Almost a year on from my giving birth at the height of the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, I had no idea we’d still be under strict social restrictions as my little boy approaches his first birthday. As promised, I’m looking back at my experience and sharing my story of becoming a mum to a lockdown baby.
Exactly one month before my due date the UK government announced that pregnant women were now classed as vulnerable to a new deadly virus starting to spread around the world, news that really shook me. Until that point I’d been trying to stay as positive as possible about the effect that coronavirus would have on me, my baby’s birth and my maternity leave, but this changed everything. I heard the news that I should self-isolate on my drive home from work and just didn’t go in the next day. No goodbye hugs or well wishes, suddenly feeling very alone and anxious about what the next month had in store.
Almost a month later, just four days before my due date, at the end of an Easter weekend spent still in lockdown, I went into labour. Around three o’clock in the morning I woke up to some slight twinges in my back. Two hours later I was certain. My baby was starting his journey into the world.
Throughout the morning my contractions were getting stronger, longer and closer together, so I called the Labour Line. The first few times I tried it just rang and rang, seemingly endlessly, with no answer. When I did finally get through I was disappointed by the apparent lack of empathy of the person on the other end of the phone. She asked me a few questions, taking several minutes, obviously long enough for me to experience more than one contraction. On a couple of occasions I had to let her wait for my answer, to concentrate on breathing through the pain. She didn’t seem to get it at all, asking if I was still there, if I was still listening. Finally I forced myself to reply, still mid-contraction, just to make sure she wouldn’t hang up. One of the last questions she asked was if I’d been having contractions throughout our conversation, but when I answered she said I must not be too far along if I could talk through them! "Call back once your waters have broken."
I held on at home for a few hours more, all the while the contractions getting stronger, but still my waters didn’t break. Finally, at four o’clock in the afternoon, after thirteen hours of labour at home, I couldn’t bear it any longer. It was time to go to hospital. Again, when I arrived, I was stunned by the lack of sensitivity from the reception staff. Surely anyone working at a maternity unit would recognise someone in labour? But when I went to walk in, alone due to COVID restrictions, and having to carry my own bag and paperwork, I was brusquely told to wait outside, to ring the doorbell, give details and answer questions about potential coronavirus symptoms before reluctantly being allowed in. This was despite having repeated that information on the phone more than once over the previous few hours. I realise now that in those early weeks in the rise of the pandemic, the reactions I witnessed were simply people following extremely rigorous guidelines to limit the spread of the unfamiliar virus, but to an anxious mum-to-be going through her first labour, it just felt cold and robotic.
Having seemingly passed all the tests to get inside the labour ward, a much more welcoming midwife finally examined me, explaining that if I was less than four centimetres dilated I’d have to go home and come back later. I was terrified of having to repeat the whole process again. Thankfully I didn’t have to worry, as she confirmed I was already in established labour and five centimetres dilated. This news also meant my birth partner could finally come in and join me. At this point in lockdown I wasn’t required to wear a mask in hospital, but of course all the medical staff were in full PPE, and I found it difficult to hear or understand a fair amount of what everyone was saying being so unused to people wearing masks. That added to my building anxiety but the two midwives who looked after me during my time in labour were so calm, understanding and encouraging. When my first midwife was about to leave at the end of her shift, I remember begging her to stay. She was the one person so far who’d treated me compassionately and not just as a potential threat of infection. Looking back I’m sure she was desperate to be able to get home and take off her mask, having probably spent ten or twelve hours wearing it continuously.
Once I was told I wouldn’t be going home without having had my baby, everything seemed to speed up and slow down all at once. I was offered pain relief in the form of gas and air, and although it didn’t really do much to subdue the contractions squeezing through my back and across the top of my legs, it really helped me concentrate on my breathing. With every wave of pain, I took deep breaths and repeated to myself internally that every contraction was bringing me closer to meeting my baby. It really worked to keep me calm and focused and I remember the midwife remarking on how quiet I seemed. That would all change when I started pushing!
A few hours later I was almost fully dilated and still my waters hadn’t broken. I was so glad I had trusted my instincts and come to hospital earlier - if I had waited for them to break Max would almost certainly have been born at home. The more time went on the more I started to worry that something wasn’t right. The pressure was so intense with each contraction. The midwife explained that on rare occasions babies can be born in their amniotic sacs. However, after a while spent at nine and a half centimetres the midwife suggested she broke my waters for me, so that the pressure would be released and hopefully my baby would make his appearance soon after.
She wasn’t wrong. My body suddenly took over and I was pushing. At first I couldn’t believe the sound I could hear was coming from me. If I’d been in any other situation I would have been so embarrassed to be making all that noise, but trust me when I say that a woman in labour does not care. The next morning I was so hoarse! There was a moment when the baby was halfway out that I began to doubt my ability to carry on, I was exhausted, frightened and in overwhelming pain. But I did it. The thought of meeting my baby in the next few moments spurred me on. Then, at 1.34am on Tuesday 14th April 2020, he was here.
As the midwife held up my floppy little newborn baby, I asked if he was a boy. She told me she wanted me to see for myself, but I barely had the energy to lift my head. All I wanted was for her to place him on my chest, to share our first cuddle. Holding him in my arms was the most amazing feeling. But all too soon I was being told I needed to be taken to theatre to be stitched up, that I was going to be whisked away from my tiny newborn baby so soon after meeting him. I felt robbed of those first few special moments and hours, especially after spending the last nine months growing him inside me, spending every moment together.
It seemed like an eternity to wait but eventually we were reunited. Due to COVID restrictions my birth partner had had to leave without even saying goodbye, and no further visits from anyone would be allowed as long as Max and I were in hospital. Despite being surrounded by medical professionals I felt so alone. Emotionally and physically exhausted, I was suddenly solely responsible for keeping a tiny human alive and I couldn’t wait to get home to some support and familiarity.
But they wanted to keep us in a few more hours. Thanks again to national lockdown, breastfeeding support groups were all cancelled for the foreseeable future, so the hospital midwives wanted to offer extra guidance and build my confidence in feeding my baby before discharging us. Looking back, it was the only way they could still provide that vital service to new mums, but all I wanted to do was take Max home. I exaggerated how well I was managing breastfeeding just to get that green light to leave the postnatal ward a few hours earlier. The distinct lack of support once I’d left almost led me to give up when Max was just three days old, but the full story of my breastfeeding journey is one that I’ll save for another time.
I left hospital with Max the afternoon of the following day, feeling another whirlwind of emotions. Excitement to take my baby home and begin a new chapter together, coupled with disappointment in knowing that no one would be coming over to meet him until lockdown began to ease. Even now a year on there are so many family members and close friends who are yet to meet or spend proper quality time with Max, who have missed so many of his developments over the first year of his life. Being a first time mum to a lockdown baby has been difficult in ways I never imagined, but one thing I am grateful for is the amount of time I’ve been able to spend with my baby and the bond he has built with me and the closest members of my family who formed our support bubble. There are hard days and there are long, lonely nights, but I know I’d go through it all again in a heartbeat just to see his squishy little newborn face and his big brown eyes looking up into mine.
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