Letter to my pandemic baby: ‘Your nana back in Ireland is eager to get a squeeze of you’

I am very eager to get a cuddle from her myself. I haven’t seen Mam since 2019

Julie Cunningham with Eli and Max

Julie Cunningham with Eli and Max

 

Julie Cunningham, who is 29 and from Dublin, lives in Livingston in Scotland with her husband, Darren, toddler, Max, and newborn baby, Eli. When not living in what she calls “an eternal lockdown”, she works as a manager at her local Wetherspoon pub. This is her letter to Eli

Dear Eli,

my baby boy. You are now nine weeks old. You are starting to come alive to the world around you. You are one of those mythical babies who actually sleep. I don’t want to jinx it, but you are so easy to mind compared with your allergic-to-sleep big brother, who I love very much and harbour no ill feeling towards for the 18 months when I got a grand total of 16 minutes of sleep.

It is odd to think your brother was born Irish and you were born Scottish. It is even odder to think Max’s first year of of life was spent living with my family and we don’t even know when you will meet them. Your nana back in Ireland is so eager to get a squeeze of you. To be honest, I am very eager to get a cuddle from your nana myself.

I know you won’t understand the significance until you’re older, honey, but you were born in November 2020, which makes you a pandemic baby.

You are so much a part of this family now, yet you almost feel like a secret baby. No one outside of our house knows you yet, but you are a real joy; my pandemic baby

Your dad marched me up the biggest hill in Livingston the day I went into labour – and my waters broke at 7pm that night. He says that I was deliberately sticking my nails into the back of his hand to inflict pain, but don’t believe him: he’s being dramatic. After 11 hours you were born by emergency C-section. Your dad had to leave soon after, and we didn’t see him again until a few days later, when he picked us up to go home.

No one could come visit us in hospital because of Covid, not even your dad. But do you know what? It was kind of special. There were two other women and their babies on the ward with us. Because there were no visitors we all talked and helped each other a lot. We spoke openly about our labours, cried when we were overwhelmed, called the midwives for each other if needed. It created a connection that wasn’t possible if there is a constant stream of partners, family and friends. I won’t forget it in a hurry.

When we went home it was bizarre and lovely at the same time. Again, there were no visitors (except your gran and grandad, who came to meet you). There were no breastfeeding support groups to go to, no coffee with friends, no outings, no visitors. And, yes, there is sadness and loss there. But those two weeks after your birth still provide some of my favourite memories.

Pandemic baby Eli
Pandemic baby Eli

Your dad was an absolute saint. I crawled into our bed with you and stayed there for two solid weeks. Your dad fed me around the clock and minded your brother, so that I could rest and heal and feed you without interruption. There was no pressure or expectations. In fact I am starting to believe this should be mandatory for all women who have just given birth. Mandatory time to just rest and cuddle their long-awaited newborn may be the way forward.

If you see me upset at times, don’t worry. It’s just because I miss my mam, dad, sisters, nanas, aunties – the whole lot of them. Dublin feels very far away just now. I haven’t seen any of them since 2019, and it is now 2021. We tried many times in 2020 to see each other, but the coronavirus pandemic meant plans kept falling through. It has been really hard to have them not know you. I still don’t know when we will see them. I’m not sure how old you will be when they first meet you. Sure, my new niece, Saoirse, is 10 months now, and I haven’t met her yet. But what an amazing reunion it will be when we can see each other again.

And now you are nine weeks old. I know it makes no difference to you, but we still haven’t gone outside the house. We still haven’t had visitors. We are still in lockdown. You are so much a part of this family now, yet you almost feel like a secret baby. No one outside of our house knows you yet, but you are a real joy; my pandemic baby.

I think you’re blessed for having been born in 2020. I know this way of living is not normal, but small joys pop up every day in this stripped-back life

I think you’re blessed for having been born in 2020. I know this way of living is not “normal”, but small joys pop up every day in this stripped-back life. Whether it’s your dad going to wake your brother in the morning singing loudly, our daily walk – a reminder that there is still another world outside of our house – or cuddling your brother, reading him a story before bed, and not being too busy for that to happen. Also having our family dinners at the table, which is something we are keeping, by the way. Then when you are older, I will bore you tales of the origins of us sitting together as a family for dinner and tell you why it is special and valuable.

I don’t think I would have been able to see any of that in pre-Covid life. Lockdown living has taught me to be satisfied and happy with a much simpler way of living.

So, yes, I desperately want to go home for a visit, and sometimes that feeling can be overwhelming. But, Eli, this time with you, this time as a family, has been important and meaningful. And, in an odd way, I am grateful for it.

All my love,

Mam x

If you live overseas and would like to share your experience with Irish Times Abroad, email abroad@irishtimes.com with a little information about you and what you do

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