BORN IN A LOCKDOWN: My birth story during the covid-19 crisis!
When you find out you're pregnant you start planning for your baby. You have dreams, aspirations, you write your ideal birth plan and you imagine that time when your baby arrives and is showered with love and cuddles from adoring family and friends.
What you can't possibly plan for is a global pandemic that ultimately changes everything.
I've been creating family videos and stills as First Year Films now for a couple of years, and I think putting these adorable baby films together must have had more than a little effect on me as last summer, thinking we were going to stay a one-child family, we found ourselves pregnant with our second child. The pregnancy was fairly straight forward after we got past 16 weeks, although not as comfortable as it had been with our first son, Harrison. Early bleeding meant I was referred to the placenta clinic for monitoring, though all measurements were fine and it was more routine than anything - but it was lovely to be able to see our baby on these extra scans.
As due date drew nearer though, the world started experiencing something unprecedented. The Covid-19 strain of coronavirus began sweeping the world. While scientists began to work on a vaccine for the virus, the people of the world were urged to implement social distancing measures to stem the tide of sufferers and deaths.
We started to notice the measures being taken here were ramping up in the last couple of weeks before due date - appointments were being moved to one central location. Social distancing meant the waiting rooms had never been as quiet for antenatal appointments and we found out that visiting at the hospital, after the birth, was going to be restricted to one hour a day, in the afternoon - and no children. This meant, if I had to stay in for any length of time, Harrison would have to wait to meet his baby brother.
On the 24th March, I was two days ahead of due date and struggling.
I was getting pains in my chest and ribs at the back, particularly at night, and struggling to sleep.
I got in touch with the Birth Centre to see if this was something they should be checking and was advised to go to A&E. We decided, especially given the current situation, that we would go to bed and try to get some sleep – and if it didn’t ease, then we would go.
We’d had my sister on stand-by for a while, to have our six-year-old over for a sleepover, when the time came to go in. I phoned her in tears to explain that they wanted me to go to A&E, but that we were going to wait it out.
Wisely, though, just in case, she came over to take Harrison back to hers. We went to bed…
Sometime between 10.30pm and 11pm I got my first contraction. Less than four minutes later, another…
And again, around three minutes later!
They kept coming hard and fast, which I wasn’t expecting.
With Harrison, my waters had gone in the early morning and then gentle contractions all day, gradually getting stronger until 2am, and time to go in.
Darren was googling when we should be phoning, as the pace of them took us by complete surprise. Google said give it one to two hours! I knew we didn’t have that long…
Back on the phone to the Birth Centre, the midwife talked to me between contractions. She knew it was nearly time and told us to come in.
We got to the hospital around midnight, with the contractions still coming thick and fast and I had to pause a few times on the way in to see it out.
We were greeted and taken to our room – I was desperately wanting a water birth as I had that with Harrison, with no other pain relief... the water was incredible.
They started filling the bath and examining me. Nine centimetres already!!!!
This bath wasn’t going to fill in time.
I’d had quite swollen legs for the last few weeks of my pregnancy, and they suspected pre-eclampsia, but all dip tests to that point had been clear.
I was put on a bed and given gas and air (a revelation I had not experienced before). That was a little lull of heaven!
My blood pressure now started rising and they were talking of moving me to the doctors, based in the Birth Suite, but first, got the doctors to come to us. They were concerned.
My blood pressure was rising all the time, and suddenly came the urge to push. I was going nowhere…
More and more people kept coming into the room and poor Darren was terrified – I was pretty oblivious to the seriousness of the situation. By now the notion of a water birth was a distant memory. All I wanted to do was get this baby out.
With legs in stirrups and being given such amazing encouragement, I got the baby moving.
I remember them saying about an episiotomy, I remember forceps being mentioned.
With a major cheerleading crew of NHS staff helping me through, I managed to get the head out. We are nearly there, I remember thinking.
But Darren tells me, baby was stuck (this was probably the forceps part) and there was talk of dislocating his shoulder to get him out.
Another contraction and with sheer bloody determination, I got that boy out of me.
What followed made me laugh. There must have been a lot of fluid behind the baby, as I remember all 15 people just leapt backwards as an almighty splash hit the floor!
There were comments on how it was the longest cord they had ever seen!
Baby was given his rub down and placed on my chest. I thought that was it, nearly over, just the placenta to deliver.
I was given an injection to help pass the placenta and all the while was being monitored for blood pressure.
It went higher.
Baby was whisked off to the other side of the room for normal checks, but he was struggling to catch his breath properly.
Eventually, I birthed the placenta, but they suspected all was not right.
They started stitching me and all the while my blood pressure rose. My blood pressure peaked at a level they claim never to have seen before – 190 over a hundred and something (I don’t understand BP measurements, but it sounded bad).
I was put on drips to bring it back down and baby needed assistance with his breathing. At this point, Darren was torn between the two of us, both myself and baby being worked on by two separate teams.
A decision was made to get baby to NICU. In all this, I forgot to mention, in that first calm for me after baby was born, I realised how fast he had arrived. He was born at 1.13am, weighing 9lb 12 oz. My chunky monkey!
Labour, from start to finish, was under three hours. I was hoping it would be quick, but I never expected that.
The medication started to do its job and with baby being ventilated and watched by the staff in NICU, I was wheeled round to a room in the Birth Suite to be monitored.
Darren was able to visit baby and take some pictures and video for me. While has was gone though, I was experiencing some real discomfort. I was examined and the doctor realised I had an internal haematoma that would need draining – I was off to theatre. My midwife friend went to tell Darren and I was whisked away.
I was put to sleep for the procedure and told, when I came to, that altogether I had lost 1.2 litres of blood (from both the birth and the haematoma).
Hooked up to drips, I was put back in the room to recover. Darren showed me pictures and videos of my beautiful little man in his NICU incubator, and eventually, later in the day, after Darren had visited him a few times, they said I might be able to be wheeled down to take a look at him myself.
I felt fine in myself. Obviously tired and sore, but excited at the prospect of seeing my baby boy properly. I was going to see if I was okay enough to get in a wheelchair, so first things first, I shuffled with assistance from the bed and sat in a normal chair. The midwife with us nipped out for a wheelchair, but almost immediately I told Darren I wasn’t feeling right.
He said to give it a minute, as it was the first time I’d moved out of bed since the birth … My eyes rolled back in my head and I passed out. He pressed the panic button!
Now I was suspected of having sepsis, which bubs would need treatment/monitoring for too. As the midwife told me at our check-up yesterday, if it could have gone wrong for us, it did go wrong for us!
Not like me to create a little bit of drama here and there!
More medication and finally things would start to calm down. Well, maybe one more bit of drama for the day.
Eventually things were calm again.
Bubs was able to be discharged from NICU and was wheeled up to us. We were taken out of the Birth Suite and back to a room of our own in the Birth Centre to try and get some rest. Darren was still with us, so was able to help with bubs, as I was well and truly bed-bound.
The morning came and I sent exhausted Darren home to get some sleep. Bubs and I would be moving to the Post Natal Ward later, where we knew, because of the Covid-19 restrictions, only Darren could come to visit for one hour a day. Harrison would have to wait to meet his little brother.
I’d messed up when packing my hospital bags - not expecting Bubs to be as big as he was (both tall and chunky), especially given his growth scan results the day before he was born said he was 8.5 lb – and only had one Babygro big enough for him.
When Darren would be coming back for visiting, he would bring some bigger supplies – then I got the news that the hospital would no longer be accepting any visitors. I was devastated.
He would be able to drop things off for us, but he would not be able to hold his baby boy until we were discharged.
We were eventually moved to the Post Natal Ward and I would have to break the news to him when he woke.
I can’t remember exactly the circumstances of how I was also told that Bubs would also have to have a lumbar puncture – this really upset me, as my mum had had them when she was alive and described it as the most excruciating pain she had ever experienced. Now I was having to say yes to this for my baby boy.
I was an emotional wreck, but was assured an adult lumbar puncture s very different than a baby one.
Finally, when Darren woke, we video-called and I told him the bad news.
We both understand why and know that it’s better to be safe. It’s just not what we had hoped for at the end of this journey.
He came over with bigger babygros, some treats for me, and my toothbrush (doh!) and waved at us through the window.
For now, at least, it was just Bubs and I against the world. The medication Bubs was on was meant to be for 36 hours, so we had an end date of Friday in our heads.
‘Baby No-name’, as he was known on the ward, was being a little superstar and we were bonding terrifically, apart from one night where I had to ask the nurses to step in to settle him. We were video calling family any time we could, and because of lockdown, it meant everyone was there to talk to us whenever we needed them. There are some small blessings in this situation.
We hadn’t settled on a name for Bubs before he was born, but did have a shortlist. We thought we would see him and know, but now the problem was he looked so much like his brother at the same age, the only name that came was Harrison! I was joking he could be Harrison II.
Then Darren sent me a photo of a baby prediction card from our gender reveal. It was Harrison’s guesses… In Harrison’s handwriting, there it was:
Looks like his brother (he’d added that option).
Then it dawned on me I was being duped. He had found a blank card and filled it in knowing the answers!
But nevertheless, it was perfect… my boy was named, along with a middle name Harrison had chosen for him at Christmas, Jack Oscar Bentley-Wells.
We were almost ready for coming home and beginning life in our own little isolation bubble.
Then I got the news that Jack’s infection markers were rising, so his antibiotics needed to be extended until Sunday. We were going to be in for the weekend.
Right, we could do this. Sunday it is. We’ve got this far.
Saturday came, and as I am mentally preparing to go home the next day, a doctor came in and said we were going home that tea-time! Eek, could it be??
Sadly, I’d heard earlier in the week about a date mix-up on some paperwork somewhere, so I was prepared for this being wrong. Still, for a moment, it was good to hope.
But then, as Saturday night came, my own blood pressure started rising again. Here comes pre-eclampsia round two…
I was started on blood pressure medication again and told it might need 24 hours monitoring before we could leave.
Our Sunday home time was under threat now.
Thankfully though, medication did its job and I was monitored constantly as Sunday progresses to make sure I was stabilising.
Now we just needed Jack to have his last dose of antibiotics, but this was getting later and later in the day and I was getting twitchy.
I packed our bags, so no matter when it happened, we were ready to go, and finally Jack got his final IV antibiotics, his cannula was removed, I was given enough medication that I’d be rattling, and daddy was on his way!
We were going home and I could not wait to see my big boy again.
Darren waited at the entrance, the staff helped me out with our bags and we were leaving. A little wary of what lockdown life would be like, but elated that I was going home to our protected little family bubble…
Mummy, daddy, Harrison and baby Jack xxxx
The situation has probably dramatically changed already for expectant parents waiting anxiously to have their babies.
While we were in hospital just a few short days, we lost visiting rights, face masks for all staff were introduced, people attending appointments were arriving by the emergency entrance only and were coming alone. Patients and staff started arriving wearing gloves and face masks and even our midwife checks the day after discharge felt very different to what we had left behind just the day before. But, as alien and unwanted the covid-19 situation has made our lives, we adapt, we cope and together we will get through this.
Finally, a heartfelt thank you to all the doctors, midwives, nurses and support staff at East Lancashire Women and Newborn Centre (Burnley General), who were simply incredible with us, especially during the most difficult times they probably had to deal with in their careers.
We love you NHS.
Thank you for taking time to read my birth story.
It wasn’t what was expected, it didn’t go to plan and the Coronavirus lockdown just added to what was already a dramatic way to start your life.
Well, baby Jack, what a story we have to tell you when you are older xx
I'm raising funds to try and do a little bit to help the staff at the East Lancashire Women & Newborn Centre at Burnley General. Anything you could contribute, however small, would be immensely appreciated:
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