A mother’s journey through the COVID-19 pandemic
Clementine reflects on the joy, fear, loss and hope she has experienced this past year as a new mother in South Africa.
“Motherhood is the best thing I’ve experienced in my life. It makes me care about everyone and everything around me. After having a baby, I can’t even kill a fly!”
Clementine*, 27, became a mom during the global COVID-19 pandemic, and what a journey it’s been. Her son, Lelo Matthew, was born in a busy government hospital in Johannesburg on 23 June 2020.
At the time, South Africa was in the grip of one of the world’s strictest coronavirus lockdowns. Clementine endured hours of labour pains, without her husband present, due to the hospital’s COVID protocols. As she gasped for air, nurses reminded her that she was not allowed to remove her surgical mask.
Fortunately, it all went smoothly, and Clementine delivered a healthy baby boy, weighing 3.8kg. She was discharged on the same day, because hospital beds were, and still are, in demand.
“I so wished the world would go back to normal on that day. I still had my fears, what if I caught COVID? What about my poor baby and husband? What was I going to do?”
“I was discharged soon after delivering, as the hospital staff were trying to create more room for everyone,” explains Clementine. “I went home and waited for 14 days to pass! I was literally counting every hour and checking everyone’s temperature to see if we had any symptoms. I was so pleased after the 14th day, as no one was sick!”
Due to the lockdown, she was often alone, and had to figure out many aspects of parenting “on the job”. Luckily, when she needed guidance or reassurance, she could always send her mother a text message.
Clementine has taken her baby for all his inoculations, despite the fear of being in busy clinics during this uncertain time. She knows that these childhood jabs can save lives.
“I have managed to get him vaccinated, we have never missed a date. Thankfully, the hospital staff work tirelessly to ensure the public has access to medication and other services.”
While the pandemic has led to a lot of hardship, Clementine believes it has also taught communities to be less selfish.
“We were constantly reminded of the importance of sharing, and together, here we are! We had no food shortages and I believe it’s because we have all been looking out for each other.
“As a mother, I have realized how important it is to save money. I do like saving for emergencies, but during COVID our family lived off our savings, as there was no income coming in from myself and my husband. I don’t even want to think what would have happened if we had no savings! Now, before I spend, I save. I just want to make sure that when something like this happens again, I have something to bail me out.”
When Clementine tried to return to work as a beauty therapist after having her baby, she was told that her salary would be halved because the company was not doing well, due to the pandemic. This prompted her to start her own small business operating a mobile beauty salon. Slowly, she is drawing more clients, and her appointment book is filling up.
The past year has been a rollercoaster in many ways – financially, but also emotionally.
“So many people I know have passed on during this period. It really breaks my heart that a friend of mine wanted to see Lelo, but never made it. I’m still hanging on to a phone number that I will never call again.”
“My fears of COVID have lessened though. I’m just doing what I can, raising my little boy in a world where... I don’t know what the future holds.”
As this mom reflects on the past year, she says she’s more grateful than she was before, and she has learned to make do with what she has. “I appreciate everything now, big and small. I’m grateful for my life and my health. Being alive on this day is a gift for me. Good health is precious.”
What will Clementine one day tell her child about 2020, the year he was born?
“It will just be a brief description in one word. Hope. When he was born there was nothing else to do, but hope, that all shall be well,” says Clementine. In fact, “hope” is the meaning of his beautiful name.
* Clementine requested that only her first name be used.
She was also featured in this story about pregnancy during the pandemic.