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Now I know how an elephant feels by Louise Lynch




Shiela The Elephant became a familiar sight on the Whitewell Road in North Belfast as Zookeeper Denise Austin brought her home to protect her during the Belfast Blitz in 1941. She's perhaps Northern Ireland's most infamous elephant. Copyright Belfast Zoo.



This pandemic has been like one very long pregnancy. Not convinced by my analogy? Let me compare my first pregnancy with the first wave of the pandemic.


September 1989

Newly graduated I’m working unpaid with a local community theatre group. I’m feeling slightly unwell. Nausea, tired, sore breasts, periods stopped. I explain these unheard-of random symptoms to my GP.

“Is it possible you’re pregnant?” he asks. I shake my head

“No, absolutely not. Impossible,” is my instant reply

I’ve moved to South Belfast with my partner.

“So, you haven’t had sex? You’re not in a relationship?”

Yes, I had and yes, I was, but the thought had never entered my head. Even with the suddenly embarrassingly obvious text book symptoms. It seemed my brain was in deep denial. He ordered a test. What if I am pregnant? How will it affect our life?


January 2020

Empty Nesters, we moved to South Belfast a year ago. News filters through from China about a new virus. Countries start to shut their borders. Our government does nothing. They seem to be in denial. Perhaps it will never happen here, I think, and if it does will it really affect our life?


1st Trimester 1989

I’m pregnant. I can’t believe this is happening; my partner is excited. I start reading every pregnancy and baby book in the Ormeau library. We need to prepare for this. I start making lists.


February 2020

The Coronavirus is here. I can’t believe this is happening; my partner is excited. We start watching every news bulletin, reading every report. We need to prepare for this. I start making lists.


2nd Trimester 1989/1990

Time to start shopping, spread the costs. Other parents advise us that the most essential item is a washing machine. Babies are messy. Moses basket? Changing table? Pram? They can sleep in a drawer; you can change nappies on the floor and carry them in a sling. But they will wear several changes of clothes a day. And nappies, apparently babies go through a lot of nappies.


March 2020

Talk of a Lockdown. Time to do a big Tesco shop and stock up on pasta and tins of tomatoes. There are no loo rolls in any shop. Apparently, people in pandemics go through a lot of loo rolls.


3rd Trimester 1990

“Morning” sickness has gone. This pregnancy lark is actually quite fun. The gift of time. I’ll start an exercise class. I get sciatica and can’t move. I’ll learn a language. Why? It’s not as if we will ever be able to afford to travel with a baby. I’ll read ‘War and Peace’. My pregnancy brain kicks in so I can’t concentrate on anything, except Neighbours, EastEnders and Dallas. I can’t even have a drink at the pub. I start eating strange combinations of food. Toast burnt black with garlic pickle and peanut butter. I drink Ribena, which I hate, by the gallon.

None of my clothes fit, even the maternity clothes. Elasticated waists are my friend.

I can’t sleep, and when I do I have the weirdest dreams. How can I feel so tired when all I’ve been doing is sitting on the couch? My emotions are all over the place. Crying at sentimental adverts or at nothing. The phone calls start from friends and family I haven’t heard from in years. “Yes, I’m fine. Not doing much. Good days and bad days.”


April 2020 to March 2021

This lockdown is actually quite fun at first. The gift of time. I’ll start an online exercise class. There isn’t room to stand in front of the telly in our living room, let alone do jumping jacks. I could learn a language. What’s the point? It’s not as if we are ever likely to travel again. Maybe I’ll finally read ‘War and Peace,’ but find I can’t concentrate on anything. However, we do watch all 110 episodes of the original ‘Charlie’s Angels’. We can’t even go out to the pub for a drink. To avoid going to the shops we start eating strange food combinations of unloved tins from the back of the cupboard and mystery meat from the bottom of the freezer.

Then one day my jeans won’t do up. A combination of lack of exercise and my partner’s new baking hobby has piled on the pounds. Nightwear becomes daywear. Elasticated waists are my friend.

I can’t sleep, and when I do I have the weirdest dreams. How can I feel so tired when all I’ve been doing is sitting on the couch? My emotions are all over the place. Crying at a child’s picture of a rainbow or at nothing. The phone calls start from friends and family I haven’t heard from in years. “Yes, I’m fine. Not doing much. Good days and bad days.”



And I wait and wait and wait. Counting the days, weeks, months. I am fed up, fat, bored, aching, sleep deprived and I just want this to be over!


Words by Louise Lynch

Images by unknown. Copyright Belfast Zoo.

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