Welcome to my weekly blog on impending fatherhood. I’m Jim, my wife’s name is Daisy, I turn 50 in September and Daisy is 37, and we're expecting our first child - hence The Geriatric Dad Blog! This is a proper, ‘in real life’ read from a man's perspective, so I hope you enjoy and follow the series as we go from pregnancy tests, to first scans, through all the ups and downs of impending parenthood. This week - what happened when Daisy and I caught Covid...
Daisy and I had managed to avoid Covid since the pandemic began in early 2020. It seemed that, whatever we did and wherever we went, we would not contract it.
We were sensible. We wore masks when needed, abided by the law of whichever country we were in when travelling (we did a fair amount of travelling) and washed our hands frequently.
We ensured we were fully vaccinated and boosted, despite trying for a baby through it all and despite the plethora of conspiracy theories flying around regarding a supposed link (totally unfounded) between Covid vaccines and infertility.
As friends, relatives and neighbours contracted the illness one-by-one – thankfully, all recovering from it – we steered clear.
We took test after test before visiting people, going into the office and travelling. All were negative, to such an extent that we joked with each other that we must both be immune to it. “F*** you Covid,” we’d laugh. “You can’t get us…”
But our sense of invulnerability and security was misplaced. Three days after I’d played a gig in Oundle in late March (I’m in a Marillion tribute band, of all things) I sneezed a couple of times.
It must be a very mild case of hay fever, I thought. The cherry tree in our little garden was in bloom, the daffs were out and the grass was growing. It was warm for the time of year; bees were busy pollinating already.
Besides, I couldn’t do a lateral flow test because we’d run out and getting hold of them was like getting hold of rocking-horse shit. Thanks to the government ending its free test policy, everyone seemed to be scrambling to get their hands on packets of the things before you had to start paying.
I hadn’t lost any sense of smell or taste, neither had I any flu symptoms, a sore throat or indeed any other classic signs of Covid. So I thought nothing of it.
Testing positive for Covid when pregnant
Then, three days later, Daisy – who by now was around 9 weeks pregnant – started to develop some real Covid symptoms, including chills, sweats and a cough.
Then, more worryingly, she came down with a moderate fever, with her temperature edging above 38C when usually it was between 36 and 37C.
So I cadged a couple of tests off a neighbour (best be safe than sorry, we thought) and we both tested ourselves.
Even as we opened the test packets up, we thought we must have one of the colds that was doing the rounds. After all, people we knew were ill but testing negative. It would be the same for us, surely.
Daisy went through the familiar routine we’d both completed many times before: of sticking the swab down the back of her throat and up each nostril before adding the sample to the fluid in the plastic vial, leaving the swab in situ for a minute before removing it.
I took it from her, went into the kitchen and squeezed four drops into the hole on the test cassette.
Time stood still. The pinkish liquid started moving inexorably up the test strip within the plastic cassette.
I watched, transfixed.
Stunningly, before the ‘control’ line had even appeared, a positive line formed in front of my eyes; followed a few seconds later by the formation of the control line.
There were two lines, thick lines, which meant a SERIOUSLY positive test.
It was incontrovertible: Daisy had Covid19.
“You’re not going to believe this,” I said to my anxious wife before pausing. She looked at me, tears of concern already beginning to well up in her eyes. “It’s positive.”
Daisy immediately started sobbing. Large, uncontrollable sobs, fraught with emotion borne from disbelief, anxiety and panic. “Why now? After two years of avoiding it, why now? Why when I’m pregnant?”
Talking to and getting advice from experts
What to do next? What did this mean for Daisy and what did it mean for our baby?
The pregnancy was at a critical stage, the placenta forming and attaching itself to the wall of the womb. We weren’t yet out of the miscarriage danger zone of the first trimester.
I tested myself too. Despite my lack of symptoms, I was also positive. I’d obviously caught it and given it to my wife. A huge feeling of guilt and anxiety passed through me. What if… what if Daisy loses the baby and it’s because of Covid and it’s because I gave it to her?
That next hour was very difficult. We started Googling what to do next. The advice was to speak with our maternity unit and let them know what was happening. But it was 6pm on a Friday evening and nobody was there, they’d obviously gone home for the weekend. We left a message.
We thought it would be best to try and get some expert advice, so we dialled 111 and got through to a call handler who was lovely and very sympathetic. Daisy let her know she had a temperature, had ‘flu symptoms, had tested positive for Covid and was pregnant.
“We are worried,” I said. “What should we do?”
“I’ll pass the details onto someone with expertise in this area who’ll call you back,” she said. “If you don’t hear anything within half an hour or so, get yourselves to A&E to be on the safe side.”
That was a bit dramatic. Really? I started pacing around. Was a trip to hospital really going to be necessary?
Half an hour passed. No call-back. “Let’s give it a few more minutes,” I said.
A second half-hour passed. Then… my mobile rang. We sat down on the sofa and chatted with the nurse on the other end of the line, who was also lovely and had maternity experience.
She spoke at length with Daisy, asking all sorts of key questions: “How are you feeling? Do you have a temperature? Do you have any rashes? Are you coughing? How is your breathing – are you able to hold a conversation easily without gasping for breath? What is your heart rate, if you can tell me? Are you fully vaccinated?”
Questions complete, the advice we got was reassuring: according to data collected over the two years since Covid appeared, the risk to baby from the virus was very small indeed. In fact, fully vaccinated women who contract Covid during pregnancy are highly unlikely to get any adverse side effects from it, and neither are their unborn babies.
And, despite Daisy’s fever, we were advised there was no need to go to A&E.
Instead, we were asked to keep monitoring Daisy’s fever and breathing. If her temperature rose any higher and if breathing became laboured to such an extent she couldn’t hold a conversation, then we were to go to hospital, but for the moment the nurse told us she wasn’t concerned. Take paracetamol only to get relief from the symptoms – and to avoid ibuprofen and cold and flu remedies.
We started to feel a bit better.
Covid: a low risk to unborn babies
Then I remembered something: my younger cousin, Sarah, was training to be a midwife. So I called her.
Sarah was fab – a voice of reason. “Oh, the midwives I’m learning from have delivered hundreds of babies whose mothers have had Covid during pregnancy,” she said casually. “The babies have all been fine! I know it’s easy for me to say, but don’t worry! The only problems we’ve seen have been with mothers who haven’t been vaccinated.”
The weekend passed. Daisy wasn’t well, but thankfully she didn’t get any worse.
On the Monday morning, the maternity unit at the local hospital returned our call to check how we were doing. They too were fab and added to the voices of calm.
Slowly, the panic we’d felt just three days before began to subside.
Plus, on the Facebook groups Daisy had joined, other mothers-to-be were getting Covid, then having normal scans after recovering. We could find no evidence in real time of the virus doing any harm to unborn babies.
But as that said, once we both tested negative twice each nine days later, we booked another private scan, just to reassure us. We saw the same sonographer, Edward, we’d had at our previous viability scan.
Now Edward really IS a laid-back dude. “I have a normal baby,” he said a few seconds after starting the scan. “And I have a heartbeat.”
With that, I looked up at the screen and our little bubba stretched itself out and appeared to yawn. Just like its lazy father. It seemed more chilled out than us, blissfully unaware of the trauma its parents had just been through.
We marvelled at how much the little Sprout (as we have come to call it) had grown since the viability scan. It was now clearly a very small human.
The scan completed, we thanked Edward and carefully drove home. “F*** you Covid!” we said together. “You can’t beat us.”
Seven top tips: what to do if YOU get Covid when pregnant
Having been through what we went through, I think I can safely pass on the following advice if you catch Covid during pregnancy. Though do remember, I am not a doctor, so always seek professional advice if you have any concerns.
My seven tips on dealing with Covid when pregnant would be:
1 - Don’t panic! The chances of anything going badly wrong are tiny
2 - Keep rested and drink plenty of fluid to keep yourself hydrated
3 - Monitor your temperature. If you do develop a fever (anything above 37.8C) call your midwife or maternity unit, or 111 if necessary (just to be on the safe side)
4 - Monitor your breathing: if you find it hard to say more than a few words without pausing for breath, call your midwife or 111 as soon as you can
5 - Paracetamol is fine to take within recommended limits, but do NOT take Ibuprofen or over-the-counter cold and flu remedies
6 - Stay positive! Remember, in more than two years of Covid there is no significant data to suggest it poses any risk to the overwhelming majority of mums and their unborn babies
7 - But – and this is important – ALWAYS call your midwife or maternity unit if you have any concerns. It’s always best to be on the safe side. It’s what they’re there for!
Daisy and I choose which hospital we’re going to go to for the birth – plus, we have our official three-month scan (at just over 13 weeks!)
Oh and why Daisy is insisting on continuing to attend Parkruns every Saturday morning!