A new e-book, Born in Lockdown, features 277 authors who shared a profound experience: They became mothers during the pandemic.
The 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 program for new moms.
“Too much for Cyril Connolly and his stroller in the hall,” he said, referring to Connolly’s famous quote about children inhibiting creative lives. “We use the new motherhood as a catalyst for creativity, and it’s amazing to see the transformative effects firsthand.”
Mothership Writers was founded two years ago, before the appearance of Covid-19. The pandemic added shock to the project and in 2020 Hall decided to collect accounts of what it was like to become a mother during the confinement. The mothers were asked to write in short chunks: thoughts scrawled during the haze of nighttime feedings or captured through voice memos as they hit the sidewalks with restless newborns.
Hall expected about 20 mothers to contribute, but word of the project spread and the resulting e-book, Born in Lockdown, which launched this week, features 277 new moms. His words are published verbatim and unedited.
The ebook It’s free to download and voluntary donations are accepted for the Sands charity, which supports those affected by the death of a baby. It has already been downloaded 2,000 times, raising £ 2,700.
“As the fragments began to arrive in my inbox, a sense of excitement built up inside me,” Hall said. “Here there were urgent dispatches from the front line of the maternity ward during a pandemic; perfect articulations of personal experience; 50 word pieces that captured moments and emotions that were so raw, moving and inspiring that my tears flowed as I saved each one.
“That’s when I knew we were doing something good. Really good.”
“We use the new motherhood as a catalyst for creativity,” said Hall, the driving force behind Born in Lockdown. Portrait: Nell Mallia. Book Cover Illustrations: Esther Curtis
She describes the collection as “an extraordinary record of this time in history, full of honest accounts, pain and difficulties, but above all, radiant with love and hope.”
Recurring themes include the ‘village’ loss of support, isolation and uncertainty, and additional pressures on mental health. But there are also silver lights, new connections, and amazing gifts. “Despite the pain and hardships, so much love and hope shine through,” Hall said.
She often sees that childbirth awakens in people a real desire for self-expression. “Patriarchal society often expects us to see it as ‘ordinary’, but the opposite is true. Mothership helps provide that space and encouragement for new moms to feel like they have a voice and feel good about using it. “
Despite the pain and hardships, so much love and hope shine
One of his favorite phrases in the book is: “The very thing that keeps you apart right now will bring you together one day.”
“Born in Lockdown was made in exactly that spirit,” he added. “My sincere thanks to the 277 new mothers who were willing to entrust me with their stories and to join, at a distance, through the confinement, to do something so special. And to ultimately remind us that we are all in this together. “
‘An unprecedented experience’: the moms of Born in Lockdown
Three mothers explain why they participated in the Born in Lockdown project:
Roxy Afzal is 37 years old and lives in Manchester. Their son was born in May 2020
“Being a mother for the first time in 2020 was the strangest and most unexpected experience! I will never forget having to wear a mask during my emergency cesarean section and leave the hospital towards the security guards and barriers.
Being isolated as a new parent had been my worst nightmare, so it was difficult for it to come true. With the added stress that our baby was readmitted to the hospital for surgery at seven weeks old, and later my dad died of Covid-19, I developed postpartum depression. I think as a neonatal nurse, people expected me to know what to do regardless, and I probably expected it too!
I feel fortunate that a health visitor from the SureStart Center has brought to my attention the Born in Lockdown project. Everyone has faced their own challenges during the pandemic, so I felt the pressure to put on a ‘brave face’. The Born in Lockdown project gave me the opportunity to express myself more honestly and to feel a little more connected to other moms in a situation where ‘normal’ places to meet have been taken away from us. “
Jade Gilks is 29 years old and lives in the southeast. Their son, Ethan, was born in August 2020
“For me, 2020 was also an emotionally unprecedented year. Being pregnant, raising a young child, and then giving birth, among the news stories that said how the pandemic was disproportionately affecting Black communities and Black mothers, added an additional layer of complexity and emotional tension that I did not think was possible.
So when the opportunity came to document what it was like to be a locked-in mother, I jumped at the opportunity. I saw this as an opportunity to begin to verbalize the different emotions that I was experiencing and also to understand the experiences of other mothers. It was an opportunity to reflect not only on the difficult times, but also on the many blessings that I had encountered during this time. “
Tessa Wills is 43 years old and lives in Somerset. Their baby, Juniper Star, was born in October 2020
“I am an older, single, queer parent by choice who became involved with Mothership Writers after the birth of my first child in 2018. Those regular meetings provided a structure through which to document the intensity of that time that was otherwise it felt too huge to funnel through something as focused as the tip of a ballpoint pen. Those fragments will travel with us through the life of my firstborn, and I am very grateful to the mothership for taking us there.
When that course ended, I got pregnant with my second and I was getting used to it as a life choice and I found faith in the decisions I had made as a person with a precarious life and a lot of responsibility. So I wrote Alarm Bells Sound (included in the Mothership Writers Dispatches from New Motherhood anthology). On 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 moment of isolation. Mothership helped us document this trip. “
Illustrations: Esther Curtis