It’s the 16th March 2020. The UK Government is announcing more Coronavirus measures, including moving pregnant women onto the vulnerable list, especially those in the 3rd and final trimester. I look down at myself at 27 weeks pregnant, in my third trimester, on my first day working from home, and wonder where this is all going to go.
It’s Wednesday 11th March, and whilst Corona is getting more and more noticeable in the news, and 6 people have died in the UK, it’s still mostly business as usual. The Cheltenham Races is happening this week, and over 60,000 people are in attendance. I’m working at the office as usual, and whilst it’s technically a clear desk-policy, I have files, papers and brochures in neat piles on the surfaces. The drawers underneath are mine, full with receipts, notepads and a couple of snack bars at the very least. I head out, intending to be back on Monday since I don’t work on Thursdays and Fridays.
On Friday 13th I’m sent a text by my boss telling me I’ll be working from home as of Monday. My work doesn’t have spare IT equipment, nor have they given me a laptop as standard, but luckily I have my own desk, PC, a remote login, and a super comfortable office chair thanks to a close friend who donated his chair to me when I was pregnant with Emilia so I could use it for breastfeeding.
It’s a good, usable set up, and I’m not having to use a dining room chair, or hunch up in the kitchen. I shrug, and set up, thinking it can’t be for long.
It’s the 15th of May and I’m in an emergency midwife appointment at 35-and-a-half weeks pregnant.
It’s been a hard week: incredibly painful back and hip ache when working from home that paracetamol, hot water bottles and hot baths won’t shift; dizziness and near fainting; as well as banging headaches, a nosebleed, so much acid reflux that I was waking up retching; and some watery discharge. None of these are good signs. With my first, Emilia, a nosebleed at 38 weeks got me catapulted straight to the GP, so I phone the midwife centre on Friday morning just to talk it through, and they ask me to come in.
They up my iron intake again so I’m on the maximum iron dosage (I’d already been put on it for borderline anaemia), take a blood test, check my urine, check my pulse, check the baby and generally give us both a once over.
The consensus is that I’m overdoing it, and isn’t there anyone else that can help? At 8 months pregnant I should be resting as much as possible. But that’s not possible in lockdown. There are two adults having to manage with a rocket-powered toddler with none of the tools available that should be there. We can’t take her to softplay. We can’t take her on playdates where other children will amuse her. We can’t drop her to nursery for an impromptu session. We can’t ask her grandmother to come over and look after her for a few hours whilst I lie down. I can’t not pick her up when she scrambles onto the window sills for the 10th time and flings herself onto the sofa, or tries to balance on the high garden wall, as I’m not supposed to be carrying heavy weights, because it’s Emilia’s safety or mine, and hers wins.
The midwife looks frustrated, and asks if my partner can do more. But he’s already doing more. Still, she pushes because she’s worried the pain is potentially the start of pelvic girdle pain, and that can land some people on crutches, and she tells me flatly that it will be a disaster if that happens in the current situation. She doesn’t say why. She doesn’t tell me it’s because no-one will be able to come and help and that R and I are in this on our own.
She doesn’t have to.
Now: late May.
Emilia is the most amazing little girl, and I love her absolutely. She is clever and determined, with boundless energy, as well as affectionate and generally happy. She is also not quite 2, and at that perfect storm where she has huge amounts of agility and problem-solving abilities, and no conception of consequences, no emotional control, nor can she be reasoned with. She’s a tiny scientist, experimenting with her environment over and over again to see what can be done, trying things over and over, and sometimes in different ways to see the result, but not necessarily taking it in. She thinks in three dimensions, because everything is different and interesting.
Since she was born, she has been out and about a lot to help keep her entertained and regulate her energy levels. Softplay, playdates, swimming, classes, anything where she can play and run.
Lockdown means her world has shrunk to two adults and one location, so she is testing her current environment to breaking point instead.
It takes her a day to work out how to climb over the back of the sofa to escape the pen we’d created in the main room with her toys. We install a baby gate on the bottom of the stairs (there’s been one at the top for ages) so that when she does escape the pen it should stop her. She works out how to climb around the gaps as it’s an old cottage with a bend in the steps to get up the stairs. We put bars next to the stair gate across the window seat to stop that. She works out how to open the locking mechanism and then open the gate in 2 distinct stages.
She climbs on everything: windows and window sills are a speciality, but so is balancing on the back of the sofa, or scrambling up garden walls taller than she is, or climbing in and out of her full-sized cot. She’s determined to the point of hurting herself to do the things she wants. She tries to run along the walls where, if she falls, she could really get hurt, but doesn’t take kindly to being stopped. She pulls toys and chairs for extra height to scramble onto the table or the kitchen surfaces. She works out how to balance on things to reach the light switches and turn them on and off. She steals any electronic devices she can find, and without fail manages to either change channels or take endless photos of the ceiling or selfies. She’s fascinated with whatever Mummy or Daddy play with, whether that is kitchen equipment or a cement mixer. She tips drinks and food over without fail to see what happens, and if liquid and different foodstuffs are different smeared over the floor, or on the table, or in your hair. When we do head out, she adores being outside and loves to run around the woods or parks, waving sticks and running at full speed in the opposite direction and giggling.
And without the external stimulus to tire her out, she fights sleep even more than normal. Days without naps are now the norm, rather than the exception, and even after 12 hours awake will fight sleep for at least an hour, but have a fit if she’s left alone.
And all of this is combined with a complete disregard for what her parents are asking her not to do, and having the full-on toddler meltdowns when the world does not go the way she wants it to, because she just doesn’t understand why we stop her. We can go from 0 to hysterical sobbing within 10 seconds, because I lift her off the window sill, or tell her no sharply when tipping a drink deliberately all over my work chair with no provocation.
The things that will make her an absolute powerhouse when she’s older, that will make me so achingly proud of her, are the exact same things that make her very hard work as a toddler, and coupled with an advanced pregnancy, it’s utterly exhausting.
One of the things I miss about being out when at the end stage of pregnancy is the social and nesting side of it. I don’t think I realised how much until it’s not possible.
I found with Emilia, that when I was out with a visible baby bump, random people would smile at me in the street. I never had to stand on a train in or out of London even in rush hour. Strangers (usually older women) would ask me when I was due, whether it was a girl or a boy, whether I was looking forward to it, all with indulgent smiles. And every conversation, every small gesture due to pregnancy made it a little more real, and a little bit more exciting, a little more joyful.
There’s also a gentle nesting, when you go into shops and look at baby clothes and baby goods and accept this will be in your life very soon. You make a physical space in your home, in your life, for a new small person. By this point, Emilia had her own wardrobe, drawers, a teddy prison with toys and lots of little bits and pieces. A lot were second hand, but they were acquired specifically for her. And work threw a huge baby shower, which was amazing and made me feel pretty special.
Now the only real marker is getting bigger and more tired. Many people I deal with on a day-to-day basis have no idea I’m pregnant because they only see me above the chest when video calling, or they’ve just forgotten with no visual reminder, whereas in an office it would be obvious. I have to remind people not to include me in meetings in June, or fix deadlines for when I’ll be done. I never really talk properly about the pregnancy to anyone apart from my Mum, Russell, my best friend and a couple of Mummy friends who know. And a couple of the village ladies who know and ask from a distance if they see me about how I’m doing.
Baby #2 will have space in Emilia’s drawers because there’s no deliveries of nursery furniture right now (needing two people to do so), and use Emilia’s old clothes we kept. She’ll use Emilia’s toys (although not Bagheera or Parsley, I’m sure, as they’re special), and Emilia’s Next-To-Me crib and blankets.
The baby won’t care, as long as she has cuddles, milk and affection, but I feel a little sad that her entrance will be so unmarked, and that for now, her main effect on me is to make me feel like less of a good parent to Emilia.
Being pregnant in the time of Coronavirus means a shift in your identity. I have gone from being someone who works, has an active social life, has a toddler and happens to be pregnant to A Pregnant Woman.
Being A Pregnant Woman is now my primary identity. It dictates how I should act, where I can go, what other people think I should be doing, and what my essential journeys are. It caused rows between myself and R at the start because A Pregnant Woman should be isolating, and doing the food shop isn’t something A Pregnant Woman should do. He was right in principle, but it made me utterly miserable, especially as at the start he had no real idea what goes into a weekly/fortnightly shop. At the same time I was desperate to get out, and have some ownership of my own life and time, especially as someone who used to do a majority of the shopping and cooking before, and instead was relegated to being at home, and then surrounded by things he’d bought that I wouldn’t have chosen, feeling adrift in a place that used to be my domain.
Still, I manage to go shopping for food twice in two months after negotiation for mental health reasons if nothing else, and it feels like a holiday, despite the side eye that my bump gets from some people. Russell does all the other shopping trips. He starts cooking a lot more, so has a clearer idea of what we need, and gets much better at getting things we need so our eating/cooking becomes much more normal, and I like that we cook equally. He gets better at cooking in general, and specialises in certain dishes which is fun. We eat more tins than usual that came from from his initial trips, but we rediscover that tinned soups, beans and fruit are actually pretty decent and ‘tin mountain’ as I call it becomes an oft-time handy lunch resource. It becomes our new normal, and I get more used to him doing the shopping and now barely offer to do it myself. We’re splitting this part of the house load more equally than ever before, and it’s good.
Still, I miss the autonomy in my own life, like a distant glimmer on the horizon.
It’s a Monday night, and I’m gaming on Zoom. It’s the usual fortnightly game, moved online for social distancing, except that we’ve moved it to once a week for lockdown, because, why not?
I love seeing people’s faces, and actually for me, right now, online works. I can do dinner, toddler bath time and sometimes even get Emilia to bed (or Russell will if it’s running late) rather than having to get out earlier to make the timings. Getting bigger, I have my comfy office chair, cushions and a yoga ball to sit on, and when I’m tired, I can head straight to bed without needing to drive.
It’s one of my few bits of unadulterated social, and I treasure it, even if we’re a bunch of broken heroes who might possibly, accidentally, end the world.
And I eat a lot less snacks since I can’t go to the shops to buy them. Which is (probably) also good. Maybe.
(I miss snacks)
During lockdown, a number of memes have emerged on social media. Ones like “if you don’t come out with a new skill you didn’t lack the time, you lacked the discipline”, or “haven’t heard from the ‘children are the best thing in your life’ crew in a while” with a load of smirking, or the general “what a time to be childless” comments. Then there are the more insidious ones of how great it is that lockdown is forcing people to go back to basics, cooking all meals from scratch, families spending time together and the like.
It makes me want to slap someone every time I see them.
Yes, Emilia is the best thing in my life, and I wouldn’t be without her. Yes, I signed up for having a toddler at the same time as a newborn. These are my life choices.
At the same time, I never expected to be physically debilitated (pregnancy does that) when caring for her without any of the tools that would normally be there. No, this is not what any parent signed up for. No, this isn’t normal. I can’t even imagine what it’s like for parents trying to homeschool, or for families where both parents are working full-time from home as well looking after children.
It’s like taking out a tough mortgage after working out the sums on your current income, then suddenly losing your job, and whilst struggling to make ends meet getting smug quips from other people on “what a time to be mortgage free” or sanctimonious comments of “if you don’t come out of this without your mortgage totally paid off, you just lack discipline. Maybe you should buy less avocados?”
Emilia changes every day, and it’s much clearer in lockdown as we all spend all our time together (apart from when I’m working).
Her vocabulary is getting bigger and bigger, and whilst it’s a little like a whole new language for us to learn (for example, butterfly is 'bu-ta-ti', Bagheera is 'Bag-urba', potato is 'Pot-at-u', ‘banana’ is bah-rrra-da with a rolled r, shower is 'shou', sheep is 'sheeee' to name a few) it’s fun to watch.
It’s pretty amazing to watch a tiny human working out the world unadulterated in real time.
Every appointment in the last few months has been a slow microcosm of how the Coronavirus has affected the mood of the country.
My first appointments before March are very much the same as they were with Emilia. Easy, friendly meetings with the midwives, chatting about plans for the birth and general maternity leave. My 12 and 20 week scans are exactly as expected; the struggle for hospital parking, but then the scans with Russell there too, and looking at all the other couples in the ultrasound waiting room thumbing through magazines before going in to see our first look at Baby #2.
As March progresses, the atmosphere starts to shift. My whooping cough booster is an eerily shut GP surgery with the shutters down, hustled through from a distance, although once in with the nurse it’s a normal appointment. There’s a trickling feeling of ‘othering’, that pregnancy makes you somehow freakish, something to be treated differently, rather than integrating it into your own life.
By my 28th week midwife appointment, the midwife centre is locked down to visitors, the people coming in sit at 2m distance in the waiting rooms, looking uncomfortable rather than just chatting happily as we did before, and my midwife is wearing gloves and a mask.
By my 32nd week appointment, the midwives are in full PPE, plastic covers, hair covers, masks, gloves, and the sheets have been stripped off the beds because the stuff underneath is easier to disinfect.
By my 36th week scan, the Women’s clinic in the hospital is utterly locked down, with all visitors and partners banned. I come to the doors and ring in with a woman who is 22 weeks pregnant with her first here for a special check-up due to previous surgery. We stand 2m apart, and I give her a smile. She smiles back and we talk across the gap before we’re beeped in, pulling on our masks as we step in. As we part to get in the lift one-by-one, she looks sad. “This isn’t how I imagined it would be” she says softly as the doors close.
In the ultrasound suite, women sit silently several seats apart. The desk is marked off, and you have to talk from a distance, before they send you off to wash your hands before sitting down.
Ultrasounds are generally happy occasions, but now it’s solemn. Not just because partners are missing these chances to see their unborn children wriggling for the first time (and there are strict signs saying video calls are not allowed during appointments), but sometimes, the news isn’t good. The 20 week scan is called the Anomaly Scan for a reason. You can tell the people who’ve had problems before: the white knuckles around the blue maternity folders, the hunched shoulders, deliberately avoiding eye contact, without anyone there to make sure they’re OK and hold their hand.
There’s nothing you can say. All you can do is go into your own scan alone with a sonographer, where all you can see is their eyes and hear the rustling of PPE plastic.
We do a lot of walks at the start of lockdown. They get less as I get bigger and more tired, but we spend a lot of time outdoors on the days I’m not working. There’s very few people so social distancing is safe and easy. We mainly wave at people from a distance, enjoying the spring and the hints of the long summer to come. I envy the runners and joggers: if I wasn’t pregnant I’d be running every day with the buggy, but it’s all too hard now, and I’m darkly amused by the people worrying about putting on weight in quarantine as I lose sight of my toes.
The scenery around my village is beautiful, and we find extra walks from the local village Facebook page that we never even knew existed as people post photos of their walks. The local bluebell woods quickly become one of our favourite places to go.
Emilia loves it there, and spends hours collecting pinecones, sticks and leaves in a bright yellow bucket.
I get used to working from home.
Some days are good, some are less good, but overall, work gets done and the work ethic is there. I miss the office environment and the contact with others, but I don’t miss the commute and sometimes, when I turn off the computer around 5 in the evening to immediately see Emilia rather than bumper to bumper traffic, it feels pretty good. My team have quick video calls 9am every morning so we hear a friendly voice and talk about our day, and can support each other where needed, and it’s gotten so familiar now that I’m going to miss them when I go on maternity leave the week after next.
I wear less of the smart maternity work suitable dresses acquired from eBay that I had prepared, and mostly live in maternity jeans, leggings but smartish tops and sometimes lipstick or earrings. After all, people only see me from the collarbones up.
Russell can’t work: his martial arts club shuts down early when the gyms close, and despite the comments about building sites being open, there’s no way he can work and maintain social distancing (there’s a reason most tradesmen work in pairs), which wouldn’t be an issue if I wasn’t pregnant and on the vulnerable list.
I organise a 3 month mortgage holiday, and without Emilia’s nursery fees (as that shuts down too), my salary is enough to pay the bills for the time. Instead he looks after Emilia when I’m working, which is a Godsend (the one conference call when Emilia was with me was not a success) and, when I'm free and can look after her, he works on fixing the jobs around the house that have been left for years. We joke it only took the apocalypse to get lots of the house finished!
We now have all the stone work surfaces in the kitchen finished, rather than the temporary plywood tops that have been there for a year, which included ordering drill parts from the US and stone polish, and the walls are fully tiled with sockets. The garden is much more sorted with decent flowerbeds and the piles of hazardous junk and debris have gone (although we have things in there for future work like a cement mixer). The lights are all finally working with switches at the top and bottom of the stairs, and the study now has spotlights. The repointing is almost finished on the front of the house (the neighbours have been giving compliments from a distance), and a number of other jobs besides.
To add to that, I get things online to try and help sort the house a little more: I had started before lockdown as nesting started but it continues now via online deliveries. A bath toy store (in the form of a panda) to keep the clutter in place, a bathroom caddy, multiple shelf organisers in the kitchen so that things aren’t piled on top of each other, a better toy store for the lounge so Emilia can see all her toys, an organiser for my dressing table (which did result in me binning around half the make up there as it was very old when I looked at it), all that sort of thing.
We’re also slowly using all those things just thrown in the cupboards and forgotten; handmade soaps that we’ve never used, bubble bath at the back of the cabinets, as well as binning the hot chocolate powder, the jar of olives and other bits and pieces that had a best before dates of from before Emilia was born.
We might not be able to do things directly for Baby #2, but we can make everything else as sorted as possible. It makes everything a bit better, a little easier to manage, and less stressful. And it’s nice. It’s good to be as sorted as we can be, even if it’s not quite where we would ideally like to be.
When you’re pregnant, the only medication you are allowed to take for anything pretty much is paracetamol. Everything else has a risk of transferring to the foetus. You always have a packet about the house, but generally, as Russell and I prefer Ibuprofen, it’s only a pack. In fact, it’s half a pack at the start of March.
Unfortunately, with Covid-19, suddenly everyone wants paracetamol because there are worries about Ibuprofen, and everyone buying one or two packs upsets the delicate supply chain of ‘just enough, just in time’ that the shops operate on. There are weeks in March and April where every supermarket has empty shelves where paracetamol should be.
Russell looks whenever he goes shopping. My best friend looks for me too. No-one can get paracetamol for love nor money. The midwives even try to get the local pharmacy to put some aside for me, but they can’t because there’s so much demand and whilst I’m ‘vulnerable’, I’m not fully ‘at risk’.
I hoard the last few tablets like gold, sometimes getting through with gritted teeth when things hurt, because if it gets worse, and I’ve already used them up, what then?
We also don’t stock up on Calpol for Emilia before it all hits, just intending to buy a bottle when we need it as we have always done, and we have the same issue that we can’t get any more. I feel like a terrible, terrible parent for not making sure we have plenty of medicine for her, and it’s worse than the lack of paracetamol for me.
Eventually, the supply chains stabilise by the middle of April and both come back, but it leaves a mark, and I find I’m resentful to those people who proudly boast of having 5 packs of paracetamol in the bathroom, or the 10 bottles of Calpol they grabbed at the start ‘just in case’.
When Emilia was born, my Mum came over from France and stayed with us for a week beforehand/during. She was with me as well as Russell in the hospital, seeing Emilia at less than 30 minutes old. It was amazing, recovering from an emergency C-Section as I was. When I told her about Baby #2, I asked if she would do the same, although there was a large chance she would end up on "Emilia watch" whilst Russell came with me to hospital, and be there whilst I adjusted to life as a mother of 2. She agreed gladly.
As it stands, it’s unlikely Mummy will be able to come, especially with the rules on 2-week quarantine for anyone coming into the UK (considering we have both more deaths in total and more deaths per 1m people in the UK vs France, she’s more at risk coming here, but that’s another thing).
I’m very sad about it, but there’s nothing that can be done.
And in fact, working out who can care for Emilia when I go into hospital has been a real headache. We either have someone else break lockdown and come and care for her, or Russell looks after her and I go through birth alone, which last time lasted 37 hours, was pretty traumatic and ended up in surgery. Although on that, you can only have a birth partner with you in active labour anyway, so I’ll be alone for most of it regardless.
We’ve made a choice, but we’re hoping it will be clearer in 4 weeks, but it’s yet another unknown uncertainty in the current situation.
I’ve been working from home for over two months now, and I think about my desk in the office sometimes, an abandoned time capsule of work and concerns in a pre-corona environment. Scrawled notes on presentations from a market research company that was immediately pulled, plans printed for approval for attendance at a series of outdoor events that have all been cancelled, spending plans on a budget that has been frozen. Notes for my boss who has now left, who we never got to say goodbye to in person as her final date came and went within the restrictions of lockdown.
But mostly, I worry about the inane practicalities of leaving my desk in the exact state it was in for my entire maternity leave. How are people going to be able to navigate what I’ve left? Will my projects get picked up as there’s no neat hand-over notes. What if I’ve left a piece of fruit or a salad in there and it’s growing an entire new ecosystem in there? Did I clear out the rubbish?
Did I put all my expenses in?
I email HR and ask if I can come in to clear it before I am officially off in a fortnight. They say no based on the government guidance.
My midwife appointments during lockdown have been emotionally tough. It’s their job to check for prenatal depression, domestic violence and general risk, so they ask probing questions about how you feel, how you are coping with pregnancy and ask for complete honesty.
I have ended up in tears in both of my scheduled midwife appointments since lockdown. From tiredness, from feeling like I’m in the passenger seat of my life due to being A Pregnant Woman, from the relentlessness of life with a small toddler 24/7, then feeling like I’m failing Emilia by not being able to be everything she needs due to being pregnant and getting short tempered due to it, to the lack of autonomy, missing those people close to me, and the upset that my mum will miss the birth. The midwife, her expression hidden behind a mask, hands me a tissue because it’s the only comfort she can offer without touching me unnecessarily, and it feels even stranger and more uncomfortable.
I have been offered a referral to a PND counsellor if I want it, but to be honest, it’s not depression, or hormones. It’s a perfectly reasonable reaction to what’s going on, so I refuse.
My midwife sighs but agrees. “A lot of my appointments are like this. You’re not alone in how you feel,” she tells me.
For a whole cohort of women, the delight has gone from pregnancy.
Something that has been lovely through the lockdown is watching Russell coming into his own with Emilia.
He looks after her on the days I work, and then depending on what’s happening on the rest of the week, either we do things together or I have her so he can work on the house and sometimes his martial arts club. He looks after her overall more than me, and as I get heavier, slower and more tired, he takes over more and more of the chasing her around the house, playing games in the garden and making her laugh. She clambers over him and they have their own games I’m not involved in. He also lets her watch lots more Cocomelon nursery songs on YouTube, which is always a way to her heart.
He’s very obviously now the favoured parent, and she adores him. She calls for Daddy more than Mummy, and when she’s hurt she often goes to him first.
If it was any other situation, I’d be a little sad at being replaced in her hierarchy, but at an end stage of pregnancy, and knowing in a few weeks I’ll have an utterly dependent newborn on my hands to deal with too, it’s actually a bit of a relief.
He asked me a while back out of 10 how I’d rate his relationship with her, and I said 10 without hesitation, because it’s true.
One of the interesting things about pregnancy is how much it affects your body. Growing a whole human is pretty tough. You have 50% more blood in your body, you heal at twice the speed, but your ligaments and joints are much looser to allow you to flex your pelvis for delivery. Plus, by your third trimester, you’re carrying so much more weight all in one place, so your centre of gravity completely changes.
This means, overall, you’re much more physically vulnerable because things just aren’t as stable as they should be. In the last couple of months in lockdown, I have wrenched a muscle under my shoulder blade to the point I couldn’t sit up without help. I’ve turned my ankle over badly enough when stepping into the garden that I was limping for weeks, and in order to get through it I bound it up as tightly as I could and all around the bandage went black from bruising, and it was swollen for even longer than I was limping. I’ve twisted other joints too, although not as badly.
In ordinary times, I’d have taken some painkillers and tried to rest, with Russell taking Emilia to softplay or dropping her off to his family so I could get a break, and he can do things around the house that need doing.
But it’s lockdown. I can’t. Instead, I take painkillers when we can get them, grit my teeth and commence running around after a super-speedy toddler, and then soak in the bath when she’s finally gone to bed to try and ease it all off, or hide in the study working.
My village has pulled together in the last few months to a level I didn’t think happened any more in the UK.
There’s a locals’ Facebook, and they have managed to arrange deliveries from local farms and butchers, and volunteers drop them at people’s houses. Over VE day people put up bunting and sat outside their houses in deckchairs at a distance from each other, whilst a trailer went around playing music from the 1940s, and later a local music teacher sat outside his house and played the keyboard for everyone. Someone else made cake and left them remotely by their garden for people to enjoy.
Various people are growing plants they sell to donate money to the NHS (why I have tomatoes and a chili plant), or offering things for free to swap. A photographer has been taking photos around the village and beyond, and selling the prints to help support the local social club, which is struggling in lockdown. Someone steals a plant from outside one of pubs, and when they put it on Facebook with a plea for information, a resident buys them a new one to replace it simply because it’s a nice thing to do. There are eggs on tables with honesty boxes from people that have chickens, with a request not to take more than a dozen at a time, which everyone sticks to, so we’re rarely short.
People still talk in the streets from 2m, and smile at each other. One of the older ladies in the close next to my house (who adores Emilia) is very excited that there will be two new babies in a month’s time: it turns out one of the other residents of the close around 20m from our house is expecting her first baby 4 days after me.
The other pregnant lady and I talk at a distance on VE day, and I give a standing invite for her and the new baby to come when lock own is over, and that if she’s ever stuck for baby things (like nappies), I’m there. We plan to hopefully see more of each other, leaving it up in the air for the better days we hope are coming.
It’s been gently reassuring, and has made a lot of the days easier.
In lockdown, my garden has been slowly changing.
I can’t do a huge amount as anything too hard makes me pant, and the world’s littlest helper tries to help by pulling out the plants when I weed, or stomping on the plants when paying attention to the flowerbeds. The strimmer and the lawnmower make her cry, and whereas before I could just strap her onto me, I can’t do that now (although Russell has mowed with one hand and carrying Emilia in the other to the amusement of our older neighbour who spotted him out the window). I’m also a terrible gardener, with a gung ho attitude of just ‘shove it in and see’. My elderly neighbour was exasperated enough that she gave me a gardening book to help me out before lockdown to look up plants!
But I have two fruit trees now, a Lord Lambourne apple tree and a Van cherry tree that a local forester brought over at a distance to give some shade in our suntrap of a garden. The flowerbeds, now levelled and decent are mostly weeded with growing plants like tulips and pansies: it was a surprise that some of the things I’d just shoved down last year have actually grown! There are Mystery Plants I put in last year after buying them at the village church fete, whilst I don’t know what they are I hope they’ll be decent. I can’t guarantee they are in the right place (the mystery ferny thing might have an adventure to live by the fence depending on if it grows up or outwards), but I can always move them when I’ve worked out what they do. My Jasmine that twined unenthusiastically around an arch, never getting above head height for years, finally died last year and I put in roses in their stead (one of which had been in its pot for several years having been bought at a stately home with my parents in 2018, had not looked very alive, but I figured why not), which are both growing surprisingly well, if now attracting aphids. Russell has been clearing rubbish still left over from the renovation we never bothered to properly clear, to make it a safe space.
We even have edible things apart from the herb basins I’ve had for years. It’s been a bit hit and miss (the strawberry seeds didn’t grow, but the plants have), one of the raspberry canes is merrily growing leaves whilst the other pretend to be twigs, a few carrots have sprouted, there are mange tout beanstalks with beans, some framberry plants given by a neighbour, and tomatoes on the window sill. It’s all a bit of an experiment to see what happens, especially since very soon they’ll get no love again as I’ll be dealing with a newborn and a toddler, but it’s a work in progress.
There’s green grass too as we water it regularly, toddler toys, and lots of drawing chalk on the patio. It’s a space for Emilia to run around in, draw on and balance on, even if it’s not that much fun on her own (although we’re working on that). Russell is planning to make a giant playhouse, and gleefully watches videos on massive superstructures that would make our cottage look like an annex, before looking sad when I tell him a porch round the front has to come first so we have somewhere to put the pushchair that isn’t the middle of the cottage.
I’m so grateful every day to have the garden. I cannot imagine how terrible it would be to be in lockdown with Emilia and no outside space.
And maybe at some point in the future, due to our efforts in lockdown, we’ll be able to have apples from our tree, sit in the shade of the cherry blossoms, admire the roses, eat strawberries from the flower beds, and swap some cherries for pears with other people in the village — if Emilia is still obsessed with them by then, of course.
In a few weeks, we’ll have another baby.
I wonder what the world will be like by then?