Whilst many of us might like to erase 2020, can we really go back to life as if it never happened? Time passed, life happened, people died, babies were born and hence so too were mothers. The ‘With Child’ project tells the stories of these births: women’s experience of pregnancy, labour and the transition into motherhood during a pandemic, events which have changed their lives forever.
The project consists of a growing series of embroidered testimonies, currently existing apart in ‘Zoom’ shaped windows, one day to be joined together in the form of a baby’s blanket. It all started as an expression of my own feelings in the first few months of the pandemic arriving in the UK.
In February 2020, I was early career artist, pregnant with my first baby, and trying to establish myself through a once in a lifetime residency in Central Saint Martin’s print studio. The arrival of lockdown in March came after six weeks stuck at home with relentless ‘morning’ sickness. It all but extinguished my hopes of returning to the residency and with it took my direction and something of my sense of self. I was painfully conscious this was not time I had to lose, but I found myself suddenly bereft of motivation to do even the smallest things. It was the middle of a beautiful spring, and I might have been full of joyful l anticipation. In reality I felt trapped without hope for the future and convinced that I only had myself to blame.
And then I had an idea. The grinding stagnancy of my early pregnancy in lockdown encouraged me to reach out to other expectant mothers to record and honour their journeys and the challenges they faced. The responses were incredibly varied, from mothers who had been able to use the unusual circumstances to care for themselves to those for whom the lockdown measures tore apart their family and kept them away from their new-borns. The vast majority of us deeply missed the support of friends and family and the opportunity to share the experiences with them, but for some restrictions afforded hidden blessings through a slower pace of life.
Sadly, research confirms the pandemic has had a largely negative impact on the wellbeing of mothers, with a survey conducted during the first lockdown finding 43% of new mothers met the criteria for clinically relevant depression and 61% for anxiety (Fallon et al., 2021). The impact of ‘coming out the other side’ however is less clear.
The release of lockdown will be a big transition. As new mothers we won’t be ‘going back to normal’ but finding new normal(s). What those will look like and how they will feel however is hard to say. For many it will hopefully mean finally meeting family and friends, meeting up with other mothers, doing play dates, outings and new experiences for babies who have largely spent their days confined to their home and perhaps a local park. Thankfully it should mean an end to parent and baby separation in hospitals.
But with such adjustment there will inevitably be challenges. For me, I wonder how I will feel after months spent in our little family bubble when someone else holds my baby; when everyone wants to hold her. How will I cope when my partner is expected back in a physical workplace and for the first time in her life, it’s just the two of us, alone together, all day. As a mother and creative, how will I manage if the networks and opportunities afforded to me by going online, return to their physical format? Will I be left behind? Perhaps only time will tell.
Fallon, V., Davies, S.M., Silverio, S.A., Jackson, L., De Pascalis, L. and Harrold, J.A., 2021. Psychosocial experiences of postnatal women during the COVID-19 pandemic. A UK-wide study of prevalence rates and risk factors for clinically relevant depression and anxiety. Journal of psychiatric research, 136, pp.157-166.
About Lottie Bolster