What it’s really like to give birth during a pandemic
Partners not allowed on the antenatal ward, midwives in PPE, no visitors after the birth: labour is looking very different under Covid-19 restrictions. So how does it feel to having a baby right now? We asked 7 of them to tell us...
Nobody plans to give birth during a pandemic but women all over the world have been doing just that over the past few months – some of them at the very height of lockdown.
So what's it like to go into labour in the UK during the coronavirus outbreak? With planned home births cancelled, midwives in PPE and restrictions on who you can have with you – and when – while you're in hospital, labour wards and delivery rooms are very different places than they were at the start of 2020.
We've been talking to 7 wonderful women from our MadeForMums community, all of whom have given birth in April and May. And they've each shared their – very different – labour and birth experiences with us here...
Having a baby in a pandemic: 7 amazing Covid-19 birth stories
1. The surprise home birth
"I was overdue – 40 weeks, 3 days – and I went to the midwife for a sweep," says StephieLou95, who gave birth to Jacob, her 3rd child, on May 19. "I was told I was 2cm to 3cm dilated and she could stretch my cervix to 4cm to 5cm. She said my waters were 'ready to go' and the baby was as low as he could possibly be.
"In the car on the way home, I couldn't really concentrate on driving as something felt weird. I got home and bounced, bounced, bounced on my ball! I left my husband downstairs with the kids and went and hid myself in the bedroom with chocolate, candles and my ball, listening to music and just trying to get my body to relax. I was aware that sweeps can cause cramps for up to 24 hours, so I put it all down to that.
"At teatime, my husband told me to ring my mum to come and take the kids because he said it was similar to my 2nd labour but I didn’t want to make fuss. I let my mum know to be prepared but not to come just yet. I had tea, watched TV and went to bed. Every time I drifted off, another pain would come – nothing bad, but enough for me to think, 'Maybe I am in labour!'
" At midnight I went for a wee and, as I got back to the bedroom, I had a very, very strong contraction and instantly thought 'Oh crap!' Thirty minutes later, the same thing happened, so I rang my mum and told her to come but, once again I didn't want to be over dramatic, so I said, ‘Oh it's nothing to worry about...’
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"By the time my mum arrived at 1am, I was on all fours in the living room, contracting every time I tried to move. My husband started throwing things in the car and we rang the maternity ward. They told us to come right in. Twenty mixtures later, I still hadn't stopped contracting long enough to get in the car. So we decided I wasn't going anywhere and my husband phoned for an ambulance.
I was on all fours in the living room, contracting every time I tried to move. My husband started throwing things in the car and we rang the maternity ward. They told us to come right in. Twenty mixtures later, I still hadn't stopped contracting long enough to get in the car. So we decided I wasn't going anywhere and my husband phoned for an ambulance.
"My original birth plan was to have a home birth but, due to Covid-19, it was cancelled as they said the ambulance service could not be guaranteed in an emergency. So we wondered if ringing the ambulance now would be pointless.
"While we waited, the woman on the phone talked my husband through everything – and he delivered our son himself at 1.45am. He was very blue and floppy and wasn't crying. We tried rubbing and wiping him down and we were starting to panic. My mum stepped in and managed to get him to take a cry after a good firm rub down.
"The paramedics arrived at 1.52am and checked him over, and he began getting pinker and more normal in colour. The paramedics phoned the midwives, as we hadn't had chance with everything happening so fast, and they arrived around 2.15am. During that time, I delivered the placenta and we began to relax knowing everything was OK. Baby Jacob weighed a whopping 9lb 8oz and I managed to get away with no stitches! The midwives left around 4am and we got ourselves into bed for some much-needed sleep."
2. The not-quite-scheduled C-section (and the fainting husband)
"I was 38 weeks and scheduled for a C-section but, 4 days before it was supposed to happen, I started to feel a little strange," says Lillian2410, who gave birth to Georgie, her 2nd child, on 4 May. "I wasn’t able to do much and had lots of pressure down below. I didn’t think anything of it and had a lazy day. The day after, my belly was extremely tight and I couldn’t stand. I thought I was having really painful Braxton Hicks. I also noticed my baby's movements had slowed down, too. My husband made me call the maternity unit to go in and get monitored.
"When I arrived at the hospital, the midwives were in full PPE. They put me on the monitor and, to everyone’s surprise, I was having proper contractions. I was offered a choice: go home and see if anything happens or stay overnight and be monitored, which they recommended. I chose to stay.
"I woke up in the night and instantly knew something was happening. I was put on a monitor and, as I was scheduled for a C-section, the midwife called the doctors to examine me. I was 3cm dilated and after discussing my options, it was decided the C-section would go ahead then and there. I was told to call my husband and he was to come straight to theatre.
I asked questions I don’t think I ever would have done, if Covid-19 wasn’t around, like, do you have available anaesthetists? Will we have to be tested? Are there emergency beds if anything goes wrong? The doctors were amazing and very reassuring.
"My husband wasn't going to be at the section as he has a tendency to faint but because of the Covid-19 restrictions on wards, we knew this was the only way he was going to meet our baby on her birth day. Georgie was born at 4.26am weighing a massive 8lb 5oz. Everything went lovely – except my husband had to keep going out the room as he was feeling very faint!
"We spent a little time together in the recovery room and then we were off to the ward – where my hubby had to leave us. It was very sad having to say goodbye as we didn’t know how long Georgie and I would have to stay in for.
"We ended up staying in hospital for 3 nights. We were both fit to go home earlier but, due to complications with my other child, they needed to perform an echo on him before we left the hospital. Ordinarily, this would be done in the community but, due to Covid-19, they were no longer offering this service, so the hospital neonatal team had to perform it and that meant we had to wait. It was nice to have the time to learn to breastfeed properly.
" It was a very strange time to have a baby but we were always safe. We couldn’t change it, so we had to live with it. I do think it was extremely tough for all the new dads."
3. The quick birth
"My little girl was born a week early – right in the middle of the pandemic," says Katie93, who gave birth to Willow, her 2nd child, on 5 April.
It was a very quick labour, recorded at just 35 minutes long. My husband was allowed into the hospital with 20 minutes to spare!
"The hospital actually told him to go home after he brought me in. But luckily he waited in the car!
"It was a very different labour to my first, which was 46 hours long.
"But having a baby during lockdown is horrible, though. For my 6 to 8-week check, my doctors have said it’s a telephone call, which I’m not happy about, as they heard an ectopic beat when Willow was born, and I really wanted the doctor to check her properly."
4. The emergency C-section
"My fiancé and I were watching a movie when I had to get up and use the toilet," says PrettyLiar25, who gave birth to Peyton, her 1st child, on 13 May. "As I pulled myself up, I felt a 'pop' in my right side. I knew it was my waters breaking.
"I was shaking ridiculously with nerves. We called the hospital and they asked us to come in straightaway to be checked and they asked us on the phone if we had a cough or cold. We got to the hospital and my partner had to stay in car while I went up to the assessment unit.
"The midwife said that, because I didn't have any pains or contractions, they weren't going to assess me to see if I had started dilating. They said I would be booked in for a induction 24hrs later. But when she brought the forms back, she decided to check how far I was and potentially do a sweep. She said I was 2cm dilated which was good but that I needed to progress some more, so to go home and try and get some sleep and have a bath.
"Once home, we tried going to bed but the contractions started pretty quickly, so I couldn’t sleep. We made our way downstairs where I stayed hunched over the sofa for the next 4 hours. The contractions started to get more intense but the timings were all over the place so we phoned the hospital for advice and they asked us to come back in again.
They offered me a side room to see if I could progress. But then they came back to say, due to Covid-19, I wasn’t able to go into a side room and I had to go home again, so they gave me codeine. Back at home, I spent most of the time kneeling over the bath breathing through intense contractions with my partner rubbing my back
"We stayed home for another 6 hours before going back to hospital again. I was contracting every 2 minutes but they put me in the waiting room with women who were there for general appointments, so I'm stood trying to breath over a chair with an audience!
"When I was checked, I was 4cm, so I was sent down to the delivery suite and my partner was finally allowed in. I felt so happy to be in the delivery room and felt positive we were getting somewhere. I started using the gas and air and was checked again. I was now 5cm, and the baby's head was down. I had some more codeine but I threw up. I had a birth ball, and walked around and tried to keep things moving.
"Five hours later, contractions were really intense and I'd been having chest pains from the gas and air, so I tried not using it for a couple of hours. We talked about having an epidural because it would offer me a chance to rest. I hadn’t slept since 9am on Monday and it was now Wednesday 2am! Even though I was doing really well with breathing, I knew I would need all my energy for pushing. The epidural definitely helped but I still couldn't sleep.
"They decided to put me on the hormone drip to speed things up. I had to be kept on the heart-rate monitor to make sure baby was OK. I was checked again and I was still at 4cm. They discussed a C-section but decided to hold off for a little while. I was checked again 4 hours later and now I was about 6cm or 7cm. Woohoo, we thought! The hormone drip was cranked up.
"But the baby's heart rate kept falling. There were 2 episodes of the midwife pressing the emergency button and tons of people running in. On the 2nd one, the baby's heart rate had really dropped dramatically – even I could hear on the monitor how slow it had got. It was now a rush into theatre. This was a weird experience. It felt like it went on for ages. I was shaking uncontrollably the whole time. We heard someone say, 'Oh, she has her eyes open!' and, when we finally heard her cry, I started crying, too.
"It felt like forever before I got to see her but then they bought her over and I got to hold her. They thought she might have a temperature and need antibiotics, so my partner went with her to the baby unit. Luckily, she didn’t need antibiotics. My partner wasn’t allowed onto the postnatal ward, though, and so we had a button we had to press to call the midwifes if we needed help. I couldn't wait to get home to the comfort of my own bed."
5. The premature birth
"I was 36 weeks, 5 days when my waters broke at home," says Frankie86, who gave birth to Austin, her 1st child, on 3 May. "Because I was pre-term I was asked to go into hospital – alone – to be assessed. When I arrived, the staff checked my temperature and I was taken to a room on the labour ward.
"The doctor reviewed me and said I needed to stay in to be monitored. I was swabbed for Covid-19, put onto an IV antibiotic drip and kept on the labour ward overnight. The following day, the doctor discussed induction. We agreed to try it but then, when the midwife examined me, my cervix was already soft and dilating, so I was allowed to see if labour would progress naturally – but, if contractions hadn’t started by 24hrs after my waters breaking, I would be induced.
"I started walking about and bouncing on the birthing ball to get things moving, and contractions started that afternoon. I had paracetamol and gas and air to manage the pain. I also had a new method of pain relief, where saline is injected into the back: it really stung but it did relieve my back pain.
My partner was allowed to come to the hospital when I was 4cm dilated. I went from there to 8cm very quickly: my partner arrived at 4.45pm and my baby boy was born at 6.56pm. My partner was allowed to stay until I was moved down to the postnatal ward 3 hours later
"I ended up spending 6 days in hospital – Austin didn't need to go to neonatal intensive care but, as he was born prematurely, they put him on antibiotics as a precaution. The care we both received was fantastic. There weren’t any visitors allowed on the postnatal ward but we mums were chatting and sharing problems. It was a nice atmosphere and the staff did all they could to make it as easy as possible for us.
"I didn’t worry at all about Covid-19 while I was in hospital. The processes were good – there was a lot of checking and there seemed to be plans in place for if they had any cases.
"My postnatal care has also been good. Midwives have been out on home visits and they even booked an extra one because my little boy was under monitoring for jaundice. Although it has been a strange time to give birth, I don’t feel that any part of it has been a negative and the care I have received hasn't suffered because of it."
6. The elective C-section
"I was scheduled for an elective C-section as I have had 2 previous emergency C-sections," says MFM reviewer Emma, who gave birth to Lana, her 4th child, on 15 April. "It was a really odd experience this time around.
"There was a lot of security at the hospital entrance, checking if you had a viable reason to be at the hospital. My husband only just made it in time to meet me before I went to theatre as security had to contact the maternity ward to check he was allowed up.
All the staff were dressed in full PPE for the procedure and we had to wait in the operating theatre for a certain amount of time after the birth, before I was moved to recovery, as part of their Covid-19 protocol. I had to wear a mask as well as my husband during the section
"All the staff were dressed in full PPE for the procedure and we had to wait in the operating theatre for a certain amount of time after the birth, before I was moved to recovery, as part of their Covid-19 protocol. I had to wear a mask as well as my husband during the section.
"My other half had to leave me as soon as I was moved to the ward and no visitors allowed. And my baby Lana was taken for her baby checks without me.
"It felt like a quite lonely experience, once I was moved to the ward. I didn’t have staff checking on us or doing observations as much as I had been used to with me previous births, and not having any visitors was so strange.
"I was sent home the next day quite early in the afternoon, which I felt was a little too soon as I had only just had the catheter removed and had only walked to the loo once. I had to be escorted downstairs to meet my husband outside the main entrance by a member of staff who brought Lana in the hospital crib. I had to wheel and carry my bags, which was quite hard as I felt so tender and wobbly still after the section.
"I was given blood-thinning injections for my other half to administer at home, which, apparently, all the women on my ward were given them. I have never had these before. I was briefly shown how it should be done, and then it was down to me to explain it to my husband. God, it stings when he does it!
"So usually, the day after you get home, a health visitor visits, but this didn’t happen. I had a health visitor phone me the day I got home to book in a 6-week check. My midwife also called me to see how I was doing and I got a text from my doctor’s surgery congratulating me on the birth and reminding me to register Lana with them.
"A midwife came 2 days later to do the heel-prick test and weigh Lana. She washed her hands on arrival, wore a mask, plastic disposable apron, all the PPE. Lana had lost a bit of her birthweight so the midwife came again and will be visiting us again soon, to monitor her."
7. The induction (plus)
"I really wanted as natural a birth as possible," says PaulaLarr, who gave birth to Rex, her 1st child, on 23 May. "But, at 40 weeks pregnant, there was still no baby and my consultant was eager to induce me as I had gestational diabetes (GD) and they don’t like GD women going beyond 41 weeks. I didn’t want an induction.
"I had 2 sweeps, the first at 40 weeks and the next 3 days later. Neither were successful. I had an induction booked for 41 weeks. After my 2nd sweep, I asked my midwife if I could cancel my induction, and she said I’d have to discuss it with the consultant, so we scheduled an appointment and a scan. I arrived at the hospital ready to argue.
I wanted to labour at home until active labour. I wanted my husband's support for entirety of labour. With induction, I'd be in hospital on my own – due to Covid-19 – until I was 4cm when he'd get the call to come in
"The scan was great: baby not too big, placenta and brain healthy, heartbeat good. The only thing they did see in the scan were some white blotches in the amniotic fluid. The consultant couldn’t rule out that the white bits were meconium, so she strongly recommended induction. While I really didn’t want this, I couldn’t risk my baby’s health, so I agreed to be induced and went straight down to the ward to get the process rolling.
"The midwife I had when I first arrived was fantastic! She read my birth preferences, knew this was against what I wanted but let me know what could still be achieved and seemed really on my side. She applied the first batch of gel to get the induction going and said I’d have a second applied 6 hours later if required. Unfortunately her shift finished at 7pm, and after that I got a very different midwife. She was very negative about what I wanted, saying the birth was going to be long and painful because I was being induced. She put me in a total negative spin.
"The only positive was that I was now 1cm dilated so they could take me to the delivery suite and break my waters. But there was no room on the delivery suite and I had to wait for hours and hours until there was space. Luckly, they said once I did move, my husband could come straight in – he wouldn't have to wait until I was 4cm after all.
"My next midwife – in the delivery room – was awesome. She’d read my birth plan, medical notes, everything! She said we’d stick to my plan wherever possible. It was agreed I could labour naturally after my water were broken if the water were clear. But if there was meconium, I'd need the drip to speed contractions up.
"The waters were broken and there was meconium in it, so the drip it was. Initially it started off well, I was bouncing on a birth ball, breathing through every contraction, I was feeling good! However eventually the drip got the best of me and the surges got stronger and I needed some pain relief. I quickly went from paracetamol, to paracetamol and codeine, to gas and air, to pethidine to an epidural. It was just too intense!
"The epidural was one of the best decisions I ever made.The pain vanished and I laboured pain-free. I could even get some sleep, which was something I hadn’t done in 36 hours! So my husband and I did just that. About an hour or 2, the midwife woke me to say the baby’s heart rate was dropping and could she put a [more accurate] sensor on the baby's head? Seeing as I was numb from the waist down, I agreed – and went back to sleep.
"Another hour passed and I was woken again. The baby's heartbeat hasn’t improved and they were recommending a C-section NOW. As I’d had an epidural already, all they need to do was up the anaesthetic. Not long after, I found myself in theatre, my husband by my side, knowing I was moments from meeting my son. As soon as he was out of me, he cried. It was such a relief! My husband and was with him from the moment he left me, so got to see him being checked over, and it wasn’t long until my baby was on my chest, and he stayed there until we were in the recovery room.
"The midwives on the delivery suite were so wonderful that, even though the birth was almost everything I didn’t want, it was still fantastic and I look back at it with a smile."
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