Northern Ireland mums on welcoming a new baby in the time of coronavirus

Having a baby is challenging enough in normal times, add a pandemic and there’s a whole new set of difficulties, as Helen McGurk discovers when she speaks to these new NI mums

Ashleigh Fox and her baby Georgia
Ashleigh Fox and her baby Georgia

‘‘Georgia has now been in lockdown for nearly half of her life,’’ reflects Ashleigh Fox, whose beautiful baby daughter will be six months old next week.

Ashleigh and her husband Emmet from Newtownabbey, are among hundreds of new parents around Northern Ireland who have brought a new baby into an uncertain world, fighting against the coronavirus pandemic.

Ashleigh, 35, said there have been some positives to being a new mum during lockdown.

Kathryn McKenna and daughter Grace

‘‘Being at home for the majority of lockdown has allowed me to get Georgia into more of a routine, further develop our bonding and understand her ways of communicating better.’’

She added: ‘‘I am fortunate that Emmet has been working from home during lockdown which has allowed him to see a lot more of Georgia growing up than he would have otherwise.’’

But Ashleigh has felt the negatives too, particularly not having the physical presence of friends and family.

‘‘Motherhood can be a lonely experience in itself, so the added isolation of lockdown restrictions has been difficult.

Emma Wright and her baby son Daniel

‘‘A common saying “it takes a village to raise a child” really resonates with me as support is essential especially for first-time mothers like me.

‘‘I rely on my family for support, other mothers for advice and reassurance, and my friends for my own mental health.’’

She added:‘‘Georgia is the first grandchild for both my parents and parents-in-law and it has been devastating for them not seeing their only grandchild during lockdown.

‘‘I am thankful that the recent ease in restrictions has enabled visits from our parents in the garden but it’s really tough for them not to be able to give their only grandchild a cuddle.’’

And when Ashleigh returns to work at Belfast City Council, she worries about getting childcare for Georgia.

‘‘Currently I am unable to visit nurseries due to the lockdown restrictions and when they are lifted it’s likely that places will be limited in future to aid social distancing.

‘‘My parents had previously offered to help with childcare however they are both over 70 so I don’t know if this will be a viable option in future due to the health risks of Covid 19 for their age group.

‘‘ Georgia has only known my husband and I for the last few months, so I have concerns about how she will cope with separation anxiety when we get childcare arranged in future.’’

Kathryn McKenna,29, and her husband Chris,30, from Belfast, are the proud parents of gorgeous Grace, who is six months old.

The new mum said that just as they were getting into the ‘‘full swing of maternity leave’’ lockdown was announced.

‘‘We appreciated how vital it was to play our part and strictly comply with all measures, and have the utmost respect and admiration for NHS staff and keyworkers.

‘‘However, like many parents across the world, I did worry that my daughter may now miss out on learning how to socialise and interact with others.

‘‘I also worried Grace would lose her close connection with family members outside of her household.

‘‘But I needn’t have worried. Our daughter is flourishing with the new slower pace of life, absolutely thriving with the increased quality family time we spend together.’’

Kathryn added: ‘‘Grace loved seeing her friendly neighbours every Thursday from across the road, believing the whole street was cheering her on as she waved her arms during the Clap for Carers and Keyworkers.

‘‘Similarly, staying in touch virtually has meant she is delighted to see family now for distanced al fresco meetups in the sunshine, and it’s as though no time has passed when she beams from ear to ear upon catching sight of both sets of her beloved grandparents.’’

On a practical level Kathryn, like Ashleigh, is worried about childcare and about separation when she returns to work as a commercial editor.

‘‘I, like so many new mums in this pandemic, have not been properly apart from my daughter since her birth.

‘‘Therefore, I worry about separation anxiety (for us all!) when I return to work.

‘‘Grandparents who had been expecting to help with babysitting cannot currently hold our babies, nevermind enter our homes. So from a practical perspective, I am unsure how this will effect us.’’

But Kathryn said lockdown has had it positives.

‘‘It has afforded us the opportunity to slow down and cherish time together under one roof as one intimate family.’’

Emma Wright,29, from Portadown gave birth to her second son Daniel right in the middle of lockdown on May 4.

It was such a different birth experience this time round for pharmacist Emma, who is mum to two-year-old Alex.

Emma’s husband, Simon, a doctor in Craigavon Hospital, was only allowed in when Emma was in active labour, which meant she was on her own for a full day in the hospital.

‘‘You weren’t allowed to have any visitors adn the dads weren’t allowed on the wards.

‘‘There was a lady in the other bay who had been on the ward with her baby for four days and the dad was only allowed to see them through the door of the ward,’’ said Emma.

‘‘I did get very sad at one point when I was waiting on the ward because I missed my husband and my wee boy, because by that stage I had been home with him for two months, just me and him.

‘‘Overall it was very positive. The midwives were absolutely amazing, and two consultants stopped by to say hello, even though they didn’t need to see me, just to make sure I was feeling OK.’’

The main thing Emma was worried about was being on my own for the delivery and then being on her own afterwards.

‘‘My husband was allowed to be present at the birth, but he wasn’t allowed to come up to the ward after the birth, so once I left the delivery suite, he had to leave.

‘‘Thankfully he was allowed to have his paternity leave - that had been in question because he’s a doctor.’’

Back home with her new baby, Emma said her mother found it difficult.

‘‘It was really hard for her. SHe was worried not, just the baby, but me as well.’’

But on a positive note, Emma said she doesn’t have to worry about unexpected visitors.

‘‘The first time I had so many visitors I was quite stressed. The midwives said there are now less babies that are under weight,less that are jaundiced and the mums are better rested and less stressed, so whenever this is all over they are going to recommend that you don’t have visitors for the first two weeks.’’

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