The one about birth
The second in our series of three - giving birth in the midst of a global pandemic.
With the third lockdown beginning, many pregnant women, myself included, have been thrown back into the washing machine of anxiety. What will this mean for our births? Will the restrictions be put back in place (or in some places still not lifted from before)? Will I have to give birth on my own? What will happen if something goes wrong?
It’s a scary time for pregnant women, their partners and their families. As there doesn’t seem to be an visible end in sight for this new lockdown, the best thing we can all do is try to support each other. We need to ask questions if we are worried and under no circumstance should we ever feel like we are being a burden on the NHS.
After hearing both Leah and Amber’s experiences of giving birth in the midst of the pandemic last year, and reading up from other experiences, what is really visible to me is the strength of women, their partners and those around them, and the healthcare teams supporting them. But that doesn’t take away from the effects that these experiences have had on parental mental health.
If you know any new parents or pregnant women, please take some time to ask if they are ok. This really is an unbelievably testing time for them.
Here are Leah and Amber’s experiences of giving birth in a pandemic...
Due to health concerns, Leah was induced 3 weeks early. With Covid restrictions in full swing at the time, she spent about five hours on the induction ward on her own before her husband, Joe, was allowed to join her. Once in the delivery suite, baby Erin arrived on the scene fairly swiftly, and for these moments Leah almost forgot that there was a pandemic…
“Once in there, you wouldn’t know there was a pandemic at all. Staff wore PPE but it wasn’t really an issue.”
However, post birth, the reality of the Covid situation crept back in. Joe had to leave a few hours after the delivery, and Leah was moved on to the ward where she couldn’t see any visitors. Even Joe, her husband, was not allowed in the ward. Leah noticed that a number of mums were being sent home the same day to try and avoid this. However, due to a few complications, Leah had to stay in, and she found that the atmosphere in the ward was highly emotional.
She found that mums were struggling with the pressure of looking after their newborns on their own, while recovering from their births. There was one mum in the bed opposite whose husband hadn’t even met his baby yet - she went in for an emergency c-section, then was moved straight to the ward and had been there for five days...
“There were ladies on the ward who had been there a few days and who were very emotional. Every woman was in tears on the first day I got there, and as the days went on, I could understand why. You do feel very isolated.”
For Joe, the biggest challenge of the experience was having to leave Leah and Erin in the hospital, not knowing when he would next see them. He spent a lot of the time having to wait around in the hospital car park. Having no control and less knowledge of what was happening was tough for him, and he was dependent on Leah asking questions and feeding back the information.
When Erin was moved into SCBU for a bit, Joe was allowed in to visit. Both him and Leah couldn’t see her at the same time, but it did give Joe the chance to spend some time with his new daughter. It was a shame that it had to be under pretty horrible circumstances though.
“You can’t change or postpone a pandemic or a baby, so we just had to cope with the changes and thank modern technology for giving us some element of communication.”
For Amber, the birth itself was likely unchanged by the pandemic apart from her Mum not being able to join. Although she says that pushing two humans out of your body is never going to be enjoyable, the lack of classes and preparation did make the experience trickier and less enjoyable than perhaps it could have been.
After birth, she spent 6 days in hospital without any visitors. These restrictions included her partner Jack, who as a result, missed the first 6 days of his girls’ life. Amber found that being in the hospital alone with her twin girls was crippling on both her mental and physical health, with those dark hours in the middle of the night being especially isolating...
“It changed how I had to approach the first weeks as a new parent compared to how I would have liked to have approached it.”
For Jack, not being able to be with Amber in hospital prior to the birth was tough, but leaving her there with two babies was one of the most challenging aspects. And although modern technology made it easier for the couple to communicate during this time, it wasn’t the same as being able to provide the support in person.
When Amber reflects on the experience of giving birth, she takes a very pragmatic stance. With lots of other people going through tough situations in the pandemic, for her she tries to remind herself that being grateful for what she has is the best way to keep moving forward…
“While we can effectively 'mourn' the experiences we’ve lost, we can also be incredibly grateful for the roof over our heads, the health of our family and the joy of our precious new babies.”
Asked for her advice for those of us giving birth soon, she said to try and prepare the best you can. She found that packing essentials like a phone charger, headphones, and a battery pack (so you don’t have to lean over to the plugs) made staying in touch with Jack, and other people in her support network, easier, especially being on her own in hospital.