A new ebook, Born in Lockdown, features 277 authors who all shared one profound experience – they became mothers during the pandemic
New motherhood is usually associated with pain, exhaustion and an overwhelming sense of responsibility. And while this is often the case, it can also be a catalyst for creativity – according to novelist Emylia Hall, founder of Mothership Writers, a creative writing programme for new mums.
“So much for Cyril Connolly and his pram in the hall’,” she said, referring to Connolly’s famous quote about children inhibiting a creative life. “We use new motherhood as a catalyst for creativity, and it’s amazing to see at first-hand the transformational effects.”
Mothership Writers was founded two years ago, before the emergence of Covid-19. The pandemic added poignancy to the project and in 2020 Hall decided to gather accounts of what it was like to become a mother during lockdown. Mums were asked to write in short fragments: thoughts scribbled during the haze of night feeds or captured via voice notes while out pounding the pavements with unsettled newborns.
Hall hoped around 20 mothers would contribute, but word of the project spread and the resulting ebook – Born in Lockdown – which launched this week, features 277 new mums. Their words are published verbatim and unedited.
The ebook is free to download with voluntary donations being accepted for the charity Sands, which supports those affected by the death of a baby. Within 24 hours of its launch on Tuesday, it had been downloaded 2,000 times and had raised £2,700.
“As the fragments started arriving in my inbox a feeling of excitement was building inside me,” said Hall. “Here were urgent dispatches from the frontline of mothering during a pandemic; pitch-perfect articulations of personal experience; 50-word pieces that captured moments and emotions that were so raw, affecting, and inspiring, my tears streamed as I saved each one.
“That was when I knew we were making something good. Really good.”
She describes the collection as “an extraordinary record of this time in history, full of unflinchingly honest accounts, pain and hardship, but above all, beaming through, such love and hope”.
Recurring themes include that of the missing ‘village’ of support, of isolation and uncertainty, and the extra pressures on mental health. But there are silver linings, new connections and incredible gifts too. “Despite the pain and hardship – such love and hope shine through,” said Hall.
She often sees childbirth awakening in people a real desire for self-expression. “Patriarchal society so often expects us to see it as ‘ordinary’, but it’s anything but. Mothership helps provide that space and encouragement for new mums to feel like they have a voice – and to feel good about using it.”
Despite the pain and hardship – such love and hope shine through
One of her favourite lines in the book is: ‘The very thing keeping you apart right now will one day bond you together.’
“Born in Lockdown was made in exactly that spirit,” she added. “My heartfelt thanks go to all of the 277 new mothers who were willing to trust me with their stories, and to unite – across distance, through lockdown – to make something so special. And to remind us, ultimately, that we’re all in this together.”
‘An unprecedented experience’: the Born in Lockdown mums
Three mothers explain why they took part in the Born in Lockdown project:
Roxy Afzal is 37 and lives in Manchester. Her son was born in May 2020
“Becoming a mother for the first time in 2020 was the most bizarre and unexpected experience! I’ll never forget having to wear a mask throughout my emergency c-section and walking out of the hospital to security guards and barriers.
Being isolated as a new parent had been my worst nightmare, so it was tough for it to have come true. With the added stress of our baby being readmitted to hospital for surgery at seven weeks old, and later, my Dad dying from Covid-19, I developed postnatal depression. I think, as a Neonatal Nurse, people just expected me to know what to do, regardless – and I probably expected it of myself, too!
I feel lucky that a Health Visitor at the SureStart centre drew my attention to the Born in Lockdown project. Everyone has been facing their own unique challenges during the pandemic, so I felt the pressure to put on a ‘brave face’. The Born in Lockdown project gave me the chance to express myself more honestly and to feel that bit more connected to other mums in a situation where the ‘normal’ places to get together have been taken away from us.”
Jade Gilks is 29 and lives in the south-east. Her son, Ethan, was born in August 2020
“For me 2020 was also an unprecedented year emotionally. Being pregnant, raising a toddler and then giving birth, amongst news stories stating how the pandemic was disproportionately affecting black communities and black mothers, added an extra layer of complexity and emotional strain I didn’t think was possible.
So when the opportunity came to document what it was like to be a mum in lockdown, I jumped at the chance. I saw this as an opportunity to begin to verbalise the different emotions I was experiencing as well as understanding the experiences of other mothers too. It was a chance to reflect not just on hard times but the many blessings I had encountered during this time.”
Tessa Wills is 43 and lives in Somerset. Her baby, Juniper Star, was born in October 2020
“I’m an older, single, queer, parent by choice who got involved with Mothership Writers after the birth of my first child back in 2018. Those regular meetups provided a structure through which to document the intensity of that time which otherwise felt too vast to channel through something as focussed as the nib of a pen. Those fragments will journey with us through my firstborn’s life, and I’m so grateful to the Mothership for getting us there.
As that course culminated, I had gotten pregnant with my second and was getting to grips with that as a life choice and finding faith in the decisions I’d made as a person with a precarious life and a lot of responsibility. I wrote Alarm Bells Sound then (included in the Mothership Writers anthology Dispatches from New Motherhood). In this next project, Born in Lockdown, I gave birth to my second in surprising circumstances and enjoyed feeling part of a collective voice in this time of isolation. Mothership helped us document this journey.”
Illustrations: Esther Curtis