GUEST BLOG: Pregnancy in lockdown: Leaving joy out of it

The graphic shows a white background with black left-aligned text quote that reads "With no antenatal classes and no community surrounding your pregnancy, isolation was more than staying away from the virus, it meant all support was stripped from you too.". 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, Kirsty Kinloch talks about the uncertainty surrounding Covid-19 and pregnancy in 2020.

The Coronavirus pandemic, lockdowns and restrictions changed the whole experience for those who were pregnant during 2020 and 2021. It’s an anxious experience in normal times, but add a deadly virus, the removal of your entire support system and healthcare restrictions, and you’ve got a recipe for worry. When I think back over my pregnancy and the early life of my daughter, I am sad to say that the overwhelming feeling is one of disappointment.

I waited 32 years for a successful pregnancy, and the only people I told in person were the HR department at my work. I often think about what was taken from me as a person who was pregnant in 2020 - the year the world closed due to Covid-19. I often find myself minimising these feelings, telling myself that at least I am healthy, at least my baby was born safely, I shouldn’t complain, people had it much worse. But no — these feelings are valid and fair, and more than anything, they’re allowed.

I didn’t leave the house for the first 12 weeks of my pregnancy. I was terrified to go shopping or see friends or family, of course, and I was so sick and unwell that I struggled to even take a walk. It was isolating, stressful, anxiety-ridden and above all, terrifying. I vividly remember driving to my parent’s house from the hospital after my first scan; I showed them the first glimpse of their first grandchild through a window. Holding up the sonographer’s printout, trying to share in my excitement from a firm distance, still scared that a neighbour would see me and report me for breaking the rules.

The pandemic took a lot of big things away from people, but it is the little things that stand out to me most. Telling my Granny she was going to be a Great Granny for the first time. Showing my friends my bump. Buying that first newborn baby grow, or pram shopping in person.

The nature of the pandemic meant that it was a forever-moving landscape. Midwives and expectant mothers left in the dark, unsure of what came next. With no antenatal classes and no community surrounding your pregnancy, isolation was more than staying away from the virus, it meant all support was stripped from you too.

I was fairly anxious about having a successful pregnancy anyway but add a deadly virus into the mix, and I could barely see straight most days. In the run-up to labour, the terror never left. A constant fear of Covid rules changing and affecting our experience. Desperately checking virus numbers and watching Nicolas’s daily briefing. Panicking and praying that it might mean having no visitors, or worse, giving birth alone. And masks? What about masks? A frenzied daily check of “born in lockdown” Facebook groups you’ve joined to try and get any sense of what it’s like “out there”. Hearing nothing set in stone from anyone you should have been able to lean on. The level of support expectant parents faced was minimal.

In my case, the lockdown rules changed days before I was due to be induced. Downgraded to Tier 4, meaning I could go out for dinner or to the pub, but my child’s father couldn’t come with me to hospital until my waters broke. Which they didn’t, naturally. I was alone and terrified for 16 hours before they let him come to join me. Imagine going into hospital to give birth for the first time, the overriding fear being that your partner might miss it. Thankfully I had the longest, slowest labour, and he could be there for the active part, before being kicked out an hour after she was born.

I spent the next day in a daze. Exhausted, in pain, and completely lost. I lied to doctors and midwives about how my baby was feeding because I was that desperate to get back home to my partner. I was so tired, I couldn’t see straight, my ears had started to stop working, I was so completely done in I genuinely worried I might kill my baby through misadventure. I was alone. There was no support or help from my baby’s father, or any family, the staff were as busy as ever, so they couldn’t provide what I was lacking in emotional support. Stuck in a boiling hot ward, with nothing but text messages to see me through.

I’m grateful to say there were no adverse consequences of that lie. Once I was home, rested and supported, I was lucky enough to successfully breastfeed my baby. And we kept going for 21 months.

Once the baby was born, the challenges, stress and worry certainly didn’t end there. The biggest challenge was the isolation. Your body and mind are losing their shit, hormones are going wild, and you don’t have the “village” everyone always says is a necessity. Wishing and praying that your grandparents could meet your baby, waiting six long months and considering all the missed moments. From cuddling tiny newborns to showing off their first tooth. It’s time you will never get back, they say, yet it felt like the people who were giving birth were last on the list when it came to lifting restrictions.

And, of course, it goes so far beyond how we felt in that moment. What about the long-term effects? My baby was five months old before she went to a baby class, or even came across other people. Will this affect her long-term? Is she coming from a generation of “lockdown babies” with a set of trauma response characteristics that she’ll read about in textbooks in decades to come? Will I suffer long-term from the experience too? Will that rub off on my child? The unanswered questions and relentless worry haven’t gone away, even two years down the line.

Something I often worry about now is feeling jealousy instead of the joy I should feel watching those around me experience a ‘normal’ pregnancy. Watching those who are pregnant now enjoy all the things I didn’t. Feeling so happy for them but feeling that deep down dread that you wished your one and only pregnancy experience could have been filled with shopping trips with your mum and baby showers and bump pictures with your two best friends who were also pregnant.

It wasn’t all bad. Lockdown meant saving more money than expected and taking a full year off work; it meant finding new ways to connect and spending Saturday nights with a newborn doing quizzes with your friends who might otherwise be at the pub. But, I’m unsure I’ll ever fully get over the disappointment of what I missed out on and the trauma that came from feeling alone at such a crucial moment in my life. When I speak to those who went through the same experience at the same time, it is overwhelming how many are scarred by it. The big question will continue to be, what next?

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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