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New Zealand lockdown babies turn one

Alanah Eriksen
By
Alanah Eriksen

Deputy Head of News, NZ Herald

Twenty-five per cent of their short lives have been spent in a lockdown.

They're used to seeing only the top half of adults' faces and since birth they've been social distancing and hearing that familiar sound effect played at the beginning of the Government's Covid-19 adverts.

These are New Zealand's first lockdown babies and they're now turning 1.

They are exclusive members of a generation conceived when the country was plunged into alert level 4, between March 26 and April 27, 2020, as the new disease was getting its claws into the world.

The Weekend Herald has tracked seven of their families over the past year to see how the pandemic has affected them.

Some mothers said lockdown helped them conceive, like Katy Perez: "My husband and I took turns at creating our own at-home weekly date nights during level 4. They became a competition to see who could make the best date for the other once our daughter was asleep and many or them included a little too much Caribbean rum and Champagne."

Shubhneet Nanda adds: "I was a contracting optometrist at the time and working all over New Zealand and my ovulation dates were not matching our time together and the lockdown meant I had to come back to Auckland sooner than I had planned."

But pregnancies suffered in level 3 and 4 - one mother had already had three miscarriages and was unable to access the recurrent miscarriage clinic when pregnant with her lockdown baby. Partners couldn't go to scans, work hours were reduced, money was tight, antenatal classes were off, an overseas wedding was cancelled.

One mother worked in an isolation hotel and welcomed the first lot of quarantining guests before finding out she was pregnant and taking herself off the front desk. Her hours were later cut in half.

All spoke of feeling isolated after missing out on crucial mother and baby coffee groups, sensory classes and swimming lessons.

One mother spoke of her postnatal depression, heightened by lockdown. Most spoke of general mental health issues.

They juggled long days with older children and a newborn at home - one was homeschooling her 6-year-old, entertaining her active toddler and looking after her newborn. One had to part ways with a nanny who was unvaccinated.

Most spoke of their usually social babies becoming withdrawn after getting used to only seeing their parents' faces for months.

And with our borders closed for almost two years, most cancelled overseas trips. Five of the babies had a parent from another country so some are still waiting to meet grandparents.

But all of the mothers agreed lockdowns gave them more precious family time and for one family it inspired them to pack up their entire life in Auckland.

'I didn't want to see myself go back to that dark place'

Katy and Billy Pérez with daughter Marley and son Zephyr. Photo / Supplied
Katy and Billy Pérez with daughter Marley and son Zephyr. Photo / Supplied

When Auckland was plunged into the August lockdown, Katy Perez said to her husband, "It can't be like last time".

Looking after her 2-year-old daughter Marley and newborn son Zephyr, the 34-year-old had fallen into deep postnatal depression during the February lockdown.

"I didn't realise how much anxiety I was carrying. I got so depressed so quickly. I was so sad, I've never been so sad."

It started when her daughter was born in December 2018 after a difficult pregnancy.

But she'd been managing okay and was excited to have her painter husband Billy, 34, home from work in alert level 4 in March and April 2020. They took turns creating date nights after Marley went to bed.

Katy believes Covid brought her Zephyr. Photo / Supplied
Katy believes Covid brought her Zephyr. Photo / Supplied

One night they drank Champagne and played 10-pin bowling with footballs and baby bottles. The next day she urgently needed the morning after pill but she suffers from severe asthma and was too scared to go to the pharmacy.

"At that point in time we weren't leaving the house at all, having our groceries delivered and hubby was washing them in the driveway. All of those initial practices we were all advised to do due to the fear of the unknown."

So she asked a pharmacist friend to put the pill in her letterbox - she wasn't able to do so until the end of the following day. The friend advised Katy to take two pills as she had put on weight since her first pregnancy but Katy had had bad reactions to synthetic hormones in the past and she was scared of having to need medical treatment and risk getting Covid.

"I remember telling myself, I will just take the one pill and trust the universe. Three weeks later, my husband went out for the very first time on my request to get a pregnancy test from the pharmacy - and sure enough, those two little lines showed us our lockdown baby boy was well and truly on his way.

"It was hard to accept at first as I was finally starting to return to myself after my horrible first pregnancy."

Katy's depression heightened as she started to worry about having to give birth alone depending on the alert levels.

Katy's mental health was a lot better during the latest lockdown. Photo / Supplied
Katy's mental health was a lot better during the latest lockdown. Photo / Supplied

She ended up in hospital for three days with pelvic problems when she was 25 weeks pregnant during level 2.5. She was still breastfeeding Marley who was 18 months, but children weren't allowed into the hospital. "It took nearly an hour of doctors and midwives making allowances for my husband to get through security - with my daughter screaming her head off, afraid of the masked faces and not being allowed out of her stroller."

Katy, a research assistant at the University of Auckland, ended up weaning her daughter earlier than she wanted to. "I didn't want to ask the doctors and midwives to fight that hard again, and I also wanted to prevent other mothers having to see my daughter on the ward."

Covid brought other complications throughout her pregnancy, like having to attend scans alone.

"I found this really hard, especially with the anatomy scan because that is when you might find out if your baby has any health conditions, and I knew I would have been there with no support. No cameras or phones are allowed in sonography appointments to record what's happening, so by the time I returned home with a couple of the little printouts I couldn't remember which part of the body was which so hubby felt quite removed from the experience."

Zephyr arrived on December 16. "I had never planned to have two children in two years but I now wholeheartedly believe that trusting the universe was the best thing that ever happened to me."

The Pérez family celebrate the first and third birthdays of their children. Photo / Supplied
The Pérez family celebrate the first and third birthdays of their children. Photo / Supplied

But her depression peaked in February when Auckland went into alert level 3. Billy had to work and Katy felt isolated not being able to see family and friends.

The Perez family, who live in Laingholm, had hoped to bring Billy's mother on a grandparent visa to New Zealand from the Dominican Republic for six months to help them but immigration was not accepting applications. She has still not met her new grandchild.

Katy couldn't go to the osteopath for her pelvic issues and the cleaner the family had employed to help also wasn't able to come. It was all too much.

She credits her medical team with recognising her postnatal depression. "It was the hormone crash and realising, this baby is here and having two kids is a lot harder than I thought it was going to be. Especially two kids in two years."

For the latest lockdown, she was prepared.

"I said to my husband, I can't do level 3 not seeing people. I need to have a support system around me. I can't just be at home, 7am to 7pm while he's working every day trying to recover the costs.

"I didn't want to see myself go back to that dark place, it's not fair for the kids. They don't understand what's going on."

So she extended her bubble, seeing a select group of other double vaccinated people.

Zephyr has lived a sheltered life compared to his sister. Within Marley's first year she had been to the Dominican Republic, Peru and the US but her brother hasn't left Auckland. But Katy has seen a change in her usually bubbly daughter over the past few months.

"When we go out, she's like 'I really want to go home Mummy'. This is a kid who went to Machu Picchu. Now she's scared to go to the dairy. I blame the lockdowns for it.

"Covid has brought so much pain, destruction, anxiety and confusion to so many people over the past two years. But I feel like I can't be totally negative as it's actually due to Covid I have my amazing son and that our beautiful family is complete."

Lockdown changed our lives

Sarah Hay is excited for her daughter to grow up in Hawke's Bay where her parents own a 10-acre property. Photo / Supplied
Sarah Hay is excited for her daughter to grow up in Hawke's Bay where her parents own a 10-acre property. Photo / Supplied

Two months into the country's latest lockdown, having spent it at her parents' sprawling 4ha property in Hawke's Bay separated from her essential worker husband in Auckland, Sarah Hay decided they needed to change their lives.

Hours before the Prime Minister announced the country would go into alert level 4, the 31-year-old and the couple's daughter Madelyn had flown down to prepare for her christening and to celebrate Sarah's granddad's 95th birthday.

"Adam called to say there was a community case, so he was going to pack the car and drive towards the border just in case - we figured that Auckland would go to level 4, but the rest of the country might go to 2, so potentially the christening could still happen, just without as many people there as planned.

"He was just about at Bombay Hills when the announcement came through and he decided to drive down, as he knew if he didn't he would potentially not see us for weeks."

Covid had already interrupted their christening plans once. The priest who officiated their wedding and had christened Sarah when she was a baby now lives on the Gold Coast but was going to combine a visit to New Zealand - where he would meet his first granddaughter - with the family's ceremony. Then, the transtasman bubble closed again.

Sarah and Adam Hay with daughter Madelyn. Photo / Supplied
Sarah and Adam Hay with daughter Madelyn. Photo / Supplied

The family started lockdown with Sarah's parents, her grandmother and Adam's Brisbane-based father who had been in the country since the first flight out of Australia when the bubble opened four months earlier.

But Adam, 33, had to return to Auckland to work as a communications supervisor with Transdev. "We decided that Maddy and I would stay, because the benefit of her being around her family with heaps of space and animals was so much better than the alternative of sitting at home in Auckland.

"But it has been really tough on both of us in different ways."

Sarah worried about her husband, a recovering alcoholic, being on his own with no support. And she was upset that he ended up working from home for most of the lockdown as he could have done so while they stayed together as a family.

Hawke's Bay came out of lockdown on September 7 and Sarah was able to connect with some old high school friends who had also had babies recently. That, combined with family support and seeing the cost of living so much lower, spurred the couple to start engineering a move there.

Adam, who "was really starting to lose it" after two months away from his family, collected Sarah and Madelyn and gave his resignation. Days later he secured a job in Hawke's Bay as operations manager for a company that specialises in moving seniors into retirement villages/smaller homes.

"He quit without a job to go to because we were just that desperate to get out of Auckland.

"We packed up our home and got the hell outta Dodge within three weeks and are now staying with my parents on their lifestyle block in Hawke's Bay."

The couple plan to buy their first home next year. Adam's father is still in town also as he can't get back to Queensland without having to pay to isolate for two weeks. He is running Sarah's family's cherry shop.

Sarah's own professional life will look very different in Hawke's Bay, where she hopes to work in home-based childcare. She had been working as a hotel reservations manager at the Novotel by the Auckland Airport which became one of the first managed isolation facilities during the first level 4 lockdown in March 2020.

That month, she remembers being at a medical centre in Napier to get her whooping cough vaccine in preparation for a trip to Brisbane at Easter to meet her newborn niece. One of the doctors was gowning up to perform Covid tests on a family.

"They had to park in the ambulance bay and have their test in the car. At this point we were just beginning to realise what a big deal it was. The next day on the drive home to Auckland, my team at work called to say they had over 700 emails in the inbox. All regarding reservations to be cancelled."

Sarah and Adam Hay with daughter Madelyn at her first birthday. Photo / Supplied
Sarah and Adam Hay with daughter Madelyn at her first birthday. Photo / Supplied

She was on the front desk when the hotel welcomed the first busload of isolation guests. She discovered she was pregnant two days later and removed herself from the frontline team as a precaution.

"It was a very stressful time, and I was very teary as I realised that this was only the beginning, and my team would be losing their jobs."

By June her hours were cut from 40 to 24 and she lost 40 per cent of her salary. "Most people get to briefly forget about Covid in their daily lives if they block out the news, but for us in an isolation facility it was literally all that was talked about... every meeting, every email. The police and military in the lobby, in the lunchroom, the health check we had to get before starting work every day, remembering to wear a mask upon entry into the building - climbing stairs with a mask on and being heavily pregnant was not awesome - needing to show ID to even enter the building... getting a swab shoved up your nose for a test every 10 days, and that low-level anxiety that there was a chance you could be positive and shut the whole place down - it's a lot."

'I'm praying I can go to my homeland'

Sarah and Tim Stirling with baby Maia. Photo / Supplied
Sarah and Tim Stirling with baby Maia. Photo / Supplied

Sarah Stirling longed to go back to the Philippines this year.

Her aunt Tita June, to whom she was extremely close, was dying from cancer. She had struggled to find a hospital as they were full with Covid patients.

"Lots of people were dying alone in their homes in isolation. Patients were in their cars in hospital parking lots waiting for a bed to get vacant so they could be admitted."

But the flights from New Zealand were expensive and not direct - the shortest she found was 22 hours via Singapore. The only available MIQ spot back in New Zealand was months later. But her biggest dilemma was whether she should she take her baby daughter.

"My mother strongly disagreed with me going home and kept on reminding me that Maia is my priority now. I got her a passport in case I really had to go and take her."

Her aunt died in June.

"What hurts me most is my auntie wasn't able to see and hold Maia because of this stupid pandemic. Good thing for video calls, I know Maia made her happy in her last days. I know how much she longed for a cuddle, but she always told me to stay here in NZ where it's safe for me and baby. Driving home from work is when I miss her the most because that used to be our thing. When I was pregnant and always sleepy we would talk on my way home about how our day went."

Maia's second name is June, so her aunt's legacy lives on in her.

"I'm praying that when or if everything settles, we'll be able to go back to my homeland and Maia will be able to see her roots."

Sarah and Timothy Stirling with daughter Maia. Photo / Supplied
Sarah and Timothy Stirling with daughter Maia. Photo / Supplied

And with Auckland's borders closed, Sarah's mother, who lives in Whakatane, had only met Maia once.

Finance broker Sarah, 31, and husband Tim, 32, also came up against the property market this year. They sold their Waitakere home in November 2020 while Sarah was heavily pregnant and moved into Tim's parents' home while looking to buy.

But getting loan approval proved difficult. They were finally able to purchase a new-build in March and it was due to be ready by October. But in the meantime Tim's parents also decided to sell their house so they had to move again in August, this time to Manurewa with Tim's sister, her husband and their two children.

It was a busy household in the latest lockdown with their house build delayed and Sarah and her brother-in-law working from home while Tim's sister looked after the three children.

On top of all of that, the West Auckland floods ruined some of their belongings that they had in storage at Tim's grandparents' property, such as Maia's clothes and pram.

The couple were looking forward to moving into their new home in Westgate just before Maia's first birthday this week.

Sarah says she's loved being able to watch Maia grow up while working from home but has noticed the usually social baby start to act shy.

"I wonder whether Maia will have the same childhood as I have known or will online friends be a norm? Will she ever step inside a classroom with a blackboard? Will she experience cafeteria food? Is she going to have friends she can play with at the park after school?"

A cancelled overseas wedding

Chelsea and Reef Galloway's Fiji wedding plans had to be cancelled. Photo / Supplied
Chelsea and Reef Galloway's Fiji wedding plans had to be cancelled. Photo / Supplied

Chelsea Galloway had dreamed of getting married in a little beachside chapel in Fiji.

Her parents had spoken about renewing their vows there - on the grounds of the Sheraton Fiji Resort in Nadi - since she was a child.

It was March 2020 and Galloway and husband-to-be Reef, who were then parents of two, had sat down with a travel agent, finalised everything and were due to pay a deposit for the October 2020 wedding. Then New Zealand went into alert level 4 lockdown.

"I was devastated. We both felt it was too risky to proceed with an overseas wedding as I was insanely anxious around Covid."

The couple, both 24, had their third child, Emilia, in January and three months later were heading home from a trip to Tauranga to see family when they decided to re-plan their wedding in New Zealand.

"The situation with the borders seemed so volatile and we didn't want to be waiting years to finally get married, we also didn't want to risk going into lockdown and having to replan the wedding again. We managed to plan our wedding in two months in Auckland."

Money was tight as they had just been pre-approved to buy their first home so they had a simple ceremony at the Old Flat Bush School Hall in June with just close friends and family, including daughter Chloe, now 6, Elijah, 2, and Emilia, who turns 1 on Tuesday.

"It ended up being an incredible day, one I'll cherish for the rest of my life for sure, having it small and intimate was prefect for us as a young family. We were so lucky there were no restrictions at the time of our wedding too."

Galloway says they luckily only lost money on her wedding dress - she had to purchase a different one than what she had purchased for Fiji as the couple ended up getting married in winter.

The happy celebration topped off a stressful year for the family. Early in Galloway's pregnancy with Emilia, doctors thought she was having a miscarriage and she needed an urgent ultrasound. "But I found it really hard to find somewhere to book in. During level 4 most places were refusing to do ultrasounds that they didn't deem urgent enough."

A feeding break for Emilia on her mum's wedding day. Photo / Supplied
A feeding break for Emilia on her mum's wedding day. Photo / Supplied

Finding a midwife was another challenge - she contacted 10 before finding one.

And the latest lockdown was hectic for the Auckland family after moving into their first home two weeks beforehand. Reef - who does product development for the Warehouse Group, mainly for Noel Leeming - was studying at university while working full time and Chelsea was trying to entertain a baby, an active toddler and homeschool her 6-year-old.

"It really is crazy to think 25 per cent of Mila's life has been spent in lockdown, it's exactly why we hope to go on lots of adventures especially outside of Auckland this summer. I'm sure it'll make for a great story one day."

The doubled-vaccinated couple have a strict approach with family and friends who aren't vaccinated, stemming from having Elijah in NICU with a virus for the first two weeks of his life. "Seeing our son so sick, undergoing all kinds of invasive, painful treatments was by far the hardest thing my husband and I have ever gone through. So for that we want to be super cautious to protect our kids since they cannot get vaccinated yet."

'I ended up with a fever from all the exhaustion'

Shubhneet Nanda with husband Raman Prabhakar and their daughter Thea Prabhakar. Photo / Supplied
Shubhneet Nanda with husband Raman Prabhakar and their daughter Thea Prabhakar. Photo / Supplied

During the February lockdowns, Shubhneet Nanda was still in the golden month period with newborn Thea.

It's the four- to six-week period where new mums are not expected to do anything other than rest and feed and bond with their baby. They are doted on by their support network.

Nanda's mother and mother-in-law had been cooking, cleaning and helping her recover after a C-section.

But her mother-in-law became busy moving house and then her mother had to self isolate after visiting the Botany Kmart, which became a place of interest.

"It was really hard not having her support. I ended up with a fever myself from all the exhaustion of looking after a baby and housework and my second baby - aka my husband," she jokes about her other half Raman Prabhakar, 29, an accountant.

"I'm a bit OCD, so like everything to be perfect and I would try tidy up or wash clothes while Thea slept instead of sleeping myself.

"This meant that I couldn't feed Thea well that week as she was going through her 6-week growth spurt and lost a bit of weight at our final six-week check with the midwife and I was just so, so crushed."

Thea also suffered from colic and screamed for about three hours every night. She would only be rocked to sleep, which took about 30 minutes.

"If I was struggling, I couldn't pass her to somebody."

Baby Thea turns one on January 17. Photo / Supplied
Baby Thea turns one on January 17. Photo / Supplied

But Nanda, 30, feels extremely grateful to be in New Zealand during the pandemic - every week she would hear of a new family member contracting Covid-19 in her native India.

But her family constantly worry about her grandfather who is still living there. Nanda's father would have usually visited him each year but hasn't been able to see him since September 2018.

Nanda, 30, wasn't allowed to work as a contracting optometrist during the first level 4 and 3 lockdowns and by level 2 was too bedridden with morning sickness so ended up losing a substantial portion of her income.

By the August lockdown she was able to work from her Mt Wellington home as she had switched to an office job as the relationship manager with Auckland Eye.

She worked from home again for some of the latest lockdown.

"It's been so nice having morning coffees with her in our laps, cuddling and kissing away. Waking up and knowing we don't have to rush away. We've seen her crawl, roll, stand and seen two little teeth come out too."

Shubhneet has enjoyed working from home and being able to see her daughter. Photo / Supplied
Shubhneet has enjoyed working from home and being able to see her daughter. Photo / Supplied

The longest days

Nina and Seb Gorrell with son Cosmo. Photo / Supplied
Nina and Seb Gorrell with son Cosmo. Photo / Supplied

Nina Gorrell's days during the latest lockdown were long.

The 31-year-old had recently started working again for her medical content writing business after being on maternity leave. She and husband Seb, 36, had employed a "wonderful" nanny to look after son Cosmo a few weeks before Auckland was plunged into an almost four-month lockdown.

She had to stop coming but when restrictions eased and she was due to return, she shared that she wasn't vaccinated and was part of the anti-lockdown Voices for Freedom group.

"As a result we were unable to continue with her.

"It's not just about ourselves. Having someone unvaccinated look after Cosmo also affects - and potentially places at risk - our families, as well as all of Cosmo's friends. I'd say we have three play dates per week since we've been allowed to outdoors and also before lockdown and we have a fantastic antenatal group of us 12 mums."

By then, it was too late to get Cosmo, who turned one on December 19, into daycare so the mum-of-one spent her days taking care of him before starting work in the evening, not getting to bed until 2 or 3am.

"Mental health has been tough in terms of having to work after my son goes to bed and so getting minimum sleep."

Border closures have also affected the couple. Seb works for a Brisbane-based company that requires him to spend a week there every six weeks. But he was only able to go once, in June last year.

And the couple have not been able to meet their twin nephews - the first grandchildren on Seb's side of the family - who were born in Switzerland in October 2020. But Seb's sister hopes to bring them in February.

Cosmo and his mum have about three playdates a week. Photo / Supplied
Cosmo and his mum have about three playdates a week. Photo / Supplied

But Nina feels lucky Covid hasn't affected the family too much. In the second February lockdown this year, she didn't even notice.

"We went for a walk with our son one evening and went past the Mt Eden shops. I immediately thought we should get some gelato and then saw the gelato shop was closed. Couldn't figure out why, until I realised we were in lockdown. I think because we spend so much time with the baby at home and do our daily walks around the neighbourhood without going into shops or interacting with others, you forget."

She believes lockdown may have even contributed to helping them get pregnant in April 2020. They were living in Brisbane at the time and it was their first month of trying after a miscarriage in January. "We conceived in our first week of working from home. It was also handy that I didn't have to explain why I'm not drinking socially when out with friends as we couldn't go out anyway."

Where to get help:

• Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
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• Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
• Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
• Helpline: 1737

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.