18th September 2020: The Black Dog

18th September 2020: The Black Dog

Dear Edith,

It’s been a while since I’ve written something. I wanted to write regularly and document every tiny moment of your early life, every little adventure we went on so you could look back and have a little storybook of your first few months.

Unfortunately, the black dog has reared its head.

If I could spare you one thing as you get older, it’s this. I’ve struggled with my mental health before but usually I can stave it off by identifying it and recognising that how I feel isn’t real. This time it seems harder. The pandemic is raging on, and Scotland has just introduced some new restrictions that say you can’t meet more than six people from two households. I can still see your Granny and Granda, but the little group of mums and babies that met twice a week is a no-go. It was my anchor, the one moment of normality that made me forget that absolutely nothing is normal.

It’s hard. I’m struggling. I’m trying to motivate myself, but it’s difficult when every day there’s signs that the virus is creeping back again. The schools and nurseries have reopened and every day it seems like there’s a different primary school or nursery that’s had to close to kids because they’ve had an outbreak.

I’m sorry there’s such a gap in your story. There’s so much I could have written about. The way you’ve discovered your tongue and you used it to make a whole load of new noises. The way you’ve discovered how to alter the pitch of your voice so you can make increasingly high-pitched sounds. The way you can nearly roll over, if you could only figure out what to do with the arm that gets in your way. Your new game is shouting “ah!” and looking absolutely thrilled when I do it back. You had your first tummy bug – not serious, fortunately, but it did lead to me having to wipe sick my jeans with a soapy cloth in the toilets of a service station in Lancaster. I optimistically booked a spot at Santa’s Grotto in December, because I was devastated that, on top of everything else we’ve missed out on, I might not get to take you to see Santa for your first Christmas.

We’ll get through this, because we have to. I’m grateful for WhatsApp groups and social media for helping us maintain connections – it’s the only thing that’s stopping me from having a complete breakdown as the prospect of another lockdown starts to become a real possibility.

And we have you. You make everything better.

15th July 2020: The Loneliness and the Scream

15th July 2020: The Loneliness and the Scream

Dear Edith,

Last week we achieved something that under normal circumstances would have happened weeks ago: our first trip out.

Okay, so technically we’ve been out to get your jags, and we went to the hospital to get your hip scan done when you were only a few weeks old. We’ve been to Granny’s house and for a walk round the park, but this was the first time we’d gone out somewhere for more than an hour.

More importantly, it was the first time I’d taken you anywhere on my own.

A classic Armstrong family outing memento.

We went to a little village not far away to meet up with some other mums. I’d knew one of them a little from WhatsApp, but for all intents and purposes I was heading out to see people I’d never met or really spoken to before.

It was the most nerve-wracking thing I’ve done since I had you.

No matter what anyone – including your dad – thinks, I am not an extrovert. I’m really good at talking to people I don’t know at Magic: the Gathering events, but I usually find myself in a group with people I do know well when that’s happening, and it’s much easier to talk to new people when you have some friends to bounce off. I am not at all good at meeting people for the first time when I’m on my own.

Going out and meeting new people would have stressed me out on its own. Taking a little baby out on my own for the first time on top of that had me a nervous wreck.

As usual when I get freaked out about something, it was completely fine. You were absolutely perfect. You had a wee bit of a cry when we were sitting on the grass, but I expected that – you’ve never been a baby who sits and looks around, you need to be entertained in some way. You fell asleep looking out of the pram when we walked to the coffee shop, which was a little hole in the wall because of COVID-19.

It was needed. Not so much by you, because you’re still too little to understand, but by me.

One of our earliest (solo) adventures.

I have two lockdown modes. I either blitz through tons of stuff in a day until I’m knackered, and the sense of achievement fuels me and I don’t stop and think about what’s going on in the world and what’s going to happen in the future and I go to bed full of positivity and accomplishment.

If you’re unsettled or I’m tired and we achieve absolutely nothing other than getting through the day, that’s when the dread kicks in. It’s not so bad now that you’re a little bigger and you can interact with us a bit (we can make you smile now! It’s so much fun) but it’s really, really monotonous having a baby in lockdown. The other day I was getting ready for bed after an Off Day and suddenly time just gaped out in front of me. I don’t know how long it’s going to be before things get even close to being back to normal. I don’t even know what “normal” is going to look like.

I can see why baby groups are a thing. I love you more than I ever thought I could possibly love another human being, but lockdown has reduced our life to a carousel of making bottles and changing nappies and rotating you between my knee and the Mamaroo chair and the play-gym on the floor to keep you entertained. When I do get out of the house now it’s mostly to Granny and Granda’s, and we start again – just in slightly different surroundings.

There have been times when I’ve been so exhausted by human interaction that I’ve cried at the end of the day, but I didn’t realise until now that not having any was just as bad. Talking to other mums made me feel human again, and for the first time I felt like I could breathe again. The other day we had a spontaneous visit from some friends and we all sat in the garden and drank coffee and I was a brand-new human being at the end of it.

Whatever comes next, I’m glad that opportunities to connect and reconnect are starting to come up. For you they’ll be photos to show you when you’re older, or faint memories, but they’re the flicker of hope that’s keeping me going when everything is too heavy.


Dear other mums in this situation,

Solidarity. I know that having a baby completely throws every single aspect of your life off-kilter and the pandemic and lockdown has removed everything that was designed to keep us anchored. It’s been the most emotionally turbulent few weeks I’ve ever had, because having a baby is so great but I’m also grieving the things I would have been doing under normal circumstances. It’s really hard for, as a chronic introvert, to express exactly why I have such a strong desire to meet and talk to other mums. Even if it’s not to discuss baby stuff.

I know reasonably that I was in no fit state to take Edith to baby sensory or baby massage or any other groups like that in the first few weeks. I had a traumatic birth and an emergency section and the recovery from that took up what little energy I wasn’t pouring into keeping a tiny human alive. Even so, the grief for the experiences I haven’t had with my first born is stronger than I thought it would be.

In conclusion: I see you. I know we’ve been robbed of experiences and introductions and being able to see our family with our newborns. I know the sadness of being handed a list of baby groups and resources at arm’s length when you haven’t seen past the front window for weeks. I know that it’s a loneliness that isn’t even remotely comparable to anything that’s come before it.

But there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I don’t know what things are going to look like when we reach it, but it’s there. Hang on, mama.