SUBWAYmy son, 0, knows nothing different. One around 600,000 babies born in Great Britain In the plague year of 2020, she has spent the eight months of her life (and most of her gestation) in a world defined by distance and disease.
Their circle is small. Not much out. When he does, the faces peeking out of his stroller are hidden by masks. A baby is usually a magnet for human contact; I guess about 300 people had hugged his older brother when he was eight months old. Maybe 20 people have made physical contact with Aubrey.
For my mother-in-law, who is in the highest risk category for coronavirus, he is both a joy and a risk of death. You have never been on a bus or train; he has not met most of his extended family, nor most of our friends; and he knows no other baby, not counting the tiny person who laughs at him in the mirror.
The difference between childhood now and childhood as we first experience it is enormous. What was once a busy market for events, activities and sociability has become a ghost town. What effect will this small, sanitized existence have on the babies of 2020-21?
I comfort myself that, while her parents have been slowly losing their minds, Aubrey seems to be pretty clear on things. But as each milestone passes, as the cardigans his grandmothers knit for him but never saw him wear come off, I can’t help but wonder what the long-term effects will be. Considering how fundamental these first months of a child’s life are to their cognitive and emotional development, what kind of imprint will this strange period leave on them? How much is it so babies get lost? And can you recover what was lost?
Dr. Nayeli Gonzalez-Gomez, a child development specialist at Oxford Brookes University, is leading a study on the effects of coronavirus in families with children ages 8 to 36 months. Unsurprisingly, you are finding that experiences vary enormously across social divide, with the closure of playgroups and other means of support hitting the poorest families especially. “Playgroups are really important,” says González-Gómez. “They provide enriching activities, promote child health, provide formal support links for struggling parents, and help parents meet other parents. Those babies are missing all of that, and so are their parents. “
The (anonymous) testimonials are surprisingly varied. Some parents report that their children’s language has “skyrocketed.” “We were surprised by the improvement in our daughter’s mood, behavior and development,” writes one of the parents. Others say the opposite: “The child has become very attached to me.” Another says his son has been terrified of other adults, especially men. “If a man tries to talk to her, he gets incredibly scared, cries in panic and hides his face in me.”
“Many people have told us that their babies have developed a fear of strangers,” adds González-Gómez. “If all a baby is used to is being on the inside, they are missing so many interactions that will teach them how the social world works. We don’t know what the long-term effect will be, but it’s something to watch out for. “
It was very different when Teddy was born, back in the prelapsary days of 2014. We lived in a third-floor flat on a busy London street. My wife’s pregnancy passed in a buzz of sociability (we were supposed to host a New Years Eve party when she went into labor) and in the days after we returned from the hospital, we received a constant procession of visitors. Our parents and siblings took care of children since he was 10 days old; We took him to his first party when he was two weeks old; and most days, a world of new faces appeared in front of him underground. We maneuver your buggy on buses, escalators, Ryanair flights. When she was six months old, we threw a naming day party for her, and I remember being amazed at how multifaceted her relationships were, even at that young age. known he was.
If we had a philosophy, it was: let the world in. It was exhausting. But we reasoned that this was good for him, that he would hopefully learn to be adaptable, sociable, and broad-minded. It was also good for our families and friends. And it was good for us, because: babysitters.
Hardly anyone really knows Aubrey, not her scent, not her weight, the way she sighs after sneezing. Visits from friends have been postponed indefinitely. We unpack the cute clothes we kept from Teddy’s childhood – fancy dungarees, bathing suits, rompers he wore to weddings – and find that the time for him to wear them has passed. All the paranoia about the screens is gone – we posted it on Instagram and set up Zooms. He staggers, dribbling towards the screen. At least it makes it real, but it’s a pale imitation. When I closed the last call to my 90-year-old grandmother, she was crying.
The first time, we had the terror of becoming precious, of regressing to a conservative vision of the nuclear family, of never escaping the Teletubby land of routines, monitors, equipment, enclosure. My wife read Rachel Cusk’s memoir, A Life’s Work, which describes parenting as “isolating, often boring, tirelessly demanding, and exhausting … The day is ahead without reference points, like a meadow, like a impassable plain. ” As I read these passages now, it amazes me how relevant they are to the confinement. A day “empty of landmarks … an impassable plain”? We’ve all had a lot of those. A hell of smallness, softness, sweetness? Often boring and relentlessly demanding? Yes.
Even given our relatively fortunate situation, many aspects of our youngest’s entry into the world have been stressful, infuriating, and even impossible for us. My wife endured a long and lonely pregnancy, forced to attend all appointments alone. No one was telling us who could legally care for our other daughter when she went into labor. Fortunately, I was allowed in for the delivery, but had to leave shortly after. I think we broke the law by leaving Teddy with a friend.
However, now that Aubrey is here and apparently doing well, I’m starting to see a lot of advantages. He is calm, smiling, receptive. And it has given shape and purpose to this strange and shapeless period. Amid so much outdated and overly familiar, here’s something pristine and new. Given that confinement has at times felt like a huge, infantilization, and hypermaternity imposed on the entire nation, it makes sense to do it with a real baby, I guess.
Dr Liz Gregory, a consultant clinical psychologist with the Board of Health at Aneurin Bevan University in South Wales, says these are near-optimal conditions for a baby his age, especially one with a father at home and a sibling close by. . “What babies want and need most of all are interactions with safe and trusted adults,” he says. “If their parents are more at home and hopefully with fewer distractions, they will enjoy it.”
She is quick to add that mothers’ experiences vary wildly, with millions under immense pressure. A study on mental health before and during the Covid-19 pandemic, published in The Lancet In July, it found that women, ages 18 to 24, and people living with children, especially preschool-age children, were the most likely to have experienced increased mental stress during the pandemic. However, Gregory feels that it is important that new parents do not punish themselves because they are not providing the kind of enriching childhood that they had imagined they would provide.
“What we often forget is that all of this is new for a baby, ”he says. “You may be unloading a dishwasher and as you turn to interact, the baby will find this fascinating.” It’s a bit of a myth, he says, that a lot of social interaction will make a baby more sociable. “Temperament comes into play, but a securely attached baby is more likely to be able to create meaningful bonds on his or her own. Safe, predictable and reliable certainty makes them feel more confident to explore the world as they age. “
Safe, predictable and reliable certainty – this was precisely what we rebelled against earlier. But now I appreciate him and I can’t help but wonder if this is what makes him such a lovable baby. In fact, he sleeps through the night! I prostrate daily in gratitude for this miracle.
Besides, his mother and I are here all the time. I missed most of Teddy’s first things when I spent that year unhappily traveling to the other side of London, creating a nearly unbridgeable gulf between my and my wife’s experiences. Now we’re (more or less) bonded, and Teddy and Aubrey have a bond that they wouldn’t have otherwise. I don’t think I really miss climbing a stroller up the escalator, either.
It is in our larger circle that I feel the greatest loss. When someone brings you joy, the impulse is to share that joy. I now look forward to a summer of faces and movement. I look forward to taking him to see my parents, my sisters, my grandmother, our friends, and I hope a dose of baby will help lift their spirits as well. And do you know what mine would really lift? Babysitters
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism