Giving birth in a pandemic isn’t something I ever imagined doing, but like expectant mamas up and down the country it’s something I had no choice but to do.
On April 20th, 2020 I gave birth to baby number four at what was the height of the first wave of the coronavirus outbreak in the UK, and it’s safe to say the experience was unlike anything I could have prepared for.
When I first saw that blue line appear on my pregnancy test in August 2019 I could never have predicted the world my baby would be born into just nine months later – the concept of lockdown alone sounds like a plot for a film.
I could never have predicted my maternity leave would effectively be cancelled, my birth choices would be restricted and the whole experience of bringing a new life into the world would be governed by a virus for which there is currently no cure.
So, for anyone wondering what it’s really like giving birth during the coronavirus pandemic – and in a bid to keep things real as I always do – here’s what I unwittingly discovered.
10 things they don’t tell you about giving birth in a pandemic
1. You’ll cry – a lot
I’ve cried more in the last month than I have in the last 10 years, about everything from maternity leave being ruined by lockdown and having three kids at home – two of whom I’m supposed to be homeschooling – to my water birth plan going down the plug hole with PPE gear and new coronavirus health and safety guidelines.
2. Plan for the worst & hope for the best
With Covid-19 maternity guidance changing on a daily basis my advice is simply to plan for the worst and hope for the best. In the countdown to my due date certain services were withdrawn only to be reinstated two days later, and rules on birthing partners were put in place then relaxed then put in place again. There was no way of predicting what the situation would be like on my big day, so my way of processing that was to plan for the worst and hope for the best.
3. Limit your news exposure if you want to stay sane
Especially when it comes to anything maternity related. I stuck to the Royal College of Midwives, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and our local maternity unit’s social media feeds for the latest advice and information. Don’t be swayed by the misinformation bandied about on social media and accounts from a friend of a friend of a friend.
4. Prepare to communicate with your eyes
Owing to the PPE gear you’ll have no idea what your midwife actually looks like, unless you happen to catch sight of her without it on or get a chance to see her ID badge. As a result prepare to communicate with eyes rather than facial expressions. I’ll always remember my midwife’s eyes.
5. You might have to do things you don’t want to do
Even though I couldn’t give birth in water because of the coronavirus outbreak I was determined to labour in water, which meant I had to stand up and out of the water between contractions to allow my midwife to listen into the baby’s heart beat and take my pulse without putting her hands in the water. It wasn’t ideal when you’re ‘in the zone’ labouring and in pain, but it was either that or I couldn’t use the pool at all. Oh, and they’ll check your temperature – a lot.
6. Expect full on PPE gear for the actual birth
We’re talking goggles, face masks, aprons and gloves. But to be honest I was so out of it by then I didn’t even notice.
7. Midwives are superheroes
They say not all superheroes wear capes and it’s true: they wear aprons and face masks instead. I’ve been blown away by the role of midwives during all four of my births but even more so during the coronavirus pandemic. Despite unprecedented circumstances and the awful job of being forced to deny women everything from birth choices to support afterwards (birth partners can be there for the birth but must leave afterwards and no visitors are allowed on the wards) the care I received was second to none and couldn’t be faulted.
8. You can’t register the birth
Meaning you can’t claim child benefit yet because you don’t have a birth certificate, and you can’t apply for a passport for the holiday you’re still clutching onto the vain hope you may be able to have when this is all over. I’ve been told I’ll be contacted ‘later in the year’ – whenever that will be.
9. It’s not as scary as it sounds
I spent the last few weeks of my pregnancy worried sick about giving birth in a pandemic and how things would have escalated by then. The anxiety kept me awake at night and dominated my thoughts during the day, and I went from being confident in my self and my ability to birth my baby in a safe environment to not being able to picture the birth at all. But it really wasn’t that bad: we soon got used to the PPE gear and I felt safe, supported and protected from the virus sweeping the country despite being in a place arguably most exposed to it – a hospital.
10. It’s ok not to be ok
It’s ok to be upset your maternity leave has been ruined by lockdown; it’s ok to have a wobble (or two or three) about what giving birth in a pandemic will actually be like; it’s ok to grieve for the birth you planned but couldn’t have and it’s ok if you’re worried about being on your own afterwards: no-one could have predicted this. You’ll never have this time again and it’s ok not to be ok about that.
Have you given birth during the coronavirus pandemic or know someone who has? I’d love to hear about your experience!