Having A Baby In a Pandemic… When You Also Run Your Own Business

'If it wasn't for my husband's generous work shared parental leave policy, my business would have effectively ended. Why are we still asking women to choose between having a career or being a mother?'

Running own business maternity leave

by Nika Diamond Krendel |
Updated on

Giving birth to your first child is always going to feel terrifying as you are entering the unknown, but giving birth for the first time in the middle of a global pandemic is a completely different ball game. Here we speak to two women about how they found their pandemic pregnancies and how they juggled being business owners alongside becoming first-time mums.

Victoria van Holthe, co-founder of jewellery brand Tada & Toy

I remember very clearly when Boris Johnson announced the first lockdown. I think being pregnant in normal circumstances means losing some elements of control and having a huge amount of uncertainty, so that announcement definitely made things more stressful than your average pregnancy. Packing up the office turned out to be a good distraction and once the initial shock subsided, I quite enjoyed not having to do my hour commute on the tube every day. Hospital visits were the next hurdle. I was sad not to have my husband at the appointments, but I met some really amazing midwives who all worked so hard to overcompensate for family not being there. I was also one of the lucky ones to be able to have my husband with me for most of my labour.

Post labour followed a wonderful newborn bubble. I imagine most women are at home a lot in the first few weeks of having a baby anyway, so I was at least lucky to do it without feeling any FOMO as everyone else was stuck at home too! I felt lucky to have such a purpose in the strangest of times.

When you co-own your own business, you are naturally never going to be able to take a long maternity leave. When I found out I was pregnant, I discussed it with my business partner Tansy and decided that I would take six weeks from when my son was born to be completely off the grid. I deleted Instagram (essential for our business) and hardly checked my email. Having Tansy on my team (she is my business partner, best friend, and now my son’s Godmother) meant that I felt fully supported and knew that everything would continue like normal while I was away.

Victoria van Holthe, co-founder of jewellery brand Tada & Toy
©Victoria van Holthe

Although six weeks is a short amount of time for a typical maternity leave, having a company means that you are flexible, but you are also growing a brand so can’t really disappear for very long! I had a lot of shocked and judgemental reactions when discussing my mat-leave plans which made me doubt my decision at the time. I now realise it doesn’t have to be so black and white - I made it work for me and my family.

However, to be able to work full-time, I of course have to pay for childcare which is ridiculously expensive in the UK. There is no substantial government help until your child turns three (when they can potentially qualify for 15-30 hours free at nursery). If you then choose to have more than one child, you are trapped in a cycle where either you pay extortionate fees for childcare, or you are forced to give up work entirely to look after your children. Being half Swedish, I know that childcare is subsidised by the government down to £300 a month in Sweden. It makes you wonder why there are more women in the workplace there, especially in senior management roles.

By keeping childcare costs so high (with fees increasing every year), the UK are actively encouraging women to stay at home and not go back to work. Why do women have to choose to either have a career or have children? I passionately believe you should be able to do both without putting your career on hold. In the UK, this is still very difficult to achieve so you either end up waiting to have children or waiting to have a career; both can have extremely stressful consequences.

Nika Diamond Krendel, founder of luxury leather studio Paradise Row

I was fortunate to have given birth early January 2020, before the pandemic really hit the UK. My son was two months old when the first lockdown took place. It felt unbelievably tough because those newborn months are when you really need support. Just as I was finding my feet and felt like I was getting back to myself, the support vanished overnight. It felt like I was knocked back and had just given birth again.

Those four months of the first lockdown were so difficult because not only did you not have freedom on the outside, but there is also no freedom in your own home either when looking after a newborn baby. A quick coffee date, meeting with other mums, or even someone coming to your home does wonders for your mental health, especially in the first six months of a baby's life.

Nika Diamond Krendel, founder of luxury leather studio Paradise Row
©Nika Diamond Krendel

I run my own company, so it was impossible for me to take any sort of long-term leave without it affecting the business. My husband and I decided it was best that he would take a full year paternity leave and I would return to work after a few months. I wanted to take up to three months maternity leave to make sure I was fully recovered before going back to work. This was unfortunately cut short due to the business being small and really needing my support, so I was back at work earlier than originally planned. I feel I didn't have any purposeful maternity leave due to the lockdown and as a result, a year later, I am still not fully recovered either. As a society, we need to prioritise a mother's recovery.

The cost of childcare in the UK is as much as one's salary, sometimes even more. As a result, women are often forced to quit in order to look after their children full-time. Being a mother is more work than a normal office 9-5 job; it is a 24/7 job and I still don't think that's appreciated within our society. There seems to be an impossible mirage that women are able to juggle full-time work whilst being a full-time mum without any support, especially in more recent years. What I believe is that for women to be truly equal in our society, there should be a mandatory joint parental leave or childcare subsidised by the government from birth.

This journey into motherhood has opened my eyes on how much work still needs to be done in both gender equality and also to close the gender pay gap. If it wasn't for my husband's generous work shared parental leave policy, my business would have effectively ended. It begs the question: In 2021, why are we still asking women to choose between having a career or being a mother?


The Juggle: Motherhood In A Pandemic

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CREDIT: Circe Hamilton

Yocana and Zuriel, six months: 'I didn't know I had the strength I have until last year. Having a son during these hard times and having to also look after two other kids was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.'

This was a tough experience and completely different from my other two pregnancies. My husband couldn't attend any of my scans or any appointments. I had a lot of anxiety and was scared all the time. Covid definitely affected my mental health while pregnant. I felt a fear that I had never felt with my other pregnancies. Majority of the time I didn't want to leave my house even for small things like walks. Thankfully my husband was able to witness the birth of our son and was there throughout my labour. The only sad part was that he had to leave soon after I gave birth. It was all just an experience I don't want to ever have to go through again. But I thank God that I gave birth to a health baby boy. One advantage of having a child in the last year was not having to wait long for my scans and other appointments. The process of it all was the best from all my pregnancies. The main disadvantage was most of my family not being able to be around my son. We are not able to attend baby groups like I did with my other children either. I do wish it was different, but I had to adapt to the new norm. And just make the most of what we had. For me I was just grateful to have a healthy pregnancy despite everything that was going on around me. For me I don't have concerns about Zuriel, because all he knows is that mummy, daddy and his siblings love him. He's loved and a joy in our lives. He knows no better, the only thing that will probably be weird for him he's having a lot of people in one room for the first time. But I believe he will get used to all the family around him once everything goes back to normal. I didn't know I had the strength I have until last year. Having a son during these hard times and having to also look after two other kids was the hardest thing I've ever had to do. This last year has affected how I'm a mum because I felt a lot of guilt. I felt guilt because my kids couldn't do the things that they normally would. Hearing them want to go out and I couldn't take them. So, with that I felt like I had to make up for it, in the little things that we did every day. I put a lot of pressure on myself every day. But now I'm in a better headspace and my kids are now so understanding. I also have a great support system which helps a lot.

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CREDIT: Circe Hamilton

Sophie and Marlies, 10 months: ‘It was almost poetic that after the four-year battle to have our baby - after five rounds of IVF, then five surrogates, travelling from Russia to America and ending up back home for our longed for pregnancy - we might miss the birth because of a global pandemic. We could never have predicted that.'

It was almost poetic that after the four year battle to have our baby, after five rounds of IVF, then five surrogates, travelling from Russia to America and ending up back home for our longed for pregnancy, - that we might miss the birth because of a global pandemic. We could never have predicted that part. Then again, we couldn't have predicted any of it, so we were already quite adept at riding the storm. The birth though, felt like a particular kicker because the pandemic restrictions stated that if we were lucky, one person might be allowed in the room - but that meant our surrogate would have to choose between me and her husband. Our surrogacy counsellor had made it clear how important it is for everyone that we have defined boundaries at the birth, and it's advised that I'd hold the baby for skin to skin contact straight away, for obvious reasons, including saving our surrogate from her own hormones. So, the thought of my not being there, and the nurse taking her away to no one was awful. But of course her husband needed to be there for her support, she would be the most important person in the room, we'd built a wonderful relationship, and there was no question she needed to be considered first. I was willing to step back, but in the end she chose me. And in the end the hospital team allowed all four of us in and it was the most incredible experience for everyone. Even with our masks on!The main advantage to having becoming a mother in lockdown is so good it makes me feel bad for everyone else. Having someone to love and nurture and protect and focus on definitely takes the edge off the isolation. In lots of ways it's good that we are stuck within a very small radius. On the other hand there is a definite worry about her social development, and about mine as a new mother. I don't fully know what it is to be a parent in the real world yet, even though I've been a parent in my own world for almost a year now, and I find that quite intimidating. There must be something important about the company of other mothers, comparing notes, understanding more about your baby by learning or witnessing other peoples'? Perhaps more importantly I have missed the medical support, having never seen a health visitor in person. We've had a couple of phonecalls, but I'm sure I'm not alone in wishing I could rely on a professional to be present, to tell me everything is on track and my baby is definitely OK! Another advantage I am told, is not being inundated with visitors, but I didn't have a birth to recover from! And I was desperate to celebrate this wonder-baby in the way I thought her being here deserved, so I guess I see that as a bit of a disadvantage too. I can't say that I don't lament the loss of the experience I had always imagined, and that I'd witnessed countless times in my friends and family over the years. But I don't think it's possible to say I wish any of it could be different because the experience of mothering my daughter has life-changing, and we've formed such a close bond. I'm happy to have hunkered down with her, and have my husband able to run downstairs to witness her crawl rather than see it replayed on video. But yes, I'm undoubtedly sad at all the things we have been missing, not least the enjoyment of my maternity leave, and all the opportunities and benefits it should have afforded both of us.I am constantly anxious about what this strange version of our world is doing to my daughter's development, of her understanding of what it is to be a person living in it. I know that she is too young to remember, or properly understand, and there will be time for her to get re-used to the reality, but how does she comprehend something simple like human expression when half of our faces are covered half the time? She doesn't know what it is to socialise with other babies, or experience the classes and coffee shops I was supposed to fill my maternity leave with. She cries when she sees other people and I'm not sure if that is a phase or lockdown-induced, but I had hoped for so much more for her and the other babies born last year. Saying that, they have also made their mark in the history books, haven't they?I've often suspected I am more resilient than I give myself credit for, but I think I can safely say that is true now. The year has gone so fast and I've learned a lot, but I have no idea what kind of a mother I would have been in any scenario because you can't understand that part of yourself until you are doing it. For the most part I am particularly proud of how much I love motherhood. I thought I might miss my work (I do, but it can wait), might be nervous or bored or tired and irritable - all the negatives - but I can honestly say I have loved the end of every day, even the horrible ones. Taking care of a baby is unquestionably monotonous and doing it in one place while the world has shut down makes it monotony squared. But being able to stop focusing on me and what I am missing, on studying and loving and nurturing my daughter instead, well it's been my saviour. I count myself incredibly lucky. I also cannot wait to dye my hair and get a manicure and reclaim a little slice of myself, but that can wait too!Sophie's book, The Mother Project: Making it to parenthood the long way round is out on May 27 and available to pre-order now.

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CREDIT: Circe Hamilton

Kerry and Lara, 11 months: 'I’ve tried hard to stay positive. I didn’t want to admit how bored and frustrated I’ve been – I also feel guilty for feeling this way. Sometimes I'll think we're coping really well. Then suddenly it hits us like a tonne of bricks – it’s one of the most stressful times of a couple's life, and we've been on our own.'

We went into lockdown during the last few weeks of my pregnancy, so fortunately my partner Pete was able to be at most of our scans. At that point, no one knew how serious the pandemic was, so there was so much fear of the unknown. It was a very anxious time.I was induced at 39 weeks and had to go through the induction on my own. Pete drove me to the hospital door and he was allowed back briefly for visiting hours, but he couldn't stay by my side until I was in active labour, which happened over 24 hours later. It was incredibly difficult going through the induction on my own, I had contractions coming every minute, which lasted for hours – at one point another pregnant woman on the ward offered to rub my back to help with the pain. The midwives were amazing, but I remember feeling very emotional, scared and vulnerable. Having Pete working from home, throughout the whole first year of Lara's life, has been an absolute God-send. He's been here for every moment and has a wonderful bond with Lara as a result. But it's been so difficult not having any other help – especially during the early 'colic' months. We don't live near our family, and we've really missed not having them around. Everybody wanted to help, but logistically, it's been impossible to have any regular support from our loved ones. Yes, I wish things had been different. I feel very sad to have missed out on a conventional maternity leave – we've been stuck inside a lot. We still haven't been able to do things like swimming classes, trips to a farm, or soft play. And baby classes have been very limited. Even now, nearly a year on, a fun day out for us is a trip to the supermarket, a visit to Boots, and a walk around the fields. I'm desperate just to nip to a friend's house and have a cup of tea while the babies play on the floor. Lara's never been away from me or Pete, not even for a short time. And she hasn't played with babies her own age or been around large groups of people, so I'm a bit worried about how she'll react to nursery when I return to work. But at least she gets our complete undivided attention, so I'm hoping it won't have a long-term impact on her.Emotionally, it's been a complete rollercoaster of a year. We've been totally overwhelmed with love for Lara, while trying not to feel too sad about our families missing so much of her first year. On one hand we feel so grateful to have a healthy baby girl and I feel so lucky to be a mum, but on the other, we've missed out on many of the basic joys of early parenthood.I've tried hard to stay positive. I didn't want to admit how bored and frustrated I've been – being stuck at home all day with very little human interaction has been challenging. But I also feel guilty for feeling this way, the 'mum guilt' is very real! Sometimes I'll think we're coping really well. Then suddenly it hits us like a tonne of bricks – this is one of the most stressful times of a couple's life, and we've been on our own for most of it. But we're also very aware we're the lucky ones – our situation could have been far, far worse.

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CREDIT: Circe Hamilton

Lizzie, Flora and Lark, six months: 'Our plan to have an ‘innocuous third’ child, completely backfired when the egg split and identical girls were confirmed. Once we got our heads around that and the true extent of the global pandemic became apparent - alongside our awareness of how precarious human existence is came a deep sense of appreciation for the focused time as a family the lockdown had imposed.'

In some ways Covid made my twin pregnancy more straightforward because it meant I could rest more because I wasn't having to commute to The City for work. This was significant given how exhausting being pregnant with twins is and how much I was having to eat! The twins are identical and I was diagnosed at 16 weeks with Selective Intrauterine Growth Restriction, which is where one twin was getting more nourishment from the shared placenta than the other. This was a major concern and so I had scans every two weeks for the duration of the pregnancy. My husband was unable to attend the majority of these. Had it been my first pregnancy I think that would have been extremely daunting, but I had done it before, it became quite routine and we approached it very pragmatically. Rich dialled in for the early and most worrisome appointments when we thought there might be an issue and after that just came to a couple towards the end. Things were so quiet at the hospital in the first lockdown, so in that respect it was rather calm and easy. From a personal perspective one of the advantages of the last year was that it was good for me not to have had the pressure of trying to do too much in terms of socialising and going away - and because nothing was going on there was no FOMO!A major disadvantage was not always being able to see people to get quite the right level of support. But my incredible Mum moved in when the twins were born which was absolutely wonderful and I'm not sure we would have survived without her.It would have been lovely to have been able to see my wider family and friends, but to be honest the early weeks and months with twins (as well as two under 5s in the house) is so full on that I'm not sure how much else we would have achieved. My husband wouldn't have been able to have been so involved with the babies and big kids either, since his work in theatre has scaled back significantly whilst theatres are dark. This latter point has been a real silver lining for our family unit to the cloud of Covid as it has been a really special time to have had him so present for my six months of maternity leave. I think this year has made me seriously appreciate how fortunate we are as a family and I feel really blessed. Our plan to have an 'innocuous third' child, completely backfired when the egg split and identical girls were confirmed! Once we got our heads around that and once the true extent of the global pandemic became apparent, I think alongside our awareness of how precarious human existence is, came a deep sense of appreciation for the focused time as a family the lockdown rules had imposed. We made the choice to make sure we enjoyed each other and on the tough days and particularly when schools shut so everyone was around all the time, my husband was really good at reminding me, at the worst moments, that all the time we had and all the experiences (and he was referring to the tantrums and witching hour tears) were moments we would never have had otherwise because we would have had more help and therefore those emotions would have been directed by someone else. As I return to work, I think I have an even clearer view of what I really value, and while I love my job I know that my family and kids are what count at the end of the day.

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CREDIT: Circe Hamilton

Georgina, Andrea and Luca , eight months: 'I feel like I've been robbed of moments I'll never be able to get back, and that's been hard to accept at times. We'd already been through a long fertility rollercoaster, and it seemed unfair that the pandemic meant we couldn't relax and enjoy our pregnancy in the same way we might have.'

Andrea says: Our 20-week scan fell on 23rd March last year, just as the country was plunged into lockdown. As we were getting ready to drive to hospital for the scan, a mix of excitement and nerves, we got a call from the ultrasound department. Hospital lawyers had just banned partners from attending. It was heartbreaking having a special milestone taken away from us at the last minute - and gutting knowing that if our scan had been earlier that day, Georgina would have been allowed in.I cried on the phone to the receptionist, explaining (like many other women) that we'd had miscarriages, we'd been through a three-year fertility journey, and we really needed each other's support and wanted to share it together... but they were the rules. And so began the first of many appointments Georgina spent waiting in the hospital carpark.We really wanted to find out the sex together, so the sonographer offered to write it on a piece of paper, sealed in an envelope. We discovered we were having a boy (another twist to the day, as I'd been convinced I was carrying a girl!) After the initial disappointment at not being able to go together, in the end the craziness of the day made it more memorable.Covid also affected our birth experience. At 36 weeks I was unexpectedly diagnosed with pre-eclampsia at a routine midwife appointment, and told it was unlikely I'd leave the hospital without the baby. I was escorted by a midwife to the antenatal unit (in case I had a seizure, they take it very seriously) while Georgina was once again sat in the carpark, getting updates by Whatsapp.It was scary being in the maternity unit for the first time on my own, not knowing what was happening as they gave me medication to get my blood pressure down. At one point, it went so high that suddenly several consultants dashed in, prepping me with tubes and cannulas in case I needed to be rushed to theatre, and injecting me with steroids for the baby's lungs in case he needed to be delivered early. All of this happened without Georgina - or anyone - by my side.We'd done a hypnobirthing course, and read all the books about the importance of birth partners to advocate for you, but instead, I was trying to get my head around a really scary situation on my own, heavily pregnant and hormonal. And the one person you want and need to be there - who played an equal part in creating our baby - wasn't allowed to be.Georgina was later allowed to visit for an hour a day (some of the midwives kindly turned a blind eye and let her stay longer). Thankfully she was also allowed in when I was taken to labour ward after a few days in hospital, and for our Caesarean birth. The midwives were all incredible and went above and beyond to support us.It's hard for me to think of many advantages of having a baby in the last year, if I'm honest. But I can imagine that, when life returns back to normal and our diaries are full again, a part of me might look back at how special this time has been, just the three of us. How it gave us time to bond, and really get to know each other, without the distractions of the outside world or pressure to socialise.Another advantage (a strange one considering how isolated we've all been), has been meeting other mums in the same boat, and the closeness and support that's come with it. We signed up to NCT classes when we were pregnant, and I felt annoyed when they moved online - how would we get to know other parents over Zoom? It turned out we had a fab group of women and partners, and were lucky enough to get to meet in real life before our babies arrived in the summer. We've also been able to hang out (to varying degrees) on our maternity leave. They've been such an amazing support and the fact that we've all been through the same experience - becoming new mums during a pandemic - has made us even closer, as only we'll ever truly understand what it's like.The disadvantages were being unable to experience a 'normal' pregnancy, birth and motherhood experience. Having the opportunities and moments you expect being taken away from you. Whether it's being unable to share it with friends and family (I still find it weird that most people never saw me visibly pregnant), getting to enjoy final date nights out, or a babymoon, while it's still just the two of you, or just going to the shops to buy baby stuff.Also, the added stress that came with the uncertainty of the world, and how it was impossible to plan anything. Midwife appointments completely changed - we had less of them, and the community care with our one lovely midwife stopped overnight and instead was moved to the hospital.One hundred per cent, I wish we'd got to experience pregnancy and becoming first time mums in normal life. Personally, I feel like I've been robbed of moments I'll never be able to get back, and that's been hard to accept at times. We'd already been through a long fertility rollercoaster, and it seemed unfair that the pandemic meant we couldn't relax and enjoy our pregnancy in the same way we might have. Of course on the flip side, we're beyond grateful that we've been lucky enough to become mums, and couldn't imagine life without our little man. It's a strange one as 2020 was such a shit year, yet it was the year that we got to experience some of the biggest, most special moments of our life, and for that I wouldn't change a thing.I think like many parents, we worry about the social impact on Luca. Before the pandemic and while pregnant, we knew we wanted our baby to be around different people and have new experiences. We were lucky that the world briefly opened up in the summer when he was born. But now he's getting bigger and more aware and curious, we're desperate for everything to open up again so he has some normality, especially spending time around larger groups of people, and it doesn't impact his social development.Before becoming a mum, I've always loved an adventure, and I imagined that's the type of mum I'd be - making life an adventure for Luca. Taking him on day trips, baby classes, to the farm, hanging out with family and friends, going on holiday. I still try to create these opportunities for Luca to experience life, only now our adventures are much closer to home, whether that's playing with his toys or the local park. I can't wait for when, hopefully soon, we'll be able to get back out in to the world again with our little man.Pregnancy and motherhood are seminal life events for a woman - and to have gone through these firsts, discovering our new mum identities - in the vacuum of Covid, has been challenging at times. However, if we can become mums during a pandemic, then I know we can get through anything. I always knew we were strong - years of fertility treatment had taught me that already - but this past year has shown me how incredible us mamas can be mentally, physically, emotionally, and that's something I hope will benefit us as we navigate the years of motherhood ahead.

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CREDIT: Circe Hamilton

Laverne and Luca, five months: 'I’m more comfortable with myself now being a mother, I’m proud of myself, my body and I sweat less about the small stuff or not being on top of everything as long as I’m happy, my partner is coping and my little one is doing ok. What more could I want really?'

Covid certainly flipped my pregnancy expectations upside down. I went to one appointment with my husband Rob, the others I was on my own. As soon as I found out partners couldn't come to scans I was heartbroken, we have been together for 15 years and we have been so excited about having our baby after waiting for the right time. I didn't want him to feel left out, so I did some research and we decided to pay for private scans before the regular ones so he didn't miss out, after all, we are in this together as a team.During lockdown while pregnant, I loved spending more time at home. It came with some helpful benefits, morning sickness was easier to manage when not commuting across London. I was also so tired during pregnancy so I would have a little nap in my lunch break sometimes and that gave me some energy to get through the day!With Rob working from home, he's able to help me with Luca here and there when I need a bit of help, mainly when I need the loo, getting him ready to go out or keeping an eye on him while I go for a shower! You know, the things you normally take for granted before having a baby.One thing is for sure, I've never been on so many walks before, it's been great to discover all around my area and making the most of the outside, even if it's been a pretty cold winter since Luca arrived.A few things have made me reflect on this past year recently, especially the fact that a lot of my friends and family haven't seen me pregnant in person, mainly from photos on social media. So when I see them next I'll have a full grown baby with me, that they won't really know.Let's not forget the constant fear of catching covid 19 was frightening, especially as there wasn't much research on pregnant mums getting it and how that could affect the baby.I haven't been able to go baby classes, meet up with local mums, be inside with my baby with friends and have them fully enjoy them being tiny. That's a real shame and time I can't get back, it's all lost because of lockdown.I do wish things had been different. Although we tried to look at the positives throughout, you can't help but want to enjoy a pregnancy without the added stress and worry of a pandemic and the constant concern whether your partner and mother will be allowed in for the birth. Unfortunately my Mum couldn't be there for his birth but I'm so glad Rob was there with me. My mum is alone so she was part of our support bubble, so I feel grateful that she could have at least have some time with him. All in all, the positives do outweigh the negatives.Luca is such a happy smiley chappy, he loves getting smiles back from us, but right now everyone's faces are covered up, so when he see's other people, he can't really interact with them and that is quite sad to see. I hope his social skills won't suffer and will be developed to where they should be for his age when things start to open up. He's not really had much time to socialise with other babies and do classes with them either, so I'm really looking forward to that.My main concern for our lockdown babies is if they will struggle a lot more with social interaction? Will we be able to let them hug and play with each other without being nervous about it?I have a bump and baby social group and we have been speaking to each other for the last 6 months but we have never actually all met up. We have a date in the diary soon, so let's hope we make it.The last year has been a mixed bag of emotions, feelings and experiences. It's made me appreciate life so much more, I've realised I'm actually more of a homebody then I thought for an extroverted person.I'm more comfortable with myself now being a mother, I'm proud of myself, my body and I sweat less about the small stuff or not being on top of everything as long as I'm happy, my partner is coping and my little one is doing ok. What more could I want really?!

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CREDIT: Circe Hamilton

Amy and Iris, three months: 'I do wish things had been different - being pregnant is an anxious time as it is, and I feel like I really missed out. I constantly told myself to focus on the positives. So much campaigning had to be done in order for birth restrictions to be relaxed. To know I could go to the pub or shops but that my partner couldn't attend appointments was pretty frustrating.'

Being pregnant during Covid generally meant for a more anxious pregnancy. I became overly paranoid about social distancing, hand washing and was constantly worrying and seeking information about what it would mean for my birth, impact to pregnant women, who could attend the birth and when, how it would affect my birth preferences... I had also hired a doula so was worried with the constantly evolving and unpredictable situation that I might not be allowed two birth partners.I had to attend the 12-week scan on my own whilst my husband waited in the car. Luckily everything was okay, but it was a special moment that I felt sad he missed out on. I was fortunate enough that my NHS Trust relaxed the rules by the time I had my 20-week scan, which meant he could be there when we found out the sex which was a huge relief. All my antenatal appointments thereafter I had to go to alone - generally this was fine, but there was an instance late in my pregnancy where I was pressurised to be induced as I was over 40 weeks, and the doctor who spoke to me was pretty heavy-handed in her approach. It was horrible being in that room on my own and I came away in tears. During the labour, however, I can honestly say it didn't feel like I'd given birth during a pandemic. My aim was to always labour at home for as long as possible, so when I arrived at the hospital and found out I was 6/7cm dilated, it was a huge relief and meant that I could go straight through to the birth centre where both my husband and doula were allowed through. Being able to work from home and not having to commute whilst heavily pregnant was an advantage to being pregnant during the pandemic. I also didn't have to lie during the first trimester about why I wasn't drinking, I didn't experience FOMO or have to be forced to relax. And it was also good in some ways to have no pressure to have visitors once baby was born It was hard not being able to show off the baby and see friends and family when she arrived. This was extremely hard, I hugely missed my friends and family and felt so sad that this amazing and life-changing thing had happened, and yet we couldn't see loved ones or receive help and support. A close friend and a couple of family members popped by and stood by the window to drop off gifts and to look at our beautiful baby, but all I remember feeling is just so sad that they couldn't come in and give me (and baby!) a hug It was difficult not being able to truly enjoy and make the most of our freedom before baby arrived. This in particular I found hard, because you're so aware that your life is going to irreversibly change forever. To then not be able to just go out on a whim for dinner, drinks, or to see friends and family, was upsetting. My family also live in Manchester, which meant I only saw my family once the whole time I was pregnant.I do wish things had been different as being pregnant is an anxious enough time as it is, and I feel like I really missed out on a lot. I just remember constantly telling myself to focus on the positives, as that was the only way to get through it. I also remember how much campaigning had to be done in order for the restrictions to be relaxed for birthing women... to know that I could go to the pub or shop in IKEA but that my partner couldn't attend appointments was pretty frustrating.My only slight worry is whether all of this will affect how she interacts with new people as she gets a bit older. She'll have spent the first five months of her life pretty much just with her parents. She's not been held or cuddled by other people really, which I find really sad.I think the last year has definitely made me stronger and more resilient as a woman. Being pregnant and carrying and nurturing life is such an insane and magical feeling - but it comes with a weight of responsibility. To go through that during a global pandemic just compounds everything and makes you feel very protective over your unborn child.

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CREDIT: Circe Hamilton

Poppy and Theia, five months: 'Even though I wish the pandemic didn’t exist I think it’s made me a lot stronger and has really tested me as a person. If events didn’t pan out the way they have, we wouldn’t have the Theia we have today - she makes this all worthwhile.'

I had to attend all my medical appointments and scans alone. I found this process difficult and very intimidating as everyone had to wear masks and PPE. I felt somewhat isolated and displaced from the social warmth you would normally experience. Not being able to meet up with friends and family or work whilst pregnant was hard for me and elevated that feeling of isolation. I had to be induced at 38 weeks so I was on my own throughout that process until my waters broke, at which point Eamon could join me for the birth. I required an emergency C section for various reasons, three days after beginning my induction. Unfortunately a few hours after Theia's birth I had to isolate for the duration of my hospital stay due to a potential covid exposure within the ward. This meant I was not able to have any visitors, not even my husband. This was particularly difficult after a long traumatic birth while recovering from a c section – not to mention getting to grips with being a mummy to Theia. I felt totally alone and a complete shell of my normal self. I was discharged three days later but had to continue self-isolating at home, which meant no visitors or help. Eamon was amazing and really let me rest and recover once at home, which I desperately needed.The advantages of being pregnant during the Covid pandemic meant I had the opportunity to appreciate a very slow, chilled pregnancy and was able to rest a lot. It meant I could research and get everything prepared before Theia came along plus Eamon, who normally travels a lot for work, has fortunately been around to help and keep me company as he now works from home. I've also had a lot more time with Theia and getting to know her which has been amazing and I'm very grateful for this. The disadvantages have been the lack of social interaction and not seeing family/friends and having no access to baby groups. This particularly heightens the feeling of isolation as a new mum.I'm a big believer in everything we experience helps make us who we are. I also try focus on the positives of any given situation.Even though I wish the pandemic didn't exist I think it's made me a lot stronger and has really tested me as a person. If events didn't pan out the way they have, we wouldn't have the Theia we have today - she makes this all worthwhile. It has given me a lot of time to think and allowed me to really appreciate everything I have and take stock of what's important.I'm worried that Theia won't be as sociable because we haven't been able to do many things, meet many people or interact with other babies. She has not had the opportunity to meet or be around new people or explore new places.I feel I've become a stronger woman and have gained more confidence in myself being a mother. I've had to take the initiative, relying on just Eamon and I to follow our instincts being new parents. We've had time to bond as a family unit which has been such a wonderful, important & fulfilling start to our family life.I think it's allowed me to be a very present mother and I've really been able to focus on following Theia's needs. Most importantly it has allowed our normally hectic life to slow down a level, enabling us to appreciate the smaller things in life.

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CREDIT: Circe Hamilton

Natasha and Dylan, five months: ‘After the birth of our son by c-section, my husband could only stay an hour – my son and I spent our first night alone, which was terrifying. I had to lie there listening to him cry until a nurse came to help me tend to him – it was quite distressing.’

When I went into labour (two weeks before I was due to have a planned c-section), I was admitted to the assessment unit and my husband was not allowed to come in, he had to drop me off outside. As the baby was in breech and I had started contractions they had to assess me overnight, and I spent the night alone. Whilst he was able to be there for the birth of our son, he was only allowed to stay with us for an hour in a small area of the hospital after he was born. My son and I were taken to our room and spent our first night alone which was really terrifying. As I was unable to walk or move from the waist down (it was quite a traumatic c-section), I had to call a nurse every time I needed to tend or to breastfeed our baby that first night and I had extreme anxiety. I was also in a lot of pain and was worried that I would not be able to tend to my son if he needed. I had to lie there listening to him cry until a nurse came which was quite distressing as a new mum who has just given birth. I didn't sleep at all that night until my husband was allowed to visit us the next morning (our son was born at 10pm and I stayed awake until 8am the next day once visiting hours started). I was very emotional and stressed by the time I was discharged. Being able to spend time in our little bubble without any visitors was wonderful when he was first born, but he has yet to meet the majority of our families which is also sad. Everything is heightened when you are stuck indoors - any fear or anxiety is amplified and I found the mental side of being pregnant far harder than the physical side. Luckily I had an amazing support network of mums to be which I met through Peanut, bump and baby club, pregnancy yoga classes and NCT. I don't know what I would have done without them.In some ways I wish things were different so that I could share the whole experience with my husband but also not, because I am incredibly lucky to have a beautiful baby boy who has gotten me through lockdown. I have had a huge amount of quality time with him and have a strong bond as a result. I am worried he will be too attached as he has not had the opportunity to socialise with other babies or be held by anyone else other than my husband and I. However now that he is five months he more alert and aware of things, and I have been able to sign up to lots of classes once lockdown is lifted. The last year has made me a much stronger woman and far more resilient. I feel like I am much stronger than I thought I was and far more capable and self-reliant. As a first-time mum I thought I would need more help from family, friends and health visitors. Not having been able to seek any support from family or have access to certain health care support (weigh in clinics, breastfeeding support groups) has shown me that I am more capable than I thought I was, and I am more confident as a result.

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CREDIT: Circe Hamilton

Emily and Myla, two months: 'I've learnt to let go of the notion that there are "mum" responsibilities rather than "parent" responsibilities. As we come out of the pandemic and I return to work after maternity leave, our preference would definitely be that we play an equal role in terms of how we manage the balance between our work and home lives.'

Patrick was only able to attend one scan, and all other appointments I attended alone. As this was my third pregnancy (we also have Phoebe, 6, and Zach, 3), this was something we both felt quite relaxed about. However, when I was four days overdue, Zach tested positive for Covid, meaning that we had to isolate over the time I gave birth. This firmly scuppered plans for a water birth at the birthing centre, but more problematically, meant our childcare plans for whilst I gave birth were no longer possible (due to grandparents being vulnerable). It looked likely that Patrick would have to stay home with the older two and I would have to go to the labour ward alone (it's quite the ask for someone to expose themselves to Covid AND have to then isolate for 10 days in order to be on-call to babysit), but thankfully my amazing friend Jo stepped in to do just that. Initially, we felt that timing to have another baby couldn't have been worse, due to so much uncertainty around job security and the impact this had on the affordability of maternity leave and having another child. However, it has turned out that there have been some real positives in the timing; Patrick being at home has given him precious time with Myla that ordinarily would not be possible, and juggling home school and looking after our older two with having a new baby has certainly seemed much more manageable with both of us home. Similarly, whilst we are really sad that Myla has not been able to meet most of our family and friends yet, there has been something really special about hunkering down and bonding as a family of five. Of course, like everyone, we are craving a return to "normality" (and certainly wouldn't recommend a new baby and home school combo!), but on balance, I don't think we would change things. With my other two children, they spent large amounts of time with other people and babies, which has not yet been possible for Myla. She's still only a few weeks old, so my hope is that as lockdown restrictions are lifted, she'll have greater exposure to others. Without this, I would probably worry about the impact to her emotional and social development, so imagine that this could cause some worry for parents of babies born earlier in the pandemic. I've really struggled in the last year to balance working from home full time with the demands of being a mum, and have felt enormously guilty that the bulk of the childcare ended up falling on Patrick. I've definitely learnt lessons about how to better manage the distinction between work and home life to make sure I am more present for my kids, but also to let go of the notion that there are "mum" responsibilities rather than "parent" responsibilities. As we come out of the pandemic and I return to work after maternity leave, our preference would definitely be that we play an equal role in terms of how we manage the balance between our work and home lives.

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CREDIT: Circe Hamilton

Tinuke and Eden, 11 months: 'This year has been tough on me mentally. I have suffered from anxiety watching events unfold, hearing the news of so much death around me and knowing how different my daughter’s first of year of life was in comparison to my son. However, I know that I am coming out on the other side of this with so much more than I have lost.'

Covid only had a serious effect on my pregnancy towards the end and in my final trimester. My fear of going into the hospital led me to request a home birth from my midwives. It was all going ahead until a few weeks before my due date and I was told that the midwives had to cancel my home birth due to the ambulance service not being able to provide them with support. I was devastated as March/April was the height of the pandemic and the beginning of lockdown and so much was unknown. I also attended my last 36-week scan alone and that was a very scary experience for me as I was told that my baby's head was measuring "small". Having to find out the worrying news without my husband by my side left me feeling very vulnerable. I was especially really anxious this time round because of the statistics that not only are black women eight times more likely to be admitted to hospital for covid, they are also four to five times more likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth. I am the founder of the Five x More campaign and we developed some recommended steps for pregnant women to take going into pregnancy and childbirth. I took these steps myself and ended up fortunately having a very positive birth experience. While the lead up to the birth was a worrying time, the actual experience of going into the hospital wasn't as bad. We went into the hospital when I was over 4cm (in established labour) so my husband got to stay in the birth centre and witnessed the birth of our daughter. We didn't know the gender so it was a lovely surprise. While he did need to leave immediately after, it was still nice that he was able to witness that special moment and I also felt confident in advocating for myself.I think having a baby in the past year has been bittersweet. Eden has spent the majority of her life during lockdowns and has only ever met one baby her age before. When she was first born in the first lockdown we didn't see any family or friends until she was three months old and that was really difficult to navigate. We have been unable to explore London or go to any stay and plays and mum and baby groups which is so different to when I had my son. I also run my own mummy group, Mums and Tea, but because of the restrictions I have been unable to connect with other new mothers face to face which has been tough on my mental health. That is why I created an online Communi-Tea to connect other mums together especially in times like this. One main advantage from having a baby in this past year is that I have been able to really spend a lot of quality time with Eden.Yes I wish things had been different, especially around the first few months of having a newborn and not being able to get that support of friends and family like you usually would. It was tough not having my support system and seeing my loved ones for months on end as a new mum. Yes, it may have been my second time round, but it's still a new baby nonetheless and I felt like I had to figure it all out on my own with a baby and toddler in tow.I worry if being at home for the past year and not seeing many people will affect her development. I fear that when we do manage to make it outside for food shopping and walks that everyone is behind masks and think how will she be able to read people's emotions. I worry that that is all she knows, and hope things return to normal soon. Also, and this may or may not be a bad thing, but she is constantly in front of the phone or laptop as this is the only way to communicate safely with people through FaceTime calls and on zoom. I wonder if all that screen time will have an effect on her too.I believe I am quite a confident person, but this year has been tough on me mentally. I have suffered from anxiety watching the events of the past year unfold, hearing the news of so much death around me and knowing just how different my daughters first of year of life was in comparison to my son who was born a few years earlier. However, I know that I am coming out on the other side of this with so much more than I have lost. I now have a new understanding of life and what really matters and I am grateful for the various opportunities that have come my way due to being in the lockdowns with the Five x More campaign and the Mums and Tea Communi-Tea that may not have come otherwise.

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CREDIT: Circe Hamilton

Sylvia and Olivia, three months: 'As become a mother during this pandemic made me more protective of my child and I worry about our family’s health. Some days simply holding and touching my child causes me concern.'

It was tier 4 lockdown during the end of my pregnancy. My partner wasn't allowed to attend certain appointments. He couldn't view the scan nor listen to the heartbeat of our little one. He would take me to the hospital then had to wait outside. Thankfully he was allowed in for labour and to visit the hospital in the days after when I recovered.We wanted to visit our respective families in the United States and South Korea but had to cancel all travel plans due to covid. It's very sad that they can only meet our little one over video call. We miss the human contact with our families, even more so now with the arrival of our newest family member.The company that I was a director for was already struggling before covid. Covid made the company no longer tenable. On the one hand this created more financial pressure and uncertainty but on the other it freed me to focus on the pregnancy and my baby, when she arrived. For years I had been a workaholic and I don't know how I would have managed to juggle the demands of work with motherhood. The main disadvantage of having a baby in the last year, apart from not seeing family is being unable to meet up with other parents who are in similar situations. The antenatal courses were online. We still haven't met the other group members. We share our experiences on a social media group – I can't wait to meet them all in person!Covid and lockdown have been very hard on some of our friends and family. It would have been so valuable to have seen them face to face and introduce them to our little girl who has brought so much joy into our lives. There's a lot of doubt and uncertainty in the world. We are hoping that things will return to some semblance of normality by the time that Olivia is old enough to start socialising with other children.The main worries were obviously that our family might get coronavirus by visiting hospital and meeting people and this still remains as our biggest concern. It's very sad that Olivia only gets to see people with their masks on. It makes it hard for her to recognise the person and affects her ability to see, learn and share their emotions.I read a study which posited that many of the babies were born in Asia during the SARS epidemic of 2003, are behind in terms of their social skills and interactions with others. I'm worried that it would be the same for Olivia.Becoming a mother during this pandemic made me more protective of my child and I worry about our family's health. Some days simply holding and touching my child causes me concern.

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