GUEST BLOG: Lockdown (maternity) leave

The graphic shows a white background with black left-aligned text quote that reads "Vaccines and health checks became something to look forward to, a reason to leave the house and talk to someone different.". 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, Eilidh shares her experience of post-partum support during the pandemic.

My eldest was born in early March 2020, meaning my pregnancy and birth happened back in the old normal, where facemasks were rare and social distancing wasn’t a phrase yet. We left hospital to the same kind of new normal that every new parent enters, where days merge together in a haze of sleepless nights, breastfeeding and nappies. We had visits from family and tried to find our feet, mostly unaware of the world changing outside.

Then things began to change. Our midwife turned up for one visit wearing a facemask – only the day before she had been in our house wearing little to no PPE. Checks were no longer performed sitting on the same sofa but instead from the chair opposite; checks of the baby were no longer an excuse for baby cuddles but were becoming as hands off as possible.

By the next time the health visitor came she was in full PPE and handling the baby as little as possible. Support groups and advice were almost non-existent, and our poor health visitor didn’t know any more than we did: “there is a breastfeeding support group, but they aren’t allowed to meet at the moment and we aren’t sure when it will be back on”. Online meetings hadn’t taken over at that point. “We don’t know” was the answer to almost all questions.

By three weeks old we were in full lockdown, being warned that even parks may not be safe. No more comforting visits from friends and family, just my sleep deprived frazzled partner and I trying to share the newborn between us. Each time the health visitor came she booked her next visit, saying, “if we can still do visits then”. The GP receptionist wasn’t initially able to book our six week check as “we aren’t sure if we will be doing those”.

I remember laughing with the heath visitor during the six week mental health check. Do you feel anxious most of the time? Well the world is currently on fire, so yes I am anxious. Do you feel comfortable to leave the house? Boris Johnson says we aren’t allowed to go anywhere and there is a scary virus with no treatment that could have an unknown impact on my baby. I think we need to alter this questionnaire for the current pandemic. Vaccines and health checks became something to look forward to, a reason to leave the house and talk to someone different. My own monthly monitoring continued, and it was strange to think those nurses saw more of my baby than my own family did.

I survived lockdown by disappearing into a newborn bubble. I sat on my sofa and held my baby, fed her, took pictures of her and sent them to family multiple times a day. Luckily my husband was working from home, so we ordered food deliveries and we bonded with our little one. We worked in the garden – it was the nicest April and May for years. Baby groups were virtual if they were running at all, and virtual groups with strangers didn’t provide much opportunity to make friends. We had video chats with family and friends, but it wasn’t the same as meeting in person – a baby doesn’t interact much with a face on a screen. It was awful to think of how much she had changed since her grandparents had last seen her and held her. I focused on the tiny life in front of me and tried not to think about the fact that no one had held her or seen her in person except her dad and me.

Engender is 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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