On a brisk day in early March, I became a dad. My partner went into labour late in the afternoon, we took a taxi to Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen and our beautiful little daughter was born as the sun went down.
I spent the subsequent four months on extended parental leave, returning to work on Monday this week.
The above is neither an unusual story nor a remarkable one, apart perhaps from the high standard of Danish parental leave provisions. But it did coincide with major upheaval in Denmark and throughout the world caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
In the days following the birth, we as new parents – as I’m sure all parents do – felt like we were going through profound changes in how we saw the world and our place within it as guardians of a new life.
At the same time, it seemed like the world was going through its own irreversible alteration, as cascading emergency public health measures – from the cancellation of major events to the closure of borders to a broad-ranging social lockdown – followed on a near-daily basis.
The border closure was significant for me on a personal level, as it ruled out for the foreseeable future any visits from my family, who live in the UK.
It’s fair to say we felt a bit adrift as we entered a period of near-isolation, a combination of the lockdown and a precautionary measure to protect the baby.
We remained isolated throughout March, going outside with the baby just twice during her first week, both for hospital check-ups which, despite being routine, were more than a little unnerving.
Apart from that, my partner and the baby never left our small apartment. I went out for daily exercise – always alone – and otherwise never left the flat either. We had our groceries delivered, never had takeaway and didn't see anyone. We went for our first walk with our daughter in her stroller on April 17th, when she was five weeks old.
It was an intense experience and hard not to be able to lean on our own parents for support in the way we – and many other new mums and dads – usually would.
We have a photo on the wall at home of my dad as a 23-year-old new father holding me, aged three days. I sometimes found it hard to shift my sense of loss over the fact I couldn’t take the same photo of him with his granddaughter.
As time went on, and the situation in Denmark slowly but steadily improved, we realised there were a lot of positives for us. We were all healthy, and for weeks it was just the three of us together. We couldn’t help but form a strong bond. There were ups and downs but we got through it and I think we’ll look back on it and be proud of ourselves.
We have since spent time with my Danish partner’s parents and siblings. Our daughter meeting them for the first time was no less beautiful for the wait. “This is my baby”, my girlfriend said as her mother came into our flat, an incredibly obvious statement but one so laden with raw emotion that I’ll remember it for the rest of my days.
Denmark has now opened its borders to tourists from most of Europe and close family members of Danish residents can also enter. Our wait for our little girl to meet all of her grandparents is almost at an end.
There are many others who have found themselves in similar situations to ours and no doubt had similar feelings, including people in long-distance relationships. Depending on where you live, separation from loved ones may still not have a set expiry date.
For those in such circumstances, I hope that you won’t have to wait much longer but I also hope that, like me, the experience will bring you closer to both the family you are with and the family from which you are kept apart.