GUEST BLOG: Giving birth during the pandemic

The graphic shows a white background with black left-aligned text quote that reads "The whole time in hospital, I felt ‘safe’, with everyone around me head-to-toe in PPE. It was strange not being allowed visitors, but it’s funny how pragmatic you can be about these things.". In the bottom right-hand corner of the graphic there are the Engender, Health and Social Care Academy and ALLIANCE Scotland logos.

We've been working with the ALLIANCE and The Health and Social Care Academy to gather information about experiences of pregnancy and maternity services during Covid-19 from women across Scotland. Alongside our work, we're sharing a series of guest blogs reflecting on those experiences. Here, Barbara Flynn shares her experience of giving birth in the summer of 2020.

In March 2020, when lockdown was imposed, I was six months pregnant with my second child. Overnight, my thoughts went from, ‘I think I’ll book a pregnancy massage’ to, ‘will our lives ever return to normal?!’. I also went from eagerly anticipating my midwife appointments to agonising about having to go into hospital to give birth – the last place, it seemed, that anyone wanted to be now! As our street is near one of the main thoroughfares to the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, ambulances speeding past became a familiar background noise, each one a grim reminder of my own impending trip to hospital.

I first left home after lockdown for a midwife appointment on 9th April, after more than three weeks at home. I bought a facemask especially and burst into tears when I got back into the car – I felt overwhelmed, upset by how distressing the experience had been. In my first pregnancy, visiting the midwife to hear the baby’s heartbeat was always a beautiful, happy occasion. I couldn’t believe how different it had felt this time round; the fear in the air and absence of pleasantries. And seeing all the PPE and distancing measures really hit home the bleak reality of Covid.

As the weather improved in May and June, so too did my outlook and, like many others, I learned to take pleasure in the little things (it also eased my anxiety that Covid case numbers had decreased significantly.) I felt thankful for my health, my family and my garden. I also felt grateful that this wasn’t my first pregnancy – I kept thinking of all the first-time parents who were navigating the maternity experience in these awful circumstances. At least I had already done it and knew what to expect. I was lucky enough to have benefitted from the NHS midwife-led antenatal classes the first time round; how sad, I thought, that they had all had to be cancelled this year. So many people would miss out on invaluable information sessions but also on the chance to meet other parents-to-be and form peer support links that are so vital in the early days. So, I tried to stay focused on the positives and kept up my relaxation exercises and evening walk. But the countdown was real – at the back of my mind, it was always there: I would have to go into a hospital no matter what, and that date was drawing nearer.

By 1st June, there was no sign of baby wanting to budge, so I was booked in for an induction on 11th June. I did everything I could to bring on the birth spontaneously: curries, pineapple, dates, raspberry leaf tea, exercise… but this baby was pretty comfy where he was! With my first son, I was induced and then had to labour on a ward for 40 hours, so I was anxious not to have to repeat that. A long labour is never fun, but mostly I was worried about a long stay in hospital increasing my risk of catching Covid. I had never been afraid of hospitals until now. However, because of Covid, I was informed this time that I would be offered a non-medical outpatient induction, the likes of which hadn’t been routinely performed since the 1980s! With advances in medicine, they had been phased out over the years. Yet, in the spring of 2020, they were reintroduced, and I was one of the lucky first guinea pigs! I was delighted as it meant that, once the surgeon had performed the procedure, I could return home and would not have to be monitored on the ward. This was music to my ears! Especially as, at that point, Covid measures meant that partners were not allowed on the ward. There was no way I could have imagined labouring alone! So, my parents took our two-year-old for a sleepover, and I laboured at home with my husband on hand.

It turned out that the outpatient induction, despite being non-medical, was actually very effective! Within two hours of having my procedure at 6.30pm on the 11th, I was having contractions at home and then was back in the hospital at 6am on the 12th, ready to meet my baby. And we would have been back home again very quickly had it not been for my placenta getting stuck – leading to an emergency trip to theatre to have it removed. Following a straightforward and unassisted birth, the irony of requiring a spinal block and surgical procedure to deliver my placenta was not lost on me.

They say hindsight is a wonderful thing, and I see now that I needn’t have worried; I was in good hands. I actually benefitted from Covid changes to shift patterns in a way: to reduce footfall and minimise contact, nurses were working 12-hour shifts and I had the same two wonderful midwives by my side for 12 hours, who supported me all the way through my active labour. They met me in the labour suite at 6.30am on the 12th and we parted when I was admitted to the ward at 6.30pm. The whole time in hospital, I felt ‘safe’, with everyone around me head-to-toe in PPE. It was strange not being allowed visitors, but it’s funny how pragmatic you can be about these things. In the end, I realised, all that mattered was that my baby was born safely. It was a tough gig, being pregnant in 2020, but I came away from it thinking how incredibly strong and resilient women are, and how the team of medics around me were so composed, professional and warm, that I almost forgot about the pandemic.

Engender has been working in partnership with The Health and Social Care Academy and the ALLIANCE to undertake a survey to find out about experiences of pregnancy and maternity services during Covid-19. This results of this survey will be used to support our work on Covid-19 and our work to improve women’s health and wellbeing.

Guest posts do not necessarily reflect the views of Engender, and all language used is the author's own. We aim for our blog to reflect a range of feminist viewpoints, and we offer a commissioning pot and editorial support to ensure that women do not have to offer their time or words for free. Find out more here.

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