Covid milestones: A ‘magical’ wedding day and a pregnancy from lockdown to lockdown

This year has seen a period of adjustment for all of us, with many people having to experience their life milestones in the midst of lockdown, writes Joyce Fegan.
Covid milestones: A ‘magical’ wedding day and a pregnancy from lockdown to lockdown

This year has seen a period of adjustment for all of us, with many people having to experience their life milestones in the midst of lockdown, writes Joyce Fegan.

Change of plan for big 4-0 bash

Eva Russell, who had her 40th birthday during lockdown with two of three daughters Julia, 5, and Anna,9. Picture: Moya Nolan

Eva Russell, who had her 40th birthday during lockdown with two of three daughters Julia, 5, and Anna,9. Picture: Moya Nolan

After three babies, now all out of nappies and in school, Eva Russell, who “wouldn’t usually do parties” decided it was important to mark her milestone 40th birthday.

A holiday with friends was planned and paid for and a band was booked for a fancy dress party on the night of her birthday. 

Several cancellations and postponements later, Eva ended up celebrating her 40th on the beach, in the rain, with a pot of curry, her family and three of her closest friends.

“My youngest is five, all my kids were in school, we had just come out of all of that, and we’re also caring for my mum who has dementia, so it was an excuse to celebrate - to mark the milestone.

“It was a big deal, even with my school friends, we only meet once a year if we are lucky, we had arranged a whole year ago to go away to the sun - a friendship celebration, all of us turning 40. That was to be in the summer, tickets were booked and all the rest, but that was cancelled,” says Eva.

With the party cancelled, Eva’s husband Stephen booked a night away for a couple of their close friends that were abiding by the current restrictions.

Then the second lockdown was announced and with Level 5 restrictions now in force, that night was cancelled too.

The new restrictions also meant that no one could even be invited to their house.

There were two standout things in 2020 for Eva, a great appreciation for her friendships and living within 2km of the sea.

She would go swimming every morning before her children got up for the day.

And it would eventually be on the beach, with three of her closest friends, where Eva would mark her milestone birthday.

“I got to hang with three of my closest friends, my family. We drank a bottle of Boli (Bollinger champagne). 

"Stephen had a pot of curry and it was Stephen’s first time making a cake, then the heavens opened when we arrived down at the beach and we thought: ‘what are we doing here?’ But it cleared up, it was a full moon and it was just amazing,” says Eva.

While she’s happy to leave 2020 in 2020, there are parts of our new life that Eva would like to hold on to.

“It sounds cliché, we've always been going places every weekend and most of my generation are like that, just going places all the time. 

"But there is so much I don’t want back. I mean I would really like a nice night out, but I don't want all those plans tearing away at the weekends here, there and everywhere,” she says. 

Left in limbo with no front door for new house

Sophie, Brian and Ruby Mae Brickenden.

Sophie, Brian and Ruby Mae Brickenden.

Sophie Brickenden had no front door for her new home for two weeks because of Covid-19.

She and her partner Brian had just closed on the house as lockdown was announced.

Sophie was also a first-time mum to Ruby Mae, born just two months before.

“It's crazy trying to remember what it was like, you forget how stressful these things are at the time," she said. "You definitely think it wasn't as bad looking back, but it was incredibly stressful.

“We closed the sale and everything was done in March and we could have moved in straight away, but we needed to get the kitchen and stuff done. That should have been done in two weeks — they got in and gutted it and the lockdown was announced the very next day.”

The young family had the keys to their new home, but the property had no kitchen, and they were left with no definitive answer as to when they might get one.

“Of course this was completely new territory for everyone, obviously they [the builders] couldn't work and they stopped doing anything. 

"We had no idea when we would get in and that went on — the prospect of them getting back in, went on for ages. 

"It was May that they got back to doing the work, it was the day of my granddad's funeral.” 

Ruby Mae Brickenden

Ruby Mae Brickenden

While your first home is a life milestone, so too is having your first child. Sophie and Brian found themselves grappling with both, alone, amidst a pandemic, when you were physically not allowed to come into contact with other people.

Not only were the builders forced to down tools, any essential item needed for their family home had to be ordered from catalogues.

“There were crazy delays because the showrooms were closed, we were picking things out of catalogues and if they sent the wrong thing or didn't have something, you could be another three to five working days, so the guts of a week before you could get the correct item. Everywhere was closed to the public.” 

Added to the stress of not having a front door for a property you now own, was the fact that Garda checkpoints were in full force as the family tried to move from their accommodation and into their own home later on in the year.

“Then moving stuff down you were wondering are you going to be stopped and asked where you are going because you're not supposed to be travelling and wondering are they going to accept that you are moving house? That was pretty stressful too.” 

Happily bedded in now with an almost-one-year-old daughter, Sophie says it felt incredibly stressful at the time, but that they managed the move on their own in the end.

“It was crazy when you think back to it. And Ruby Mae was five months. You couldn't call anyone to ask for help. It was a bit mad altogether, but we got there in the end”.

‘It was deadly — I didn’t know that I was going to do a million steps’

Antoinette Walsh walked one million steps — in the month of May alone.

Antoinette Walsh walked one million steps — in the month of May alone.

While some people stayed home, working or teaching from their kitchen table or watching Netflix on the couch, Antoinette Walsh walked one million steps — in the month of May alone.

“It was the 28 days of May, and my gym Nikafit set a challenge of 200,000 steps in the month because everything was closed. NikaFit wanted to get their members who were sitting at a desk all day moving,” explains Antoinette.

However, Antoinette is a hairdresser and, as all salons were shut, she found herself going far beyond the 200,000-step challenge, and not on purpose.

“So I wasn't working, so I'd all this time on my hands, and I don't sit still. I had just started walking, and I’d do an hour and a half and you'd record it on the Fitbit. 

"It was deadly, I walked with my daughter some days. I didn't know I was going to do a million steps but when there was 12 days left I was up over 500,000 steps on the Fitbit.

“And I met the owner of gym out walking and told her how I was getting on and she went home and text me and said: ‘Let's do one million’. 

"So there were 12 days left to do 500,000, and I didn't tell anyone. I was now walking three times a day. I had blisters on top of blisters and I had to change runners. I kept Compeed in business,” jokes Antoinette.

There were days when she would walk 35,000 steps on average, and come the last week, she had 50,000 steps to do in three days.

“It became a big challenge to me. My feet killed me, they were aching, and I kept thinking: ‘I have to turn back’. And on the last day, Katie, the owner of the gym, came with me,” says Antoinette.

While she picked up a tan and lost 6kg in weight, there was a lot more that she gained from the experience, like a greater sense of connection with her family and her local community.

“It was getting out of the house, meeting people, and on a day I'd go on my own I’d be alone with my thoughts and that was very soothing. Then there was a sense of bonding with my daughter, getting her up and getting her out,” she adds.

As a mother of three children, aged 16, 19, and 22, as well as working in a very busy hair salon, it had been years since Antoinette had had that kind of time on her own.

“I never have that kind of time on my own, I was either rushing to the salon, or rushing to do someone’s hair in the family. Then with my children the age they are, I had no home ties, and I didn't have to be doing homework, I was able to go out,” says Antoinette.

She says that the walking changed her and got her through lockdown, at a time of great anxiety and pessimism for people.

While happily back at work over Christmas, she misses two things still — not being able to give her clients a hug when they come, and the extra bit of time the lockdown gave her.

“I miss that time to myself, but I love routine and I can't sit down”.

‘Truly magical’ wedding day, with more to come in 2021

Jo Quinn and Katie Verbruggen got married on August 13, 2020. Picture: Alan Rowlette

Jo Quinn and Katie Verbruggen got married on August 13, 2020. Picture: Alan Rowlette

Jo Quinn and Katie Verbruggen were engaged in 2019 and had thought they’d get to their planning in 2020.

The thing they were most looking forward to was celebrating their love with friends and family, and having a big party where everyone danced. 

But come the summer of 2020, their biggest worry was if anyone would even dance at their wedding.

“We got married on August 13, 2020. We got engaged on August 14, 2019 in Thailand and we booked a venue and band in October 2019 and probably started the unplanning/planning in about May 2020. 

“The two of us aren't really into much fuss and we didn't want the wedding to take over our lives and put all of this pressure of 'the best day of your life' on it. 

"We really just wanted a big party with all of our families and friends. 

"I'm so glad we had this frame of mind, otherwise we would have been so heart broken when we had to change so much,” explains Jo.

When lockdown was announced, the couple was forced to go back to the drawing board completely, like many engaged couples in Ireland. 

Jo Quinn and Katie Verbruggen were engaged in 2019 and had thought they’d get to their planning in 2020. Picture: Alan Rowlette

Jo Quinn and Katie Verbruggen were engaged in 2019 and had thought they’d get to their planning in 2020. Picture: Alan Rowlette

They had a total of four revised guest lists as the goalposts continued to move in terms of the numbers permitted at gatherings.

“We tried to stay positive as I think most people getting married probably did but, as the months went on and lockdown was extended, we sat down and had a big chat about other options. 

"We made about four different guest lists and it was actually awful."

After all the chopping and changing, Jo describes their ceremony as the “most incredible five minutes”.

"We started at the Glenview Hotel, just with our two witnesses, and had the most incredible five-minute ceremony with Reverend Karen. 

"Then we headed to Foxborough House, where all of our guests were waiting for the longer ceremony with our celebrant Niall. 

"So we had everything in Foxborough House in the end — the ceremony, drinks, a small band, Thai buffet and dancing,” recalls Jo.

The worry about no one dancing was circumnavigated by a choreographer and a TikTok dance tutorial, and the presence of an ice-cream truck kept younger members of the family happy, who thought “all their dreams had come true” too.

From start to finish, it was actually my dream day. We were together from the beginning. 

"We jumped in the sea that morning before a radio interview with Ian Dempsey. 

"We got ready together and we left just for a few minutes — Katie's outfit was still a surprise for me, so we got changed separately,” says Jo.

“I had the best few days of my life. We've planned the afters for next year on our year anniversary and I'm really looking forward to that, but I wouldn't change anything about our day. It was truly magical.”

‘A pregnancy from lockdown to lockdown’

Sinead Mooney navigated the first hours of parenthood without her husband due to the Covid-19 restrictions. Picture: Alan Rowlette

Sinead Mooney navigated the first hours of parenthood without her husband due to the Covid-19 restrictions. Picture: Alan Rowlette

For some time, Sinéad Mooney and her husband Michael Dunne had lived in a “perpetual state of hoping” to conceive a baby. 

And then just as the schools shut and the country entered lockdown, the overjoyed couple found out they were expecting a baby.

“This year the whole world had their lives transformed practically overnight. For us — we have had a whole pregnancy lockdown to lockdown, and March 11 and 12 are dates we will never forget. 

"For many years we had been trying to start a family. Like so many others, we lived in a perpetual state of hoping and silently wishing that each month would be ‘the month’.

"And then on that glorious Wednesday evening of March 11, our gynaecologist showed us a tiny flash on a small screen which changed our lives forever — the tiny flash of a new life, a baby’s heartbeat that had been so long wished for — gazed at by myself and my husband through blurry beaming faces, hand-in-hand."

And then came the lockdown.

"I closed my yoga studio and cancelled all other business activity — ran to the shops to pick up a few bits and we sat in a stunned silence, still holding my belly, trying to process what had just happened during that incredible 24 hours.

Between severe morning sickness, sudden isolation, fear for the world and fear for this little life I was desperately trying to maintain — the next few weeks were a fog. 

"Sorting out all the aspects of my business was mayhem — the studio, my foreign yoga holidays, corporate and event work — all needed to be wrapped up and paused."

The blurry year rolled on with the couple living check-up to check-up — and the reality of life under lockdown bringing its own worries.

"Will my business survive? What does the news say today? Will I be able to shop for all that I need for baby? — were questions swirling around in my periphery. 

"Then at 6am that Thursday in the second lockdown, my waters broke and we rushed to the hospital filled with fear and excitement. 

"It was utterly gut-wrenching to simply say ‘bye’ to Michael and head in alone. I’ll never forget the look on his face as I walked away down that hallway. 

"I had a 38-hour labour from that point onwards, most of which was spent alone. 

 Picture: Alan Rowlette

Picture: Alan Rowlette

"I am a strong and very independent woman, but walking the halls of the hospital on my own all through the night — my tears were definitely a mix of pain and sheer loneliness."

Dad only got a few hours with his baby daughter because of visitor restrictions and Mum was left alone again.

"Sore, bruised, and broken in many ways — I had to get on with navigating my way through the first hours of parenthood without his physical and emotional support. 

"The reality that a global pandemic like this ‘could’ happen will forever be ingrained in our psyche, and I need to adapt to a new protective way of hygienic living so that I can teach Willow how to thrive in this new world alongside a virus."

'You have to celebrate the little moments as well'

2020 was meant to be the start of a new life for Vicki Mc Grath

2020 was meant to be the start of a new life for Vicki Mc Grath

Having been diagnosed with breast cancer in 2019 and having started treatment, for Vicki McGrath, 2020 was to mean a double mastectomy, the all-clear by February, and the start of a new life.

As the global story goes, Covid-19 hit and, at one point Vicki was confronted with the prospect of having one breast removed, while the removal of her other breast was left up in the air.

“At the start of 2020, I was in the middle of my treatment for breast cancer, so I had already completed four rounds of chemo and I had four rounds left and I had it all in my diary every two weeks and the final round was February 28.

"And then I was due to have maybe four or five weeks off to recover and then I would have my double mastectomy and reconstruction done and the plan was then to take the summer off, recover, go on holiday, get some sunshine on my bones and just enjoy life for a while, then head back to work for September — but obviously that didn't happen,” says Vicki.

The virus changed everything.

“The original plan for surgery was a double mastectomy and a reconstruction in the same surgery. 

"So I was rang two weeks before the surgery to be told that they would only be able to do the mastectomy on one breast. 

"You're 35 years of age, to be told you're just going to be going around with one boob for — they didn’t know how long. In their heads it was maybe a couple of months once Covid was gone,” says Vicki.

With the first surgery behind her and the lockdown eventually lifted, she hit a surprise low in August, explained by her GP as having spent too much time in a state of “fight or flight”. 

"You have to celebrate the little moments as well, which I did," said Vicki Mc Grath.

"You have to celebrate the little moments as well, which I did," said Vicki Mc Grath.

"I was on the bus home from the gym and I just started crying and crying and I just felt depleted of all happiness. I felt a dementor had sucked all the happiness out of me."

A second lockdown later, she was still due to have her second mastectomy on her remaining breast. This was to come with a double reconstruction too.

Both procedures eventually went ahead, and this time just after the restrictions had been lifted.

Vicki will get the final results at the end of December, something she hopes will finally be a celebration.

While she describes 2020 as “life-altering”, the biggest challenge for her was not being able to have contact with and support from those closest to her.

“Yes, 2020 was a life-altering year for me, and Covid made it near impossible to have the people I care about close to me during these occasions, but you do what you have to do to make it through it,” she says. 

However, she was still able to share in others’ joy, as well as enjoy her home country, when restrictions were eased this summer.

“There were moments of happiness and joy. In the summer I got to see lots of Ireland and got to spend time with people I love, and got to celebrate great news with people, like engagements and babies.

“It's been an absolute horror of a year that I'd never want to go through again but you have to celebrate the little moments as well, which I did. 

“I can’t wait to start 2021 fresh and hopefully with a vaccine,” adds Vicki.

'I feel lucky I had the experience that I had'

Ruth Burke and baby

Ruth Burke and baby

Ruth Burke gave birth to her second daughter in July and, while the country was out of lockdown by then, she had spent several months going absolutely nowhere because of the uncertainty over effect of the virus on pregnant women.

“We got the 20-week scan in the week before the lockdown and my husband was able to come to that and then, all the other appointments, he wasn't allowed to come to,” says Ruth.

Despite this, her labour turned out to be a positive experience. 

"I had a really positive experience. It was my second baby. The midwives had said the labour will probably be quicker. I started getting some pains at home early in the morning, but it was 10.30am when I rang the hospital. 

"They said to come in and we just went into the hospital and I was told: ‘You’re in labour'.  By 11.30am we had a baby and we came home at 3pm,” says Ruth.

Though the second lockdown did not kick in until October, there are plenty of important people who’ve yet to meet their new relative, baby Sadie.  

“There are relations of mine who haven't seen Sadie and my husband's sister hasn't seen her at all, and one brother, her uncle, has seen her once. We kept our contacts to the limit,” says Ruth.

But the hardest part in the lead up to her positive birth was working from home while minding a toddler and being pregnant all at the same time.

“The hardest part was being pregnant from home, working from home with a toddler and worrying then. 

Baby Sadie

Baby Sadie

"I found myself thinking about things more; with Sadie I found myself worrying. It was too much alone time with my own thoughts, like most of us,” says Ruth.

While restrictions were eventually lifted, baby groups and breastfeeding clinics never reopened, but mum and baby were able to salvage one shared activity come the end of 2020. 

“I started baby massage with three other mams and Sadie was loving looking around. That’s the part I struggle with — not being able to talk to peers and get support: ‘What did you do there?’ 

"When you don’t yet trust your own instincts, peer support is essential. When I had Molly, I used to go to breastfeeding groups and I still have those connections. Now I haven't been able to,” says Ruth.

“But now I’m just so happy we are doing the baby massage — at least it's something we can do together and it's with people. 

"Some days, if you've had a really bad night, you don't want to be doing nursery rhymes and sitting on a playmat; you just want to be out in the world,” says Ruth.

But despite the enforced isolation that the pandemic has caused, the mother of two is grateful she got to have a positive birth.

“I feel lucky that I had the experience that I had. I know a girl I went to school with and in June or so she went into labour and there was really bad thunder and lightning and her husband Dec was outside in the car waiting. 

“I was on the Domino scheme and it was just amazing. The midwives are so good at their jobs, I felt safe.” 

'We just had to go with the flow'

Angela Molloy celebrated her 80th birthday on May 8.

Angela Molloy celebrated her 80th birthday on May 8.

Mother to four children and grandmother to seven, Angela Molloy was looking forward to multiple celebrations for her 80th birthday, with a big family party and trips to Ballynahinch Castle and Adare Manor.

The plans had been in train for several months and then Covid hit.

“I turned 80 on May 8, smack in the middle of everything,” says Angela.

“We had a lovely party organised, 25 of us, the children and their partners and the grandchildren. 

"We had booked to go to Ballynahinch Castle and Adare Manor too and none of that happened. We were talking about all that from January."

However, by May of 2020, the country was in full lockdown and anyone over the age of 70 was advised to cocoon at home. 

And that’s exactly where Angela, who has travelled the world and sang in places such as Carnegie Hall, ended up celebrating her milestone birthday.

“So we had it in the garden and it was a magnificent day. My three sons and one daughter were there, and we all brought our own knives and forks and my daughter Liz Ann decorated the garden.

“It was very different to how I thought it was going to be, but you had to go with the flow. I knew my birthday was coming, it's not a big milestone if you're well, 80 is grand and you go with it. 

But I was looking forward to celebrating with family and, in the end, everyone was together. We all mucked in, and one pair was sitting over there and another over there. 

"The only thing was you couldn't take your lovely family photos, you’d have to take them separately to superimpose people in,” she jokes.

Angela is married to Jim, 88, and next year the happy couple will celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary. 

The couple’s eyes had met across a crowded room just over six decades ago.

“We met at a party in Kilkenny, in 1958/1959, it was New Years and we were engaged within three months. We’d met in January and were engaged in March. 

"But I was only turning 20, and my mum wouldn't allow me to get married until I was 21. I got married two days after my 21st birthday, having met across a crowded room."

While cocooning was extremely difficult for some people, Angela was happy to have the company of her husband.

“Jim and I are very lucky, and I didn't find it hard. We had the garden, and the weather was beautiful. 

"I was dying to see the sea for months and we hadn't driven the car and just popped down to the sea, so they’re the things I missed."

Angela describes the last year as a “wake-up call” for some, in terms of what and who we value.

“The glass is always half full, remember that,” she adds.

But, her optimism aside, there are things that she missed this year, such as travel and theatre.

“Oh we'll go travelling again, we had only got home on March 10, from a trip and we were going again on March 19, and again in May. 

"But neither of us would go travelling again until we feel secure. This virus is invisible, and I don't like invisible things.

This Christmas will be spent at home and music will come in the form of carols playing in every room of her house. 

“There’s one thing you do miss and that’s hearing the Christmas music at concerts and in the churches. 

"And I think Christmas is a salvation for a lot of people, a little bit of light in the middle of it.”

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