It is a book with 277 authors but with one shared experience – becoming a new mother in 2020. The mothers speak about their isolation, uncertainty and the pressure placed on their mental health by the pandemic, but some say they were also able to find “silver linings” and positives that have come out of an extraordinary joint experience.
Born in Lockdown is the result of a writing project set up by Bristol novelist Emylia Hall, the founder of creative writing course Mothership Writers.
“The coronavirus pandemic has intensified what is already a challenging time, making the need for self-expression ever more vital,” Mrs Hall said.
“The idea was to encourage writing for pleasure and purpose… and, together, to tell the story of what it was like to become a new mum in 2020.”
The mums were asked to write in fragments, each comprising of no more than a handful of sentences or 50 words, that could be scribbled during a night-feed or recorded as a voice note.
Mrs Hall said: “They captured moments and emotions that were so raw, affecting, and inspiring, my tears streamed as I saved each one.”
She initially thought she would need around 20 mums to contribute, but as word spread, she ended up with 277 authors from across the UK.
“One of my favourite lines in our 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 said.
Roxy Afzal, from Manchester, said the project gave her the chance to “be really honest, but without moaning”.
The 37-year-old had every reason to think 2020 would be one of the happiest years of her life with her first baby due in May.
But the neonatal nurse found her pregnancy, birth and maternity leave all heavily impacted by the pandemic, with her baby shower cancelled, shops closed, and then in October, losing her father to Covid.
“We were really looking forward to being parents. I was looking forward to maternity leave, we were ready for it,” she said.
“It really feels like I have been robbed.
“There was always going to be the sleepless nights and hiccups with feeding, but you sign up for that…you don’t sign up for not having any support and not having your family and friends around.”
Aged just seven weeks, Miss Afzal’s son was readmitted to hospital for surgery, an experience she had to go through without her partner.
Two months later, her father – who had not yet met his grandson – died.
She said that “tipped her over” and she is now receiving treatment for postnatal depression.
Born in Lockdown has given her an outlet to think about the best and worst moments of the last year, she added.
For Lisa Bywater, writing is her way of “capturing” her life and having something to leave behind.
Like many in 2020 she was forced to confront her own mortality, but for Lisa, this came a few months before the pandemic when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, while six months pregnant.
She gave birth to her daughter Connie six weeks prematurely in January.
The 37 year-old, from Forest Hill in London, was then faced with leaving her tiny baby in intensive care so she could start her cancer treatment.
“I was only about three or four days postpartum so you’ve got all those emotions going through you and I was sat in the waiting room with all these seriously ill people and I was suddenly confronted with this thought that this is really serious,” she said.
Mrs Bywater stated chemotherapy a month before the March lockdown.
As the year went on, she found herself attending chemotherapy alone as restrictions tightened.
She said: “There was that feeling of very much being alone. Just having no-one to turn to at all.”
The former bookseller was alerted to Born in Lockdown via an online expectant mothers group.
“I felt like I had things I wanted to say, but no idea how to find the time between nappy changes and hospital appointments to start saying them, but this project seemed really manageable,” she said.
“I still have a lot to process from a year, and counting, of parenting and being a cancer patient during a pandemic, but being part of this amazing project has been cathartic, inspirational and humbling.”
Tessa Wills describes herself as “an older, single, queer, parent by choice”.
She said she enjoyed feeling part of a collective voice in this time of isolation.
“It just creates these really precious memories and this is a phenomenal thing to be living through,” she said.
“There is definitely going to be a lot of reflection on it afterwards, culturally, so it is really important to be trying to write right now and capturing it.”
The 43-year-old lives in Mark, Somerset, and gave birth to her second baby, Juniper Star, in October.
Over the past year she has had to move in with her elderly parents and pay for a live-in-nanny, for support.
“It was really hard for me to come to terms with how vulnerable I have made myself, us, through being a single parent,” she said.
“I have properly been brought to my knees through this, with the realisation I actually can’t do this by myself. I am very dependent on other people.”
‘Love and hope’
Reflecting on the collection, Mrs Hall said it was “a remarkable record of new motherhood at this time; an unflinchingly honest and moving account, where, despite the pain and hardship, resilience and love and hope shine through”.
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.”
Born in Lockdown is available to download for free from the Mothership Writers website from 23 February, with funds from voluntary donations going to the stillbirth and neonatal death charity Sands.