In mid-December last year, my partner and I learnt the happy news that we were having a baby. It wasn’t long after that reports started to surface of a virus spreading in the city of Wuhan in China. Initially, it felt like a remote worry, one that could easily be dismissed due to geographical distance. We believed that this virus would be dealt with and never considered that it might make its way to the UK. This belief slowly crumbled when, towards the end of February, I started to hear of increasing numbers of people in the UK testing positive. Cases had already begun to appear in London, and those travelling on public transport started to feel mild paranoia. I worried, knowing that as a pregnant woman I have compromised immunity. My sympathetic manager advised me to work from home until the situation was clearer. At that time, there was no information on how Covid-19 affects pregnant women, which only added to the uncertainty. In an article I came across, the virus was compared to others, such as SARS and Ebola, that have caused stillbirth and miscarriage. I decided very quickly that I needed to avoid reading anxiety-provoking articles until more information became available.
Current information for pregnant woman is unclear and inconsistent. The Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists (2020) states there is no evidence the virus passes to the baby while pregnant or through birth. The same website then contradicts itself in the FAQs, stating that transmission from mother to baby during pregnancy or birth is probable and has been reported in a small number of cases. The NHS currently advises that pregnant women do not appear to be more susceptible to the consequences of coronavirus as the general population. But then it is acknowledged that pregnant women are more vulnerable to getting infections than women who are not pregnant. Ultimately as a new virus very little is known about the affect on pregnancy and birth.
Pregnancy, as many say, is an invitation to slow down. Your body is busy creating a new human being and needs all the energy and calm it can get. This encouraged me to plan a holiday in early March, to stay with my parents and be pampered ˗ a last opportunity to be just me, before my full-time journey into motherhood begins. Having thought about what might happen if the virus spread quickly in the UK, I took off on my planned holiday. My longing to see my family took precedence and at the time the number of cases reported in Egypt were much lower than in the UK. I travelled to Cairo on a British Airways flight. Passengers were spaced out, one seat apart, and I assumed this was the airline’s way of reducing the risk of the virus being transmitted. I had started to take precautions myself, such as wiping down the seat, the seat belt, the tray, any surface that I might come into contact with. I was aware that I needed to protect myself in order to protect my baby.
The fear that slowly crept through me was not just about my safety and the pregnancy but also that I might be the cause of my loved ones contracting the virus. I thought it was safer to assume that I might have the virus until 14 days had passed, and so there was minimal if any physical contact between me and my family. I realised well into the trip that I was getting all my physical intimacy through petting my dogs and friends’ dogs. Halfway through my holiday, I started to receive texts from friends and family, telling me that the Egyptian government had decided to shut down the airport in the next three days and to suspend all flights. This meant that my flight to London was cancelled. I attempted to change my date of travel only to find that the fee for doing so had jumped to £250. My screen then froze and upon refreshing it, the fee had increased to £1,400. At that moment, I decided to leave it and give myself some time to think about the best thing to do: do I stay with my family in Egypt, or do I go back to London where my partner and my home are. It felt as though I was getting an open-ended invitation to extend my vacation – a chance to feel suspended in time, with no responsibilities, just free time with my family. But it was not just me that I had to consider: the most important question was where was safest place for my unborn child? I decided to buy an overpriced flight back to London. It was a stressful, uncomfortable flight: a mask on my face for the duration, the plane overcrowded, full of people who were suspicious of each other. Arriving back at my London home felt like a return to the safety of my nest. I knew that I had made the right decision.
Before the virus surfaced in the UK, the NHS maternity services were already experiencing high demand. Knowing that the services are under a lot of pressure, I was not surprised to hear that the NHS antenatal classes was cancelled. This meant I miss out on meeting other expectant women in my area and accessing a whole load of helpful knowledge and information. I intend to sign up for a hypnobirthing course in addition to a private antenatal course, but both will be conducted online so will lose a degree of realness. Furthermore my 20 weeks antenatal appointment with a midwife was cancelled. This left me feeling disappointed, but I understand that there are other people in greater need of medical care. I thought I would be offered an online appointment but instead I was told my next appointment will be when I am 26 weeks. I had my scan coming up, which meant I will have some reassurance then. However, my disappointment grew, when I learned that my partner would not be able join me for the 20-week scan. Other friends who are due to deliver close to now have been informed that only one birthing partner can attend the delivery but cannot stay overnight or visit the postnatal ward. Adjusting my expectations and being resourceful have helped me to accept the situation. I asked the sonographer to write the baby’s gender on a card and place it in an envelope so that, despite my partner missing the scan, we managed to have that special moment together.
Thanks to modern technology and the delivery drivers working overtime, I have access to all the clothes and equipment needed for the baby’s arrival. I have started buying items online knowing that delivery may take longer than normal. Naturally, my partner has been the main shopper during lockdown. When lockdown started, he often found himself visiting three separate shops to find all the groceries we needed. A month on, there is much more stock available, and we have also become familiar with numerous online grocery shops that deliver direct. This has taken some of the pressure off him. Being on lockdown has changed many of my day to day experiences, an aspect of realness of real life connections with people and experiences is on hold. What I realise is that accepting the current circumstances and finding ways to work around them helps to make the best of the situation. When things are out of one’s control, objecting and protesting only adds to the anxiety. Manage what you can control and accept what you cannot. This is one way that I manage my anxiety.
Anxiety tends to increase in pregnancy — going for long walks is advised to help maintain a calm perspective. Juggling the current collective anxiety felt by others with my own hormonal changes has been tricky. Uncertainty about what is to come, about the health of loved ones and about what kind of environment my child will be born into can unsettle me. Yet it is a reminder that this uncertainty exists and day to day distractions gives us the illusion of control. I have learned to accept the waves of unease that surface and to quieten the fear that convinces you into thinking that this feeling won’t go away. It always does go away, and I have used it as a prompt to do breathing exercises and yoga, and to take a break from any compulsive behaviour that might be adding to those negative thoughts. Knowing that I am carrying a baby and have some responsibility for the internal environment I am exposing it to encourages me to look after myself even more. At the same time, I accept that it is only normal to have moments when I feel anxious, frustrated or restless.
Feelings of restlessness and boredom help to explain the amount of baking, eating, and sharing of memes that the majority of us have been doing since the lockdown started. Self-quarantine has led us to battle our own boredom. I explored its effects extensively in my Counselling Psychology doctoral thesis. Boredom can be expressed in diverse ways: through hostility, frustration, sleepiness or restlessness. I argue in my dissertation that boredom is an essential experience as it allows us to come closer to knowing ourselves; we need to examine it in order to gain a better understanding of the experience itself. If you embrace it, you will, as some philosophers have claimed, reach a point of revelation and see new meanings in your life. Existential philosophers such as Kierkegaard, Heidegger and Nietzsche, and psychotherapists such as Barnett and Stern, have echoed this idea, offering a less conventional understanding to boredom. So instead of reaching for your phone or turning on the TV, try to stay with that feeling of boredom and reflect on it: ask what it reveals to you about yourself.
In his book, A Philosophy of Boredom, Svendsen (2005) describes how people constantly fight feelings of restlessness, and suggests that if they allowed themselves to stop, they would become more aware of their boredom. What he means is that we are bored to start with but are simply unable to notice it because we are constantly busy. Other researchers attribute the difficulty of becoming aware of boredom to living in “acceleration mode”: a push for constant enjoyment and movement that results in a low tolerance of boredom and an association of it with the lack of a fulfilled life (Aho, 2007). What is suggested is that we relate to boredom by fleeing from it. Now that we are in quarantine, distractions have lessened, social obligations have disappeared, and we are left to face our boredom. This could be an opportunity to ask yourself, was I bored all along and just unaware of it? Which leads to the next question of what we have lost and what new meanings do we need to resolve this boredom.
There have been many typologies of boredom, Doehlemann (1991), a German sociologist, came up with the most elucidating (as cited in Svendsen, 2005). He distinguished between four types of boredom:
First is situative boredom , the kind that happens when one is bored with a situation and starts questioning the point of the event.
Second is the boredom of satiety, where too much of one thing wears one out.
Third is existential boredom, a questioning and a lack of content with life itself.
Fourth is creative boredom, which is a description of the outcome rather than the state.
Identifying which type of boredom one feels can be used as a guidance to how to resolve it. If you are feeling the first or second type, then boredom as a feeling is encouraging you to do something else, create a change in your current environment. Also, boredom has been found to protect us from toxic people or situations. Whereas the third type of boredom is the one that requires you to avoid distractions and to reflect on the feeling, meanings and purpose of living.
Like many, I do not practise what I preach, and I feel boredom’s repulsiveness. Yet I find I am in a situation that is inviting me to embrace my boredom, and I appreciate that constantly running away from it has only made me anxious. I am trying to not feel the need to constantly occupy yourself and make sure that for a small portion of the day to do nothing. The advice for pregnant women to self-isolate for three months is daunting but it is actually an ideal preparation for motherhood. Loss of freedom, feeling constrained, and a sense of losing myself are all feelings that I am anticipating after childbirth. Now I get to practise them a bit sooner than I expected. I wanted to celebrate being pregnant with my family and loved ones, and to make use of my remaining time as a person with fewer responsibilities, but I have now lost that opportunity. But feeling a sense of safety and knowing that I have more than the basics for living makes this loss manageable. What is more, the loss I feel is universal: everyone’s plans have come to a halt. I find this shared experience prevents me from sulking and feeling any sense of injustice. We are all stuck at home.
To end on a lighter note, I have inevitably had to give up a lot of fun activities to care for myself and my unborn baby, and frankly I no longer have the energy to carry on with that lifestyle. Now it feels that the whole world has joined me in lockdown — and in nurturing a growing belly.
- Aho, K. A. (2007) ‘Acceleration and time pathologies: The critique of psychology in Heidegger’s Beitrage’, Time & Society, 16(1), 25-42.
- Barnett, L. (2012) ‘Tedium, ennui and atonement: Existential perspectives on boredom’, in L. Barnett and G. Madison (eds), Existential Therapy: Legacy,Vibrancy and Dialogue (pp. 53-66). Hove: Routledge.
- Heidegger, M. (1995), The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics: World, Finitude, Solitude (W. McNeil and N. Walker, trans.), Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. (Original work published 1929.)
- Nietzsche, F. W. (1996) Human, All Too Human: A Book for Free Spirits (R. J. Hollingdale, trans.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (Original work published 1878.)
- Stern, E. M. (1988b) ‘An awakening and complexity’, in E. M. Stern (ed.), Psychotherapy and the Bored Patient (pp. 5-16), New York, NY: The Haworth Press.
- Svendsen, L. F. H. (2005) A Philosophy of Boredom, London: Reaktion Books.
- Information for all pregnant women about childbirth choices and birth partners during the coronavirus pandemic – Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) UK