GUEST BLOG: My “unremarkable” pandemic pregnancy

The graphic shows a white background with black left-aligned text quote that reads "The midwives I dealt with were all kind, but their capacity was stretched. They were looking after mothers, providing care, information and safeguarding in a time when it was unclear how to do so in the best way while keeping everyone safe. ".  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, Sarah Robinson Galloway looks back on pregnancy in the early stages of the pandemic.

It’s Boxing Day 2019, I’m in my sister-in-law’s bathroom early in the morning doing a pregnancy test. I already knew I was pregnant, despite it only being two or three weeks, this was just to confirm so I wasn’t second-guessing myself. It’s positive, I tell my husband and we’re excited to be on our second pregnancy journey. We weren’t worried, we had done this before and had one beautiful wee girl already.

Everything went as normal, got my booking appointment made, after which came the booking for the 12-week scan. We did tell family early as they would have guessed with the way the morning sickness was going.

Right at the end of February I had spotting, more than a little, so had an emergency scan. Everything was fine, I was able to have my husband with me for support. We both went to the 12-week scan three days later and had the due date confirmed. That was the last appointment he came to.

Just a few weeks later, lockdown started and, like many others, we had no idea what was happening. I am asthmatic which, along with pregnancy, put me into a vulnerable category and so as a family we decided that my husband would do any shopping and other urgent errands, while I was managing working full time from home and he was furloughed. He also took on the majority of child care for our daughter.

There was so little information about Covid and about its impact on pregnancy, adding to the confusion and fear that many were experiencing. I recall my midwife was not only unsure of what was happening but her capacity was stretched. A team that for my first pregnancy had three or four midwives was now trying to do the same work with only two. I had phone appointments to get the information I needed and heard my baby’s heartbeat for the first time without my husband there. At this point we knew it wouldn’t have been an option for him to be there, but it’s still nerve-wracking and disappointing to not share those special moments with the father of your child. Unlike my first pregnancy, I felt sometimes like I was having to manage it all alone. I was lucky though, I had done this before. I knew what to expect, I only had about half the questions this time round and most of them were about Covid.

Pregnancy brings with it uncertainty but then add the uncertainty of an unknown deadly virus to that and it would be difficult to not become suspicious of every person who comes within two metres of you. Everything centred around trying to keep people apart and out of the GP surgery as much as possible. But the lack of capacity often meant that I was there much more than I needed to be, different needs couldn’t be coordinated to limit my time there, which seemed counter-intuitive.

Things did brighten as we came out of the first lockdown and things started to open up again. Confidence grew for me as my baby grew, the messages from Government suggested it was safer to go out, so we did with a lot of hand gel packed in the bag. We were still hesitant, though, still limiting what we did, although as it got warmer all I wanted was a pool and I was almost ready to breach all the rules and jump in my sister-in-law’s big paddling pool. It was a weird mix of still wanting to stay away from people but also desperation for other human contact, and relief for my back and pelvic girdle.

Unfortunately, the capacity of the community midwives did not grow, but at this stage I understood that they knew as little about the impacts of Covid on babies and pregnancy as I did. I became resigned to the fact that we would probably not know the potential impact unless I caught Covid or until long after the baby was born.

Home births were re-introduced and restrictions started to lift about birth partners and when they could come into the hospital. I was dreading having my baby alone, having read the horror stories of fathers waiting outside in cars while mothers were terrified and giving birth without support.

They say everything happens for a reason and somehow my wee one managed to time everything perfectly, not only did my waters break while we were eating in a restaurant celebrating my dad’s birthday, but she was born at the end of August between lockdowns. Giving birth on my own had been my biggest fear but luckily my husband was able to come straight into the labour ward with me and so did my mum as my second birth partner. I have fast labours (this one was 1 ½ hours from my waters breaking to birth), so no one could have said I wasn’t already in active labour as I arrived at the hospital.

After my daughter was born, the labour ward was busy, we were moved up to the maternity ward and my husband and mum were sent home. No one could come back until 1pm the next day. I had a full 12 hours by myself with baby.

There were positives and negatives to this. The quiet time was lovely, without lots of visitors coming in and out to see us or the other mum in the room. However, had I been a first-time mum this could have been overwhelming, partner support is so important during those first days. I was also confident enough in terms of feeding etc., so needed almost no support with that and in fact found myself supporting the first-time mum who was in the room with me because staff were stretched beyond capacity in the ward, just like in the community. They did their best to ensure you got all the care you needed and baby got all the checks she needed before we were discharged home, but it all took a long time and it was hard to find someone if you needed help.

The midwives I dealt with were all kind, but their capacity was stretched. They were looking after mothers, providing care, information and safeguarding in a time when it was unclear how to do so in the best way while keeping everyone safe. It meant that some things were disjointed or made unnecessarily complicated, but I would rush to say that this was a time when no one knew much about Covid except that it was killing people. I can’t even imagine having to work in that environment day in and day out. I had my moments of getting annoyed or second-guessing my own knowledge and instincts but I had previous experience and there are so many women who didn’t, including first-time mums, and those with high-risk or complicated pregnancies. I keep thinking how difficult it must have been for them having to rely on the care of an overstretched NHS.

I was challenged writing this and adding any kind of emotion, I think that is telling as I must have blocked out a lot of the fear and anxiety I felt during 2020, looking back I barely remember feeling it but I know it was there. I think for many telling their story of that year will be difficult or maybe feel it’s not remarkable enough but it is so important to do. As I have heard said many times; every baby is different, so every pregnancy is different. No two experiences of pregnancy during a pandemic will be the same and I appreciate the opportunity to tell mine and look forward to hearing or reading others.

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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