I logged back into work, like nothing and everything had changed

For our free coronavirus pandemic coverage, learn more here.

Time bends these days. It’s elastic and shifting. With a new baby it runs like honey, sticky and slow. In a pandemic the weight of it clings to everything.

Recently I sat down at my kitchen table again to work, the same spot I logged off for maternity leave. In front of me sit cherry blossom branches in a vase that remind me that indeed, the seasons are changing.

The first year with a new baby in itself is up-ending. Full of wonder, joy, the despair of sleep deprivation, the loss of freedom, the first smile and giggle and step.

Lockdown has thrown both challenges and advantages to new parents. Credit:Greg Newington

With Melbourne becoming the world’s lockdown capital, my son has also spent almost 190 days of his little life in lockdown.

Cooing over video calls, his first few meals shared with family over Zoom. Our parents group just little squares on a blinking screen.

For us, his parents, it’s meant months of disconnection.

It’s a strange feeling to have left work for such a life-altering event without actually walking out a door.

Our son has only seen his uncles and auntie a handful of times, a few weeks ago we attended a funeral via weblink for our cousin, whom he never got to meet in real life.

Back in July last year I sat in my antenatal appointment alone in the Sandringham hospital, breathing heavily through my mask, my husband nervously waiting in the car outside for ultrasounds and scans.

There was a wave of relief when we found out he could be with me for the birth, our midwives covered in personal protective suits, face masks, face shields.

There are small things I had expected, a baby shower with friends and family that wasn’t via videolink, the thrill of commuters offering me their seats during peak hour or an in-person goodbye to colleagues I adore. It’s a strange feeling to have left work for such a life-altering event without actually walking out a door. I simply closed my computer, packed up my camera equipment and started using our table for what it was originally there for – to eat off.

And then – just like that – our table became a desk again. Like a time warp, I logged in and I was back, like nothing and everything had changed.

The fact that we have had a healthy baby is not lost on us, but the weight of sleep deprivation and postnatal depression during a pandemic is heavy. It’s the haze of languishing in lockdown alongside forgetting to eat, being so time-poor that showers feel like a distant memory, and a persistent fog as all days muddle into one.

A spokeswoman for Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia (PANDA) said their national helpline had a more than 30 per cent increase in callers in 2020-21. In comparison, there was a rise of 18 per cent the previous year.

“Anecdotally, we have heard from our callers and community that lockdown has added additional stress, isolation and anxiety for a range of reasons,” she said.

Graphic: Curtin UniversityCredit:

But she said increased discussion and funding for mental health has helped some mums to feel more supported to reach out for help, be that to their village, PANDA helpline or their GP.

Curtin University researchers surveyed about 3700 Australian parents and health professionals about the experiences of receiving and providing maternity care during the pandemic, and found high levels of anxiety.

The study’s lead author, Dr Zoe Bradfield, told the ABC: “Almost a third of women in our study made changes to their plans for birthing as a result of COVID, almost a third weren’t able to have the support people they wanted at their birth, almost 70 per cent received no antenatal education.”

Another study Dr Bradfield co-authored interviewed new mothers who described having an isolating maternity experience, with one woman encapsulating the respondents’ answers with, “I sort of feel like I am going it alone”.

Jenny Ryan, director of maternity services at Royal Women’s Hospital, said while some hopes and expectations of mothers couldn’t be fulfilled, there have been unexpected upsides.

“Such as uninterrupted time to bond with their baby and establish breastfeeding on the postnatal ward, and having their partner by their side during those crucial first weeks and months at home.”

It’s true that the extra time to bond with our son in those first few days without interruptions was precious, but I found we spent extra time on our phones on video calls in hospital, rather than getting the energy you’d imagine to get from in-person visits. We luckily made the most of times when lockdown was over, we stayed with friends by the beach, we visited galleries and museums and attended a wedding in rural NSW.

When playgrounds are open our son marvels at other children playing. He’ll sit for a good period of time just watching them. A part of me wonders if he thinks, “Other small humans exist? I’m not the only one!”

For a COVID-19 baby he is remarkably social – he will gingerly approach random groups of ladies on park benches, elderly cyclists, teens playing soccer and stand and wave at them, hoping for a smile.

About a month ago we celebrated his first birthday over Zoom. It is an awkward affair – a cacophony of out-of-sync happy birthday tunes, our son staring blankly – trying to figure out what is going on. Despite that, he laughs at people’s faces, points and coos.

He relished the opportunity to stick his fingers and toes into a Women’s Weekly style tiger’s head birthday cake, as a true destroyer. Very little was actually consumed.

When playgrounds are open our son marvels at other children playing … A part of me wonders if he thinks, “Other small humans exist? I’m not the only one!”

Although there may not be many witnesses to his development in real life, he has started walking, developed a penchant for picking flowers and barking at dogs. As a pandemic parent, and maybe just a parent in general, time sure does play its tricks on you. The first year with my son wasn’t what I imagined it to be, but I am incredibly grateful for it.

What felt like the slow drift of time – like treacle – suddenly feels lightning speed and yes, often, it truly is sweet.

Make the most of your health, relationships, fitness and nutrition with our Live Well newsletter. Get it in your inbox every Monday.

Most Viewed in Lifestyle

From our partners

Source: Read Full Article