Dr Sara Kayat, This Morning's resident GP on ITV, had her firstborn son, Harris, during the first lockdown of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. Here she shares her pandemic birth story and her experience of being a new mum in lockdown.
When it all first began, I held out hope that it wasn’t going to affect my birth, but in March when the cases started to rise, I knew my birth plan was going to be “different”. Though it was only when the ‘stay at home’ message was announced in the briefing on March 23, that it dawned on me that I was probably going to be a new mum in lockdown.
Pregnancy is a time of high anxiety anyway, so of course it was not ideal to have this added worry. At the time we had very little data on the effects of the virus on pregnant mums and their unborn babies, so during a time when I really wanted to be in control of the situation, I was having to manage uncertainty instead. I did a lot of hypnobirthing leading up to my birth in order to help me maintain my inner calm through all the external madness!
My number of face to face midwife appointments were reduced, though I still had my regular scans. My appointments were all carried out with COVID-secure measures in place, so I felt as safe as I could in the lead up. My partner, Rupert, was not allowed to attend these appointments with you which was hard to process, as you really want to share these magical moments.
Due to the restrictions with partners in hospitals, I opted for a home birth. This is not something I would have considered before, but I am strangely grateful to the pandemic in that respect as I had a wonderful home birth experience as a result.
It's interesting that most labour begins in the early hours because it is in our beds, at home, that we often feel at our safest, so in having a home birth I definitely felt secure, which is probably one of the reasons my birth progressed quickly.
In fact, my birth progressed so quickly that the midwives were unable to get to my house in time!
So, I gave birth to my beautiful baby boy in the bath, with only my husband by my side. It was certainly not in my plans to do it all solo, but thankfully there were no complications. Rupert caught the baby, so he saw him before I even did! He also had the opportunity to cut the cord, so he was hands-on from the start. There was an absolutely treasured 20 minutes when it was just the three of us huddled in the bathroom, all just staring at each other.
It was incredible to feel Harris' warm body against mine for the first time. He cried instantly and I’ve never been so happy to hear a cry before. On putting him on my chest, within minutes he stopped and his tiny hand reached out and lay over my heart. I couldn't take my eyes off his little face, and I was so in awe of him that I actually didn’t even think to check the sex of the baby until about 10 minutes later!
Due to lockdown it was several weeks before my family saw him, at a distance and outdoors as per the rules at the time, however we did lots of Facetimes to keep in regular contact.
Lockdown as a new mum
Initially I was grateful for the lockdown as it meant that I didn't feel the pressure to have to get out of my pyjamas and entertain people who wanted to come see the baby.
It gave me the opportunity to get to know my newest addition without the external distractions.
However, as lockdown has progressed and Harris grows, I have started to lament over the lost plans I had for maternity life. I had done so much research into swimming classes, baby/mum yoga and sensory classes and have been very disappointed that Harris has missed out on many of these.
I’ve also missed out on that peer support that you get from meeting other parents in these classes. But the pandemic has brought out the innovative side in many, and there are now a plethora of classes we can do over Zoom, so it's not all lost!
I always try to observe the positives in difficult situations to help me see the light at the end of the tunnel. I think lockdown has strengthened my bond with Harris and has allowed me to get to know the subtleties of his personality that I may otherwise have missed.
I’ve also become a lot more appreciative of nature for taking him on long meandering walks, when in an alternative life I may have just been sitting with him in a cafe.
For other mums worrying about giving birth during the pandemic I'd say there is no single way you “should” be feeling or reacting to being pregnant in lockdown, and there is no perfect way to deal with it.
The best thing you can do is to try to focus on your own wellbeing and be kind to yourself. Try to get out of the house for fresh air, get some physical activity, prioritise sleep, eat well and stay in touch with family and friends. It is important that if you are worrying about your pregnancy or birth, to speak to your midwife or doctor as soon as possible, and they will be happy to advise you.
By following the government guidelines you are doing the best you can to protect yourself and your family against COVID19, but also remember it is important to protect your mental health as well as your physical health.
Don’t forget that during what can feel like an isolating time, to talk to family, friends, health visitors, midwives, your GP or support groups. By looking after yourself, you are looking after your baby.