Born in Lockdown - A Review by Susie Butt
Mum Poet Club member Susie Butt tells us about taking party in Mothership Writers' Born on Lockdown project.
I first heard about the Born in Lockdown collaborative writing project through the Mum Poem Press and I was immediately keen to get involved, eagerly sending off far more words than the 150 limit.
I don’t know whether it was being on maternity leave, being in lockdown or being a new mum but I found an urgent need to write, a surge of creativity, as a way of processing everything and the huge changes happening in my life.
With lockdown happening only a couple of months into maternity leave, it is hard to distinguish one from the other, except knowing that having a newborn is itself a kind of lockdown as you establish this very different routine and existence from how you lived before.
I loved the idea that Born In Lockdown wasn’t about being an experienced or professional writer but instead a way of encouraging mums to simply put pen to paper and record our thoughts and feelings as short fragments as we navigated a pandemic and motherhood during such an isolating time. It created a feeling of community as we formed this collective voice from the words of 227 Mothers jotted down on phones, scraps of paper during night feeds or sitting on park benches in the rain with our babies asleep in the pram.
The missing village was a common theme throughout the book as well as the sadness behind missed opportunities to meet other mothers. In those early days of new motherhood when leaving the house before midday was a struggle, I was always comforted by the regularly run breastfeeding cafe just round the corner where I could pop in, see other new mums, have a cup of tea, a big slice of cake and a chat and suddenly feel less overwhelmed by it all. When lockdown happened those community run groups all stopped. Our communities became virtual; Whats app groups and video calls, baby classes over Zoom, the only lifeline and way to reach out to other mums.
Being part of this project was such an encouraging way to feel part of something again, connecting mothers across the country, recording this extraordinary moment in history whilst it was raw and in real time and also reassuring us we weren’t alone through capturing the shared experience.
Another theme in the book that resonated with me was feeling criminalised by secretively meeting other mothers in the park, breaking the law by sitting on a park bench when you need to feed your crying baby, “...play parks closed, with tape, like a crime scene.”..... “We stand still, a group of lactating criminals giving lockdown rules the finger. Breaking the law just to know that someone else has cracked nipples and piles.” The book catches the desperation of the situation, that longing for contact, another mum to talk to, timing your walks so you could ‘bump’ into a friendly face.
I particularly empathised with the feelings of missed memories and opportunities that a ‘normal’ maternity leave would bring and not being able to share those important milestones with family and friends, the first smile, giggle, crawling, walking, first birthdays, but also those maternity right of passage experiences; first holidays, adventures, swimming lessons, museum visits, trips out with the grandparents, lunches with friends, baby sitters.
Like millions of others, stripped down to the most prevalent memory, my maternity leave felt like one very long walk round one of two parks through all of the seasons. I just walked and walked and walked, mostly on my own, sometimes covertly with a mum friend. As recalled by one of the authors….
“No events help distinguish the moments, no visits, no holidays. Nothing to punctuate the murkiness of memory.“
There are moments of light in the book too, the acknowledgement that lockdown did have some more positive sides, the fact that Dads got to spend so much extra time with their families and witness the many firsts that might otherwise have been missed, and the perfect excuse to stay in our pajamas until lunchtime without any pressures of time, or unexpected visits.
Born in Lockdown takes you on a journey from the first positive pregnancy test through to mothers navigating childbirth on their own, through the three lockdowns, the stifling heat of that first lockdown to the bitter cold of the most recent lockdown, saying final goodbyes to loved ones over a phone call, meeting grandparents for the first time through a window, bringing babies into what feels like a virtual, contactless, mask wearing world.
Novelist Emylia Hall captures the rich tapestry of the born in lockdown experience, weaving the diverse stories of mothers across the country into one beautifully stitched piece.
Born in Lockdown is free to download on the Mothership Writers website https://www.mothershipwriters.com/borninlockdown
with a suggested donation going to SANDS, the leading stillbirth and neonatal death charity in the UK.
Cover Design by Esther Curtis.