26 Shields

Sue Young

Act 1: Bubble within a bubble

A new life, her whole world. She focuses on this tiny early arrival, born the day the world changed. Taken from the shelter of her body to a bubble of piped air and warmth, a closed circuit of care, inside a fortress.

Proliferating rules make few concessions for new mums who use wheelchairs. She aches to hold him. An eternity passes in weeks. He comes home.

She is resilient and strong, life lessons in patience and the warmth of new motherhood makes shielding manageable but tinged with sadness – family and friends will never see him as a tiny baby.

Act 2: “This was not what we had planned”

The summer she had imagined changed completely. Unexpected worries. Coming home to empty cupboards, silent rooms. Cancelled operations and ongoing pain. Finding new strategies to cope with the impossible. Silver linings too; her husband’s furlough stretching three weeks into three months of family building. Changing rules and adapting life. “No-one met him for three months and then only through a window.” Hands on glass.

Deck the confining walls with tinsel and LEDs, sit round a virtual table, screens where warm breath should be. It’s not perfect, but perfectly reflects life now. They have each other, they find a way.

Act 3: A different way of life

It gets harder to reach for the positive in these short, cold days. She misses the camaraderie of other mums, problems halved. Time feels elastic, hours blend, close in. In this new reality, “you have to work out how to live, rather than just survive.”

She gathers small joys of sleepy hugs, first words, starburst smiles, Mum’s helping hands, love passed generation to generation. A long-awaited operation lifts a veil of pain and gradually the evenings lighten.

Lockdown brings innovation, new ways of sharing, opens online doors to the inaccessible. Distance shrinks as the digital threads of friendship strengthen.

Act 4: A sense of trepidation

An alternative, enabling shield starts to build, as vaccinations roll out. She reinstates the jigsaw pieces of her independence, no longer reliant just on family for support.

Life is opening out again, it’s good being able to make plans, but her feelings are mixed. The year has left a legacy of wariness, opportunities beckon but risk lingers. Vulnerability has switched sides, her role reversed. With close friends and family still to be protected, she feels the need to keep others safe.

Her space unfurls; garden reunions, walks in the park, going into a shop, a baby group. The everyday, returning.

Act 5: Drawing a new horizon

The future is unclear but tinged with promise. The world is getting bigger. Should she dare to have hopes and dreams? She’s keeping it simple, looking forward to days with friends, their children playing together.  Going into town, showing baby the sea.

Things are different, she can’t just pick up plans that were on hold, those opportunities are gone. Life has moved on whilst the world stood still.  She’ll do something different, make a new plan, carve new paths through old routines.

Through it all, then and now, at the centre are friends and family, looking out for each other.

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