GUEST BLOG: Pregnancy and bereavement during Covid-19
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, Kerry Walsh reflects on navigating pregnancy and grief alongside the challenges of the pandemic.
[Content Note: this blog discusses baby loss and mentions infertility, please read with care.]
Have you experienced any of the following during Covid-19?
- Miscarriage/Baby Loss
As I looked at this question on the survey, realising that I could tick every box, I reflected upon the past two years, and the care that I received during some of the most joyful, exciting, painful and challenging periods of my life.
After six months of trying to conceive, I discovered that I was pregnant on 10th April 2020 – just two weeks after lockdown began and the whole world had ground to a halt. How lucky we were to begin this exciting journey when so many had little to look forward to. Naively, I had few concerns about pregnancy during the pandemic – “working from home will give me more time to rest!” “Think of all the time we’ll have to get things ready for the baby”, “The last trimester will be so much easier without having to go to work.”
It wasn’t until the weeks passed and appointments were deemed not necessary, switched to phone appointments or restricted so that my partner couldn’t attend and meet those milestones with me that I began to realise the impact Covid-19 would have on maternity services. I attended my 12-week scan alone, like so many women – how grateful I felt when our baby was well, knowing that I wouldn’t need to travel home to break the news that so many women would have had to give to their partners.
My 16-week appointment, typically where you would hear your baby’s heartbeat for the first time, was switched to a phone call. Disappointed, but not concerned, I looked ahead to the 20-week scan, knowing that I was “in the clear” having made it past 12 weeks.
Not long before that scan, I woke up to a minor bleed. The maternity unit agreed to see me but advised that, again, my partner would not be able to accompany me. It was at that appointment, as my partner waited outside with our older sons in the car, that I was told we had lost our son. Experiencing that at all was a trauma like nothing I have ever experienced, but experiencing it alone is something I would still struggle to put into words. Feeling both frozen and yet spinning all at once, I tried to process the midwife’s spiel – induction, labour, how much time we could spend with our baby…it felt so administrative, so procedural. My world felt like it had ended – why hadn’t everyone else’s? I would have to break this news to my partner after all.
We were scheduled to stay overnight in our hospital’s Sands suite – a thoughtfully designed room in the labour suite, soundproofed to protect bereaved parents from the sounds of newborn babies’ cries – and be induced the next morning. I am still grateful for that room, and my heart aches for any parents who weren’t fortunate enough for that protection.
Labour was short and - to my surprise - much like my previous labours, and our son was born at 8.52 am on a sunny July morning.
To go into detail on the moments that followed is too painful for me to put into words, and perhaps too difficult for anyone to read, so I will focus solely on the care we received from our midwives, despite the challenges they faced working within Covid-19 guidelines.
To the midwife who pulled the mask from my face as I struggled to breathe amidst my tears upon being told of our son’s passing, to the midwife who, at our request, removed her mask as she thoughtfully explained what to expect during induction and labour, and to the midwife who cared for our son – dressing him, tailoring a slightly-too-large hat to fit his head perfectly, and sitting with us to talk, listen and support us during those brief, special moments – I will be forever grateful. To the Bereavement Team, who were so apologetic as they explained the delays in our son being able to be released so that we could lay him to rest, I considered how difficult their job must be. Finally, to Sands. The support Sands offers to bereaved parents is something I am forever so thankful for, and without it I’m sure so many would feel so alone in their grief for much longer than they ever deserve to.
Grieving, we held onto the hope of trying again. Sixteen months on and, as luck would have it, the same day we had our initial Infertility consultation, we found that we had finally fallen pregnant again. Covid-19 restrictions had eased, my partner was able to share each step with me, and we were lucky enough to give birth to a beautiful, healthy daughter in June this year. Reflecting on all that we experienced up until that moment, I thought to myself that it’s perhaps best that none of us really know what lies ahead for us, otherwise we might be too afraid to live at all.
My heart is with all those who experienced trying to conceive, pregnancy, baby loss or infertility during the pandemic. The impact it had on us was significant and will remain with us.
Whilst I personally feel some of the restrictions the government imposed did far more harm than good, I also saw that staff on the “front line” were doing all that they could in spite of this to offer the most incredible care and support.
Sands supports anyone who has been affected by the death of a baby before, during or shortly after birth. Bereavement support is at the core of everything they do. You can access support by calling their helpline on 0808 164 3332 and emailing email@example.com.
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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