello and we hold our baby up so they can look at her. Isn’t she growing fast, they say. Her growth is one of the few things that makes the weeks seem different at the moment.
I am keeping a closer watch over Lily’s developments than I would perhaps have had time to do otherwise. Looking back over the first few weeks of motherhood, when life felt simultaneously as if it were speeding up and slowing down, I see I have made a note of the day Lily went up a nappy size, which I cannot imagine is of any interest to anyone, including me.
That said, I have found it a soothing experience spending time at home with my husband and daughter, quietly learning more about each other’s rhythms. My husband works at home during the day and I try to keep the atmosphere in the house peaceful, although occasionally mayhem descends. We have tied a collection of old ribbons to a hoop and hung it over the Moses basket. It seems to distract our daughter for a little while, giving us the chance to reset.
Everyone tells you that you will be tired, and they are right, but it is a different tiredness to the sort that comes from missing a night’s sleep. It is a basal exhaustion, which hums underneath life. At times I confuse it for other conditions. Do I have a mild bout of corona, I wonder, and make a note in my diary of perceived symptoms: a few coughs, a headache, a tingly throat. Probably just a case of maternal hypochondria, I conclude, the following day.
On better days, we pretend we are on holiday, by turning up the radio, pouring large measures of Campari over slices of lemon and eating saucisson in the garden. We had pictured ourselves in France by June, with our baby next to a pool. Instead, summer looks like it will be much like spring, at home and with little company. But if the pandemic has taught me anything it is that constant motion is not necessarily good for the soul.
I have enjoyed learning how to care for my daughter without worrying too much about what else is going on and who we should be keeping up with. I worried that I might feel trapped when the lockdown began but in fact it has been quite liberating. We have experienced no ‘‘fomo’’ – fear of missing out. But there is sadness that our family is missing out on Lily’s first few months, which we will never get back.
I discover my redundant diary under a pile of laundry. I make a note in the back pages of the new wedding dates that have been scheduled for next year. “We were holding out hope that we wouldn’t have to send this email …” begins each message from a friend who has had to call off their nuptials.
A lot of hope is being placed in 2021. Until then, I will continue to make a note of the minutiae of our lives. Did the washing up. Called mum. Boiled eggs for lunch. Ordered more soap powder off Amazon. In years to come, perhaps it will be surprising to remember how ordinary life became against the backdrop of a deadly pandemic.
Lara Prendergast is assistant editor of the Spectator
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