My lockdown birth story was an interesting one. When I first found out I was pregnant with my daughter Hallie, Covid-19 was a non-existent problem in the UK. There was brief chatter about the virus circulating in China; however, I was not worried. I rationalised with myself that there are outbreaks across the world of varying new and old types that do not affect us in the UK. In addition, our healthcare system is second to none in the world. I was certain we could handle anything as a country. I turned out to be wrong!
By the end of March, we were in a full-scale national lockdown. This situation left thoughts of worry, dread and uncertainty surrounding my pregnancy and my daughter’s birth. Luckily, for my partner and me, we had our 20-week gender scan beforehand, which for all couples is a special moment. Unfortunately, for some other parents with lockdown birth experiences, this precious time was not a part of their experience.
In the weeks after our gender-scan, I had to go for other appointments and scans alone. I cannot stress enough how lonely and unsupportive I felt even though I had abundance of support back at home. I met with different midwives each time, with all having to wear masks. This made the whole pregnancy less of a magical time, it was dreary and depressing.
During my previous pregnancies, my babies were born big. This time around, I had to have Hallie early to avoid her becoming too big and suffering from shoulder dysmorphia. To monitor her progress, I had additional scans to determine whether it would be a c-section or induction. Each time I went to the scanning department, I met with a segregated sea of depressing looking women. They all wore masks and were alone as they could not share this experience with a partner, friend or family.
After another lonely scan at 37 weeks, her growth was going well. We decided that I was to have an induction at 39 weeks instead of a c-section. I felt a relief because I did not want to be in the hospital any longer than I had to!
GIVING BIRTH TO MY LOCKDOWN BABY:
At 39 weeks, we were in the month of July so by this point restrictions had only slightly lessened in hospitals. This meant that during my induction, my other half could be in the ward. However, we both had to wear masks even while I was contracting. Attempting to breathe effectively whilst wearing a mask is not an easy task, I tell you!
During each contraction, I was not only in pain, I felt as though I was suffocating from the material of the mask. During these contractions, the midwife came over to do a covid-19 test on me. I cannot even begin to explain how unpleasant a covid-19 test is, especially whilst contracting. The cotton bud goes down your throat until you are forced to gag. After this, they apply the same process to the nose – they may as well bring your brain down with it because of how far it goes!
Forty minutes after being induced the midwife decided I could go over to the labour ward as my contractions were close enough together. The labour ward was where I could finally take my mask off and finally have some of the good stuff, gas and air! My partner however still had to keep his mask on during my whole labour. The midwife by my side was excellent, and she provided the best care. Fortunately, this care did not feel any different to when we were not in a pandemic. The only difference was, frequently, there was washing of hands, which was understandable. At 2:03am in the morning of the 22nd of July our third baby girl Hallie was born, weighing 8lb 8oz.
CHANGES TO THE BIRTH EXPERIENCE DURING COVID:
Normally, after childbirth, they take the child away to clean them; however, this process was not part of the procedures. I am assuming this was to avoid any unnecessary handling of the baby in case I had Covid. The most gut wrenching of the whole experience happened only an hour after she was born.
I have an immense fear of hospitals and my other half only had a short hour with Hallie before they asked him to leave whilst I went over to the post labour ward. This did not only mean he was robbed of time to meet and bond with our newborn, but also, after giving birth, having a support system by you when you are that tired is lifesaving. As dramatic as it may sound, I found my partner’s absence because of the lockdown restrictions to be traumatic. I burst into tears about the ordeal; but they told me the rules could not change. Due to the rules, my partner could only visit the next day by 2PM until 6PM.
THE POST-NATAL EXPERIENCE:
The post labour ward was not any better. Initially, the midwives completely left me alone until my partner showed up at 2PM. There was no observations on either my baby, or me. In the hospital, I did not get a plan for my care or on what was happening. I asked for this several times, but the midwives often requested I return to my bed.
As a paranoid parent who has watched stories of kidnapped children on channel 5 films, I asked the midwife if I could leave Hallie in her cot by the desk with her whilst I had a shower and went to the toilet. Unfortunately, the midwife asked to leave her alone at my bedside, which I could not do. I stayed dirty and bursting to go to the toilet until my partner arrived.
This situation would have been better if my partner could stay. Since we come from the same household and were often around the same midwives, I thought the restriction made no difference! From the non-existent communication, and how I felt within myself when my husband walked through the curtain, I was again a sobbing mess.
To add to my distress, Hallie had a raised breathing rate, so we had to stay another night in the hospital alone, without any support. Something that helped me during this time was that I had a midwife at nightime. She watched over Hallie each time I went to the toilet. The midwife continued to reassure me throughout the night that everything would be fine, that Hallie was doing well and we would be going home the next day.
The next day I left the hospital with my new baby and my husband, and felt a wave of relief wash over me. Out of all three births, this was by far, the most traumatic. In pregnancy number one, I had to have a blood transfusion. By the second one, we had to stay in the hospital longer because of my daughter’s temperature. In those times, I had more support. The third experience goes to show how valuable having a support system during this time is! My heart goes out to all the women who had to go through similar experiences during such a trying time. You are all soldiers! I truly hope that the government does not impose another lockdown, and women do not have to suffer being alone during birth again.
CONTRIBUTE YOUR LOCKDOWN BIRTH STORY
In the coming weeks, you can contribute and read ‘My Lockdown Birth Story’ on our website.