COVID-19 has been great for casually tearing up all expectations of common experiences, hasn’t it? I was five months pregnant when lockdown hit and it reshaped my baby brewing experience for the better, for the surreal, and for the worse.

My wife and I had already been through the fun of fertility treatment (for clarification, it wasn’t fun), so once we had that positive test in our mitts last November, we quietly hoped for a straightforward onward skip. Then along came a bloody pandemic taking a great big steaming dump on my zen-like dreams of glowing through pregnancy on a diet of yoga and antenatal massage.

For the most part, being pregnant during COVID-19 has been surreal and, dare I say it, pretty relaxed. I cleared my desk for maternity leave at five months pregnant to work from home. This meant I could take full advantage of lockdown to nest, nap and nom. With no commute and a sofa to lollop on at lunch, boy, was I all about the naps (without skiving, I should add, boss). Most importantly my newly raisin-sized bladder fully embraced being close to the toilet at almost all times, except for my daily exercise outdoors. Does a preggo piss in the woods? You betcha.

I found it bizarre that some of my closest friends never saw me with a proper baby-filled belly. By the time some of the restrictions were lifted and we were able to meet familiar humans in person, I had a baby in my arms. I wouldn’t be surprised if some friends questioned if I was ever actually pregnant at all. What an elaborate conspiracy that would have been.

Images by Hayley-Jane SimsThere were plenty of times the pandemic made our pregnancy a bit head scratchy. I won’t bore you with the details, but I will say that not being able to physically get to grips with stuff like prams and car seats is a surprising arse ache. But no fear, we discovered that any question (for instance, will this particular pram fit in the boot of a Skoda Fabia?) can, and will, be answered by at least 50 people on a specific pram-fan Facebook group.

On the whole, our lockdown pregnancy experience was rather smooth. As first-timers I guess we’re lucky to not know any different. Who knows what wondrous pregnancy perks we might have missed out on? I’m guessing it’s a good job we haven’t a fig.

For us, the biggest shadow cast by COVID-19 was me having to attend appointments, routine or otherwise, alone. At one solo appointment I had to unexpectedly decide on the spot whether to book in for a c-section or have a doctor grapple with The Bubs through my tum and force it into a more ‘birth-friendly’ position. Luckily, I was allowed to Phone a Friend and my wife and I had a couple of minutes to decide together before the countdown clock boinged.

Though it’s easy to focus on the person with the sprog inside them, I was always aware that it must have been isolating for my wife and all those other partners who have to pace outside in hospital car parks during appointments waiting for a thumbs up text (if signal allows). The trickiest moment for us was when I was sent for an extra scan as I was worried about the little bambino’s movements. Even though I was fairly positive things were OK and this was just a precautionary check, it was nerve-racking to think there might be a chance of unwelcome news that I’d have to take on alone. It got me thinking about those women who may have more reason to be anxious, whether that’s because of past experiences or otherwise. How bloody awful for both the woman and the partner to be separated at the point where they really should be facing things together. Don’t even get me started on the women who have had to give birth alone, or had to go through early labour without their partners because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Images by Hayley-Jane SimsImagine a world in which you cannot be at your partner’s side during the birth of your child but you can meet your mates down the pub.

Anyway, I’m super grateful that my wife and I won the postcode lottery of hospital rules and my wife was right by my side when they ripped the stubborn little bugger out of me in theatre. We had to wear masks the whole time, but I’ve no idea if this is what happens in theatre anyway.

As we venture into parenthood amid a pandemic full of never-ending local lockdowns, it feels like we’re faced with a constant myriad of ongoing dilemmas and frustrations. What I will say is that I never expected to be refreshing my email to bag a hotly in demand place at a parent and baby class in a church hall. Oh Glastonbury, you’ve got nothing on Baby Sensory right now.

By Hayley-Jane Sims