“Nobody except my husband has seen me transitioning into a mother,” says Saniya, who moved from Pune, India, to Gothenburg in 2014.
Even after the cross-continental move, she had always imagined that her baby – her first, and her parent’s first grandchild – would have family around during the first few months. The couple usually visit India once a year, and it had always been the plan that Saniya’s mother and mother-in-law would come to Sweden for the baby’s birth. But in 2020, their planned spring trip to India was cancelled due to Covid-19, and the following month Saniya discovered she was pregnant.
Because both grandmothers are over 65, and it’s a long journey with no direct flights, their original plan seemed unlikely even before Sweden implemented a ban on travel from outside the EU. This ban came into effect on March 17th, initially for 30 days, but has been extended multiple times and remains in place today.
Exemptions have since been added to the ban, including for EU citizens, residents of a small number of non-EU countries with low levels of infection, and for urgent family reasons. The latter exemption made it possible to travel to Sweden from banned countries in order to be present at a child’s birth, but not for post-birth visits, which means many parents who gave birth before that change have still not been able to see their immediate family.
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Travel from EU/EEA countries to Sweden has generally been possible throughout the pandemic, though still severely limited due both to many countries issuing their own bans on residents leaving the country, as well as the high rate of infection in Sweden and across Europe.
“There were several moments that were difficult to do alone, whether it was hearing the heartbeat of the baby, seeing her on the ultrasound, feeling her movements and later on the last few weeks before delivery when I was really sick for a week, I missed my family terribly,” Saniya remembers.
“Since we are not socialising much due to Covid I think she gets over-stimulated when she is around other people and finds it hard to take a nap or sleep. Maybe it would have been better if she were used to being others more.”
Three common topics came up among the parents whose children were born in 2020: the impact on family who miss out on crucial milestones; the impact on the parents and their relationship due to missing out on a lot of support such as parental groups; and concerns over how the baby themselves may be affected by limited socialising opportunities.
Rachel, a US resident who gave birth to daughter Bonnie in January 2020, had planned to meet her family in Spain last April. She says the moment when she cancelled those tickets was when she first realised Bonnie’s first year would be affected by the pandemic.
“But even then we by no means expected that she still would not have met her grandparents 15 months later,” she tells The Local.
“It feels like we’ve all been really robbed of time. They didn’t get to hold her when she was tiny and they now will never get the chance to do it.”
“Virtual meetings are an amazing tool that has definitely made this whole pandemic (and living abroad in general) more manageable but you can’t share that new baby smell or hug your mom while she holds your baby or watch your dad’s heart melt when your baby smiles at him over the internet,” she says.
“When I had my first baby, my parents came over to Sweden multiple times that year and looked after him and really got to know him. It feels so unfair that Bonnie hasn’t got to experience that. It’s been heart-wrenching to not be able to introduce my parents to my new baby.”
Rachel with her baby and older child. Photo: Private
The baby is her partner’s first child, and while Rachel remembers open preschools and cultural activities with her older baby as a special time, she is sad that father and baby are missing out on the social aspect of parenthood.
Another reader, who asked for her name not to be published, has felt the same sense of isolation as a first-time mum.
“Sweden can be a difficult place to integrate if you didn’t come for studies. As an adult, most people already have their friends and I was always told that when you have young children it’s the one time you get a great chance to integrate, and was really looking forward to that. Not only can my own family not help, but the Barnavårdscentral [children’s healthcare centre] would normally have parent groups and a lot of those services haven’t been available,” she says.
The reader is originally from Australia, but hasn’t seen her family in over a year, and had her first child in December. The baby has so far met two aunts, and her paternal grandparents, but no one from her mother’s side. Although Australia is exempt from Sweden’s non-EU travel ban, visits from the reader’s father and siblings have been cancelled, while a trip home is impossible due to Australia’s strict quotas on how many of its citizens can return.
“It feels like I had an invisible pregnancy. We didn’t see family, we worked from home so didn’t see colleagues, my husband has some family in Sweden but most live abroad so we have been isolated,” she says.
“Isolation is not uncommon when you have a baby. Your life changes, you’re at home much more than before. But I was really looking forward to spending lots of time with my family when they visited during my parental leave, bonding with them over being a new mother. I thought, as you talk about the baby, they’d talk about you when you were young, so it’s not just the help, it’s a whole new relationship. I’m only going to have my first child once, she’ll only have her first smile, walk, laugh, crawl, once. They’re once-in-a-lifetime events we can’t get back.”
Like the other parents who spoke to The Local, she has been keeping family updated on the baby’s progress through social media, regular voice and video calls, and asking them to send letters for a keepsake journal. She has even printed out pictures of family members’ faces and stuck them to her child’s mobile in the hope she will recognise them.
“A friend’s baby was talking to the baby on the Pampers nappy bag, because she doesn’t meet many other babies. At this age they’re interested in faces rather than toys,” the Australian explains.
But despite finding ways to adapt to the situation – all three parents were looking forward to warmer weather making outdoor parent groups and walks possible – she is still longing for the baby to meet family.
“The hardest thing is its an ongoing process, there is nothing to work towards. At first we thought, oh well, at least they’ll be here when she’s born, then at least summer, then maybe Christmas. You try not to get your hopes up but you do, of course, then you’re disappointed again,” she says.
“One year for someone in their 30s is not a big deal, but both my husband and I have grandparents alive, who are over 80. She could have the opportunity to meet this fourth generation, and maybe she won’t if this goes on much longer. One year is much more of a big deal when you’re at the very beginning of your life or at the very end.”