When mum Sarah, 33, from Birmingham found out she had coronavirus after being induced, her birth plan was thrown out the window and she faced a long, complicated birth, without her husband by her side.
I got pregnant pretty quickly after trying and I had a really smooth pregnancy up until the last month. My baby began to have increased fluid around him (also known as polyhydramnios), which meant that I was going into hospital every week for scans. As this was happening, the virus was at its peak. My husband Phil, couldn’t come with me to the scans so I had to go in on my own and record the conversations to play back to my him afterwards so I didn’t forget anything – there’s just so much information to remember. At this point, I was more upset for my husband – he’d been so supportive and active throughout my pregnancy, it was really hard for him to be cut out all of a sudden. You just want the support of your partner at times like that, so we both found it difficult.
As we were having weekly scans, covid was getting worse, we were going into lockdown and the fluid was increasing around my baby. The rules and regulations were constantly changing in terms of birth partners and how my birth plans might have to change, and it was difficult to keep up with all the changes.
I work as an A&E nurse so I self-isolated soon after the outbreak of the virus to stay safe. I was worried, but I never thought it would affect us as we both isolated so early on.
At the final scan on Friday May 15, the consultant became very concerned about the amount of fluid around the baby, so decided that the best option would be for me to be induced as they wanted him out. They told me it would take up to four days for the labour to come on, and that Phil couldn’t be with me until I went into active labour.
So, on the Friday, Phil dropped me off with all my stuff at the hospital and we said our goodbye’s which was all very strange. At this point, I still had no covid symptoms, no sore throat, no cough, no fever. I had been isolating and I felt fine. I was just worried about the baby. On arrival at the induction suite, I was tested for covid. 12 hours after my swab on Saturday May 16, the matron came in to tell me I had tested positive. I was sat on a birthing ball, watching Netflix and I was in absolute shock, I fell of the ball, I was in tears and I knew this would change my plans and hopes of wanting a water birth with hypnobirthing. My world completely crumbled around me.
After testing positive, I was moved to an isolated suite, away from the ward in my own room. I then had to wear full PPE. My first question was would my partner be able to be with me during the birth? And the answer was no. Being told I wasn’t allowed to have a birth partner at all was awful. I then had to break the news to my husband that he wouldn’t be allowed to see the birth of his first child, when he was so excited was the worst. I couldn’t find the words.
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We went from wanting a relaxing waterbirth to having to be on my own, in a mask, with minimal people in the room, having a high-risk birth. The midwifes were regularly coming into check on me in full PPE. They couldn’t have a conversation with me as I had covid, so that was really upsetting. I didn’t want them to catch the virus, but I really missed and needed that human contact and support. I found the experience so isolating. I had to change my mindset. I had to keep my affirmations in mind. I couldn’t stop crying, I was so upset that I couldn’t get the birth I wanted.
72 hours after being induced, there was still no change and I was coming up to my final check. I was so desperate for my husband to be there with me, I began to research what other hospitals were doing about birth partners. During my final check, I decided to ask the question. “Is there any possibility that my husband could attend the birth? “As I was asking, my waters broke!
My contractions started and I was on gas and air. This is when the panic and realisation that this was my birth experience set in, and I really started to struggle. I felt so alone. The doctors then offered me an epidural, but I wanted to experience labour, so I refused.
I found it hard to communicate with the doctors because I was so angry and upset. They were also sharing that they hadn’t seen their family for a month, so I felt their pain too. I had my husband on the iPad watching which kept falling down, so it was very stressful.
I was 1cm when my waters broke and after 6 hours on the gas and air, I was only 2cm dilated. After this, I couldn’t deal with the pain anymore so had an epidural. That got me through the night. At 10am Monday, three doctors came into the room and explained they had a meeting about me and decided as a group that it wouldn’t be beneficial for me to birth on my own, and that my husband could come in for the birth! That day was also our one-year anniversary, so he came in with all my cards!
The epidural was progressing nicely, I went on an oxytocin drip to get my contractions moving further but each time I did, the baby’s heartbeat was dropping. They had to reduce the drip and reassess me. I got to 9cm, but his head was quite swollen, and I wasn’t passing as much urine as they were wanting because baby was trapping my urethra. His head was that swollen that my cervix was also trapped. They manually pushed my cervix round to see how he would get on, but I went back to 8cm and my cervix had popped back over his head.
By this point, I was shattered, and baby was showing signs of distress. I’d done 72 hours with very little sleep and I also had anxiety because of covid. I was also worried about him. I didn’t know if he had covid symptoms so I didn’t know what would happen to him once he’d been delivered, could I nurse him? Could I have him in our room?
We were then given the choice to have a c-section. I was so exhausted by this point; I knew I couldn’t push at the end. So, I decided to have the caesarean. Getting to theatre was an operation in itself, they had to clear all the corridors and everyone in theatre was very wary. It felt like I was the first covid-positive mum without symptoms.
My husband came into theatre and I breathed a sigh of relief. It was like running a marathon and being on the home straight. I gave birth on the Monday evening at 8.09 with my husband by my side. They announced the baby was out and then we were just waiting for the cry, which felt like the longest wait ever. Our baby got wheeled round and my husband told me the sex. This all felt like it was meant to be as baby was born on our wedding anniversary!
When I first met Sullivan, I was just so relieved that he was healthy and that he wasn’t showing any signs of covid. He started screaming his head off, he was strong, and he was a good size. He was perfect, looking around wanting cuddles. I had to wear a mask, but we were allowed skin on skin contact.
During the c-section, I lost too much blood, so the 40-minute c-section actually ended up taking 2 and half hours. By this point, my family were going crazy as they hadn’t heard from us, so they were really worried. They also couldn’t believe the first time they met their grandson was over facetime!
Once they’d sewn me up, I was able to breastfeed him as there was no evidence that the virus could be transmitted via my breastmilk. We will never know if he caught it or not as he was too young to be tested, but he never showed any symptoms.
At first, I really struggled with breastfeeding. No one was allowed to come around and show me how to breastfeed, so I had to watch some YouTube tutorials on how to help him latch. They couldn’t do a lot of his tests, so they were pushed back a fortnight.
On that first night after giving birth, it was just me and Sullivan. It was quite daunting, and I was shattered. Trying to get him out of his crib and look after him while I still had little feeling in my leg and I’d just had a c-section was hard. But I had to put mind over matter, my baby needed me. They ended up keeping me in for 48 hours as my blood levels were still quite low, but I was struggling to sleep as I wanted to stay up to look after Sullivan and keep an eye on him.
We had to figure out a way for me to get some sleep. So, we set up the iPad so Phil could be the babysitter. Me knowing he was watching the baby allowed me to sleep. We did this in 2-hour shifts. I’d also call my mum and dad through the night too. If technology didn’t exist, I don’t know how I would have coped.
I was sent home on the Wednesday. It’s still early days but it’s been amazing to have him home for so long in our little bubble in isolation. I haven’t had as many midwife check-ups as usual and they’re all done on the phone which has been a bit strange. You want to ask if what you’re doing is right by showing your midwife, but you can’t do that over the phone. One thing I’ve really struggled with is breastfeeding – I didn’t know if the latch was right, I had no family members around, so I’ve been relying on YouTube videos. I even had to put the phone camera to my boobs on facetime with my sister who breastfed and ask her, “does this look right?”
It’s been really hard. I feel like I’ve lost the experience of a normal birth. Having your pregnancy and baby during covid and lockdown meant that I couldn’t have the baby shower. I couldn’t have my husband with me at the scans or during labour. Sullivan’s family members couldn’t meet him. And then on top of this, I tested positive for the virus.
You feel like you’re missing out on showing off your baby, but at the same time you want to keep them safe. I feel like I’m on a rollercoaster. One minute you feel safe and happy that you’re able to stay in isolation and keep the baby safe, but other days, you’re just so upset that you can’t see anyone, and that life isn’t normal. But overall, we’re managing. In isolation, I’ve been able to really bond with Sullivan in our little bubble, so you’ve got to look at the positives. We’ll never forget his birth. Despite everything, it was a nice birth, my husband was there, he was born on our wedding anniversary, and we’ve had chance to spend some special time bonding with our baby which has been amazing.
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