Mothers in Lockdown : Elena

Twin Mother to Kit & Jesse, born mid pandemic, 27.10.20

What were your initial thoughts about how lockdown would affect you (back in March last year)? Initially, when we first heard of a potential lockdown my thoughts were around my work – with my business partner, I curate / produce festivals and art commissions. Our company ethos was centred on ‘the power of mass gatherings’ – so we knew the pandemic could hit us and our community hard. Then, a few days before lockdown was made official I found out I was pregnant. We’d been trying for a baby for quite a while so when I heard that Covid could be dangerous if you were carrying a baby I did a test to rule it out. For almost a year my husband and I had done monthly tests and waited for the results together, but on this day a global pandemic had been announced and we had just had to cancel one of our biggest pieces of work, the National Festival of Making. Looking back I must not have been thinking straight as I did the test at home on my own and phoned my husband at work to tell him the news. The first in many many experiences that did not turn out how we imagined! 

What was the reality of the first lockdown for you? It was the strangest time – I was absolutely elated about my pregnancy, but was trying to come to terms with what it would mean to be pregnant at this time, and I was very anxious for my parents and my 23 year old daughter. I continued working so I was still very busy, responding to what the pandemic meant for our festivals, projects and collaborators. I spent a lot of time talking with artists and partners, and looking at possible alternatives to our programme, taking some things online and postponing other elements. 

At the same time as having very new work challenges I was in my first trimester of pregnancy and was experiencing every ounce of tiredness that can bring. I was so physically exhausted that I began to wonder if I could possibly be pregnant with twins as the way my body felt was so extreme. We decided to go for a private early scan for our own reassurance that everything was ok. And I’m so glad we did. We found somewhere that was still open and drove an hour on a completely deserted motorway, the first time we’d been in the car for weeks. I spent the entire time worried we would get stopped and debating whether or not we had a legitimate reason for travel! The scan showed us that my secret suspicion was right, but hearing the words, ‘yes I can see two babies’ was still a total and utter shock. 

Twins, in a global pandemic – I felt, and have continued to feel a strange sense of managing these two huge things of such different scales – the growth of two tiny babies that have just rocked my world and that is such a personal experience, alongside the huge collective experience of covid. 

Have things changed over time for you as the restrictions have been eased and toughened? The changing restrictions had a big impact on our work and my pregnancy. Because the work we do is mainly focussed on large groups of people sharing experiences, we’ve had to respond to the various regulations at different times and make work our accordingly. We never would have imagined that when we cancelled the first festival due to take place in June 2020, that in May 2021 culture would only just be opening up again. 

Maternity services were also hugely impacted by Covid, often in ways that I felt strongly were misjudged. From day one I attended scans alone, hearing difficult information about my twins and pregnancy while my husband waited in the car park. Protecting maternal mental health seemed to go out of the window for so many hospital trusts that put restrictions in place that didn’t make sense, and that increased anxiety for so many pregnant women and their families. 

For months during 2020, you could eat in restaurants, go shopping and go on holiday – but partners weren’t allowed to attend prenatal scans even for high risk pregnancies. Sadly it meant that I became anxious and on edge in the lead up to any big Covid announcement, in the hope that things would change, and in the disappointment that they hadn’t. Organisations like ‘Pregnant then Screwed’ and ‘Birthrights’ did an incredible job lobbying for change on behalf of pregnant women, but only now are the restrictions being eased which means thousands of women’s experiences have been affected.

Have there been easy/positive aspects of lockdown? It feels too simple to say anything has been easy, but we have had many positives, and I have a lot of gratitude for that. 

I read a book when I was pregnant about how in traditional Chinese culture, it’s believed that a new mother should go into quarantine for the first 40 days after birth. In this time the women of the family look after the mother with nourishing food but visitors are very limited and time outdoors is kept to a minimum. 

Reading the book at this time, I couldn’t help seeing the similarities to our lockdown and the post birth isolation! Covid meant that whether I wanted it or not, it was enforced and I had to accept that many friends and family wouldn’t get to meet my twins, Jesse and Kit until they were much older but the enforced quarantine of sorts did have positives. Our friends and family were unforgettably wonderful in caring for us – baking bread, sending food for our freezer, a cake with a wreath for the babies left on our doorstep. In those first 40 days we were deep into the baby bubble and for days at a time it was just my husband and I and our twins.

Have there been difficult/negative aspects of lockdown? My whole experience of being pregnant was affected, but it wasn’t spoilt and there are lots of positives. 

Once the babies were born I sometimes felt lonely – those long days in the winter of the second lockdown were hard. I was at home with two babies, often on my own a lot, mourning the things that you dream of for your maternity leave – coffee shops, supportive visits with friends, people coming to meet your babies and the break that someone simply holding a baby for a short while can give a new mum. The initial weeks were joyful (bar c-section recovery and a post surgery infection) – we’d spent a week in hospital with our babies on different neonatal and maternity wards and the restrictions meant my husband couldn’t always be with us so we were so pleased to come home. The baby bubble surrounded us, sleepless nights blending into long days, cluster feeding, endless visits from the midwives to check on our tiny babies, gifts and flowers coming through the post, discovering what it really meant to fall in love with our boys, first baths, first tentative walks outside with the pram, strange but exciting visits through windows, close friends and family meeting the twins for the first time. 

But after Christmas it became harder, lonelier, I felt less able to commit to meeting friends outside to trudge along with a pram in the freezing cold in order to make the best of the situation, and I did feel a sense of isolation at that time. 

I heard about a baby group that had started specifically to support new mothers who had given birth during lockdown and despite feeling hesitation about whether I’d enjoy it or fit in, I knew it was what I needed. Those groups became a lifeline and having a structure to the week made a big difference. 

*Images above by Beatrice Davidson

Now that we’re coming to the end of lockdown, I don’t look back and remember isolation and loneliness being an overriding feeling, but I do feel a sense of grief and sadness at not having the opportunity to share our babies with our friends and families. I’ll probably grieve that for some time. 

Has your work been affected? We work in art, culture and festivals so our work has completely re-shaped, but despite having to deliver very differently, we’ve stayed true to the values and objectives of our companies throughout the pandemic. 

I worked through 2020 until my consultant advised me to start maternity leave a little early as my twins’ growth had slowed down and I was at risk of preterm labour, so since early October my business partner and the team have delivered everything across the National Festival of Making and Deco Publique projects. 

Like lots of women and couples, my husband and I spent a long time debating whether or not we wanted children. I’d been a single mum for a long time as a young person, having my first daughter when I was 16 and at nearly 40 my business and career was established and a huge part of my life. I went through the classic fears women face about what it would mean to step out of my career and whether I could manage the dual responsibilities of a new child and a thriving business. 

Once we decided to try and get pregnant though, we were all in, and I wanted to find ways of managing being a new mum with my work. In some ways, lockdown and the pandemic made the transition easier – we weren’t able to deliver festivals over the summer so the intense pressure that kind of work brings was relieved, allowing me to focus more on my pregnancy and health. 

The babies are now six months old and whilst I was due to go back to work when they were four months, I decided the three of us need longer together so I’m stretching my maternity leave until the twins are seven months old.

The next (huge) challenge will be to juggle the two things, being a (twin!) mum and being able to do my creative work.

What has helped you get through lockdown? Enjoying my pregnancy, the anticipation of the babies arriving, the focus I felt being pregnant, the babies arriving and the joy that has brought – obviously paired with the practical aspect of just having to keep going – one scan after another – one feed after another – one night after another.

My husband, Jake was able to have six weeks at home with us when the twins were born and whilst he’s gone back to working in the office now, he’s a very hands on Father and we’ve taken on the twin challenge as a team. 

I’ve found it helpful to keep returning to the things that I know make me feel good and make me feel like me, (or at least trying to keep returning to them) – some reading, however many minutes I can have on my yoga mat and making sure I go outside and see the sea as much as possible. 

I’m also a board member with an embedded arts practice, In-Situ, and have continued to contribute to board meetings along with some business development work with our companies Deco Publique and the Festival of Making, while mainly being on maternity leave. I have loved becoming that working person again that was (is) such a big part of who I am, stepping out of baby land even temporarily to contribute in a professional setting. It’s helped me to see my colleagues’ faces across the zoom screen while I’m deep into weeks and weeks of lockdown at home with babies.

Have you learnt anything, during lockdown, that you will want carry forward as it is eased? Are there things that you might even miss? I have found more patience and tried not to have too much expectation for things to be a certain way. For a self professed control freak that has been a big change. I hope that stays with me – working on allowing things to be as they are, and not always thinking I have the power to change them.

I’ll miss the thing I found hardest, pretty typical of a Gemini! – the time alone I’ve had with my boys. Now, looking back on the last months, it’s hard to believe it happened like this – that for the entire first six months of my baby’s lives we weren’t allowed to be with people, and I spent the majority of that time home alone. 

But as I’ve learnt what being a twin mum is like, I’ve realised that often the most opposing emotions and experiences can be felt in parallel, at exactly the same time.

I have hated Covid and what it took away. And I will be forever grateful that there were hours and hours and days and days that it was just us.

Elena can be found on Instagram at @elenakatejackson and @theseababies

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