The reality of having a newborn in lockdown hit Elaine Carnegie hard. The mum of three, mental health advocate and founder of Beingworks explains how to survive with daily acts of self compassion
Being pregnant and giving birth during the Covid-19 lockdown has been a challenging and sometimes lonely experience, but not an unhappy one. Jamie is a beautiful and happy little boy. I’m totally in love with him. But I’ve been through so many emotions and moods since I gave birth in mid April. I’ve had some real dips, particularly in the first few days.
Back in normal times, you would get pretty much daily visits from the midwife to check on you and the baby, but this time those crucial days after giving birth were spent without seeing anybody – there were just phone calls with the midwife, which were reassuring but just not the same.
When I finally did see my midwife – on day 5, when the baby blues tend to hit – she took Jamie off to check his weight and returned to announce it had gone right down by 10 per cent. I broke down. I’m sure there was no intention to make me feel bad, but the lack of contact prior to this and the fact that it happened to coincide with a time when I was very emotional meant I over-reacted. I guess I just needed reassurance.
You can feel lonely with a newborn, especially in the middle of the night when you’re exhausted. Being cut off and disconnected from family and friends intensifies that feeling, because I’m missing out on the reassurance I’d get from them.
I’ve really had to adjust my horizons this time around. What I mourn is the contact we’d usually have in the weeks after bringing our new baby into the world, the visits from friends and family. We’re not getting this newborn time back and my parents and mother-in-law are missing out. My mum is quite down about it all and this has been hard for me. But at least we’re able to stay connected and show our new baby to them, via Zoom and little videos.
The silver lining is that it’s given me precious uninterrupted time with my husband Paul and Jamie’s brother and sister, aged seven and nine. And I don’t have to bother getting dressed and organised in case of guests ‘dropping’ by. If anything I think these circumstances have brought us closer together as a couple. I can see Paul is trying to do little things to help during the day, while I’m doing more in the night to make sure he gets enough sleep so he is able to work well.
But at times it’s not easy. He’s been quite emotional. The birth was traumatic and this affects him too, in a different way. So I’m checking in with him, and that mutual support is more magnified without our friends and family there – we’re having to mutually bolster each other up.
I’ve surrounded myself with a digital support team, friends and family who’ve really tuned into how tough it is, my sister-in-law being one of them. She sent me an amazing message about how it’s OK to feel rubbish and how there’s a lot of unrealistic positivity out there, that you can’t discount your feelings and have to recognise and acknowledge them and ask for help.
I’m checking in with myself a lot and making sure I’m aware of and looking after my mental and physical health. I’m self-supporting. You cannot look after your baby and any other children if you don’t give yourself some time, in whatever form. For me that’s a shower, then putting on the lovely body cream, doing some breathing and mindfulness… that’s my self care.
I’m not beating myself up about not giving my seven-year-old enough input, not homeschooling him properly. I’m being self-compassionate which is so important as a new mum and accepting I can’t and shouldn’t be doing everything. More than anything I’ve discovered that it’s incredible what we can do on our own, as long as we have a reassuring voice on the end of the phone when we need it – whether that’s a midwife, a friend or a relative. In this strange and scary time it’s important to focus on the silver linings.
* Elaine founded Beingworks as a direct response to wanting to make more human and compassionate workplaces throughout the UK.
* If you’re a new mum and you’re struggling, speak to your GP, health visitor or midwife about local support available. Alternatively contact The PANDAS Foundation, or NCT (National Childbirth Trust) www.nct.org.uk