For many of us, things have been on hold since the first lockdown a year ago this week. But for some, major life events simply couldn’t wait. From losing a loved one, to getting married, to giving birth, five women share their unique pandemic stories
After a tumult of the 2010s, 2020 was meant to usher in the energy and optimism of a new decade.
Instead, most of us spent it in a state of suspended animation, waiting for normal life to resume.
But life goes on, and people were still going through huge, life-changing events. 2020 may have been the year of sitting on the sofa for many of us, but not for everyone.
We spoke to some of them about experiencing loss, finding love and making a family during unprecedented times.
Podcaster Sasha Hamrogue had her second child, Quinn, in May last year. She recalls leaving her house in Stoneybatter, Dublin with her husband Niall McDonald and daughter Winona (4), and walking to the Rotunda to have her child.
“The day he was born, I put a backpack on my pack, Winona in her buggy and we walked to the Rotunda,” Sasha recalls.
“I remember it all felt very apocalyptic. It’s a very strong memory. When Quinn was born, Niall was there for an hour, and then he was gone. There was a real peace and quiet about the [ward].
“So many women were FaceTiming their families — thank God technology existed. It was uncomfortable to a certain extent to use screens for some of those important moments. When Quinn had his first bath, we FaceTimed Niall. It was a challenge, but you just had to make the most of it.”
Of living as the mum of a newborn amid Covid, Sasha adds: “Unfortunately, the virus had really taken away from being able to connect with strangers.
“I can only speak for my own experience, but I remember taking Quinn out in his buggy — taking a newborn out is a real rite of passage — and I got to the bottom of the road and turned around.
“We were almost in this newborn bubble that I had forgotten what else was going on, and I got weirdly scared.
“Being with a new baby, a toddler and my husband every day of this pandemic has taught me so much about resilience and about family,” she continues. “I feel like we have learned so much about living in the moment, gratitude, acceptance and the forgiveness (both for ourselves and each other) that it takes to get through the day.
“Like so many we’ve had no help for the past year but it’s hard not to feel like that hasn’t made us stronger too.”
In Louth, social worker Aimee Woods had been looking forward to marrying her musician partner James Mackin in 2020.
Her father had been diagnosed with motor-neurone disease in the summer of 2019, and time was very much of the essence when it came to organising a wedding after they got engaged in 2019.
After choosing to get married in Roscommon’s Kilronan Castle, the pair settled on a May 2020 date.
“I collected my wedding dress on March 6, and went to Clare for the weekend to visit family and bring them bridesmaid dresses,” Aimee recalls.
“At the time, first Covid cases were happening in Clare. We were all saying, ‘wow, imagine having two weeks’ lockdown’. And then of course it got more serious.”
Their venue was entirely co-operative about cancelling the wedding in May, and the couple moved it to August. It soon became clear that an August wedding wasn’t on the cards either.
“Most of our suppliers were brilliant, and we’d kind of accepted that Covid wasn’t going away over the summer of 2020,” Aimee says.
Mindful of her father’s physical deterioration and how determined he was to walk her up the aisle, Woods found a small multi-denominational chapel next to her home in Louth.
With wedding restrictions loosened, they set the third and final date: December 18.
“We went to the Clermont restaurant in Blackrock (Louth) for our reception and it was absolutely stunning. We had 27 people there, including us. My dad walked me up the aisle, which was amazing.
“In some ways, it didn’t feel real — there was no build-up to the wedding, and no real buzz because you couldn’t see people,” Aimee adds. “You couldn’t have music, and couldn’t get your hair and make-up done. Not having a hen party has been the biggest disappointment to date.
“When you’ve had that many cancellations you just lower your expectations and take what you can get.
“But we were just so grateful to be getting married. It has definitely brought us closer as a couple, because we are were in it together.
“Truly, we couldn’t have asked for a better day, and it happened the way it was meant to happen.”
Ranelagh-based Betzy Medina had a somewhat different romantic experience while dating during the pandemic. She matched on Tinder with her boyfriend Michael Dunne, from Laois, in the middle of May 2020.
“Before the pandemic, I was single for almost a year,” she recalls. “And then when Covid started, I didn’t meet up with anyone until Michael.”
Once they matched, she and Michael started talking every day. “We starting doing dates online, watching movies and gigs and messaging each other at the same time,” she says. “We realised we were very attracted to each other.”
When they first met face-to-face, Michael had driven from his home in Laois to Dublin.
“We kissed straightaway and that was it,” Betzy smiles. “When Laois went into lockdown in August, he stayed with me. It went very quickly and it matured into a relationship. It was very unexpected.”
“I was very, very surprised,” she adds of starting a relationship during a pandemic. “I remember saying to people, I’m not going to meet anyone this year — how could you? Like, it’s hard enough to make friends.
“But I remember telling my friends that now is a really good time to meet someone properly. You have to ask the questions, you have to do the video calls, and then when you meet, you have a whole history with the other person.
“It gives you a deeper understanding and deeper connection with that person.”
While loss and tragedy underscored the year, Emma Hickey-Ibrahim, an underwriter from Dublin, admits that Covid affected every aspect of her father Declan’s cancer diagnosis and passing.
Declan was diagnosed with small cell lung cancer, a particularly aggressive variant of the disease, on April 20. He died exactly a month later.
Emma had moved home to Dublin from London, and was also planning a wedding to her then-fiancé, Ahmed.
“When Dad got his [initial] cancer diagnosis, he had to be told a lot of this by himself,” Emma says.
“We weren’t allowed to see him in the hospital — we were allowed in for the last 24 hours — although the staff at St Vincent’s were so amazing, and went above and beyond the normal compassion.
“We were due to get married in May 2020 but had it pushed back to October,” she adds. “We decided to have a small spiritual ceremony in our house in Dublin a couple of weeks before my dad passed, and he was there in his suit and it meant so much to him to be there.”
Having such limited contact with her father in his final weeks is something that Emma is still processing.
“What we really struggled with was not even for our own sakes,” she says. “I’d have given anything to be there with him, but he said that he felt like time was being stolen from him — first because of the cancer, but doubly so given the circumstances.”
Like many who lost loved ones, the Hickey family honoured Declan with a small funeral, without a removal or wake.
“Even now, some of my real go-to friends live in Cork or London, and haven’t been able to comfort me,” Emma says.
“My mum hasn’t been able to see her sister. So many people are going through the same sensation at the same time, but we can’t do it together. That’s been tough to get my mind around.”
Plans to celebrate Declan’s life with family and friends on the date of his first anniversary have had to be shelved for the time being.
“I really hope we will be able to come together and memorialise him one day soon,” Emma says. “I can’t wait to give him the send-off he deserved.”
Writer Maura McElhone, from Kildare, gave birth to her first child in May, a son she named Comhghall.
“I was in my last trimester when Covid happened, so of course there were concerns about whether the baby would be okay,” she says. “I was assured at that point that there was no evidence that Covid would be passed to babies.”
In the final weeks of her pregnancy, Maura (pictured, with Comhghall) notes that she “erred on the side of optimism”.
Unsure as to whether government-mandated restrictions would lift before she gave birth, she was happy to play things by ear.
“On the night I went in to have [my son]. I didn’t expect to be in labour by myself — because I wasn’t in full labour my husband couldn’t be there, so I was on the pre-labour ward for seven hours.
“I was not emotionally, mentally or practically prepared for that.
“You also don’t realise how tough that side of things can be, and spending those first couple of days without a single visitor was hard.
“I didn’t know how to change a nappy, and you’re just not in your right mind, but I had to take it as it came.
“In some ways, as one of the first cohort of women to give birth during lockdown, I had the partial benefit of going into the whole thing blind.”
Once Maura returned home with Comhghall, restrictions meant that she and Sean had the space to get to know their first-born.
“I enjoyed the lack of pressure, and that no-one would just drop in and I’d have to get my game face on and make cups of tea,” she smiles.
“That said, it takes a village to raise a baby, and in 2020, you had no option but to really do it by yourself.
“After spending nine months of his life, and counting, in some form of lockdown, thinking about how that will impact Comhghall in the longer term definitely brings an element of anxiety to things. ’m trying to do right by him every day, knowing how much he is missing out on.”