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Birth in the Time of Coronavirus

Trigger warning for pregnancy loss.

Article by Charlotte Wilcock

We’d been planning on having a more than one child from the start. My partner and I wanted as small an age gap between children as possible - so that they would be able to grow up together and enjoy a close relationship. We began trying for a second baby 2 years ago, and after a short while I was elated to see those two pink positive lines pop up on a test. I immediately started daydreaming of life with another baby - this was all I ever wanted - to watch my family grow and be blessed with bringing more children into existence. I spent most of my time fantasising over this new little life, and what our world would look like as a family of four. I bought baby clothes and I found knitting patterns to start making those oh-so adorable, teeny newborn cardigans. The future felt amazing and I was so excited.

Sadly fate had other plans, and we suffered miscarriage after miscarriage. Any hope I had for a bigger family dwindled with each loss, and my mental health took a tremendous battering. It was killing me to do it, but I couldn’t stop trying. I was desperate for this baby.

After over a year of constant miscarriages, the doctor said she was referring me to the fertility clinic for secondary infertility. Those words stung. How could infertility even be a possibility? My partner and I agreed we’d have one last month of trying, before we put things on hold and waited for our fertility appointment.

After that last month, as always, my period was late, and as always, I got a positive pregnancy test. It had become so commonplace for this to happen and then result in loss, that I never normally felt excitement, but this time felt different. 

I went back to my GP, and she told me not to expect anything to come from it, given my history. I was told to come back next week if I hadn’t miscarried. It sounds so insensitive looking back, but that’s the reality of fertility struggles - you get used to the brutal starkness of losing babies. Although this time felt special, it didn’t stop the doctor’s warning replaying through my head constantly. I was waiting for something to go wrong. After a week passed, I was still pregnant and the doctor confirmed the pregnancy. The weeks passed and I remained pregnant, but I still spent the first months before the scan in constant fear. Even when things began to feel more comfortable, the whole pregnancy was laced with some kind of worry.

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy my pregnancy; it was a beautiful experience. I was healthy, active and had a pretty easy time - a stark contrast to my first pregnancy laden with complications and illnesses. 

I felt so much joy and wellness within myself - both physically and mentally. 

When talk of the Coronavirus arriving in the UK started circulating the news, I was just weeks away from my due date. Like most others, I didn’t anticipate the extremity of the situation and really did believe what we were being told by the media - that this was just like the flu. I had no idea the situation would escalate so rapidly, and those claims about the severity of the illness would be so wrong. 

I went about life as normal, expecting that this would all blow over swiftly, but I quickly realised that things were a lot more serious than expected, as case numbers of the virus rose, and soon after, closures began. 

With my first baby, I’d gone into labour over 2 weeks early, so I assumed I would do the same this time - as people always say ‘you go into labour earlier with your second.’ The early dates came and went, as did my due date. The further I went overdue, the more extreme COVID measures kept getting put in place. The midwifery led unit - where I’d planned on giving birth in a pool, with soft lighting in lovely, cosy environment - had been shut and I was told I had no choice but to give birth in a clinical, medicalised room in the hospital maternity ward. I was told my partner might not be able to be with me for the birth, and they even if he could be, he would have to leave straight after. It was a massive blow.

The one thing that has always preserved my sanity is taking long walks out in quiet nature spots. Being away from people and the man-made world is where I feel most at home, and as an autistic person, I find a lot of every day life overwhelming. Living in an old industrial area of the city, with no local green space meant that suddenly lockdown measures took my coping mechanism away. No more nature. I felt totally trapped and it really, honestly felt like I would never get to meet my baby. My brain somehow convinced me I was genuinely never going to give birth. But all of my anxieties around baby loss came flooding back. I also had the new, added panic of any of us getting ill with the virus. How could I cope with the possibility of any of us being hospitalised in these tender times, or being separated from one or both of my children?

The days continued to tick by, and through all of the stress I didn’t even realise I’d gone into labour. I’d had a day of particularly strong aches and pains, which I just put down to being very overdue, but after a while it suddenly dawned on me I was having contractions. My baby was actually coming! 

I got to the hospital where I had to leave my partner outside. It was eerily empty. Everything was shuttered and cordoned off with yellow tape. There were no staff until you reached the ward - alone and scared where they took your temperature and confirmed your active labour had begun and your partner could come up. Although we we were limited with facilities, in the delivery room, and it was a far cry from the calm environment we’d imagined hypnobirthing in, we made the best of the situation with essential oils, room spray and LED candles.

I was adamant that I wanted to have a completely unmedicated, natural birth with no pain relief, and despite all of the stress and uncertainty caused by COVID, I trusted that my body would be able to do it. 

I laboured standing up - walking around the room, breathing through contractions until I could feel the baby’s head ready to be born. I said to my partner ‘I can do this’ and he echoed back ‘you’re already doing it.’ My body naturally started to push downwards and very shortly after, my baby was handed to me. The whole experience was totally magical - amplified by the fact that baby was born still in his sac of waters, said to be an omen of good luck, which only occurs 1 in every 100,000 births. Allowing myself to experience every sensation of birth without being numbed by pain relief was the most empowering thing I’ve ever done, and was the perfect antidote to all of the grief and loss of control in the run-up. I finally had my baby and I was so proud. 

Having a new baby in lockdown has presented a scenario I could have never imagined when I saw the future of our family. None of our loved ones have met our baby. It’s hard not knowing when my mum, relatives and friends will be able to meet him. My eldest is really struggling with being around him all the time - it’s hard for him to understand that babies need lots of care, and for the spotlight to be off him for a while - whereas in life before lockdown he would have had the distraction of school, or being taken out on special adventures by other family members, he’s now just stuck in the house with nothing to do, feeling confused over seeing his parents constantly giving love to another child.

I’ve really struggled as a new mum in lockdown too. We’ve been conscious to prioritise the needs of our eldest son, whilst he struggles to navigate these changes. As a result I am missing the emotional support I would normally get from my partner. My partner is even sleeping in our big son’s bedroom so that he doesn’t feel so left out, making the nights especially lonely for me - doing every nappy change alone, waking up regularly to breastfeed and having no company to give me that positive boost to keep going. Sometimes it all feels like an impossible juggling act. 

Normal self-care rituals like enjoying a bath or going for a walk are too far out of reach at the moment, and I’m looking forward to a day where those things become commonplace again.

I’ve tried to look for positives in the situation, but sometimes it’s just not what you need - sometimes you need to let yourself sit with your sadness and honour it.

It’s normal to mourn a moment that was promised to you, which you never got to experience.

I saw this phrase written on a wall a few years ago and it’s really stayed with me ever since - ‘the gift of health is keeping me alive.’ I remind myself of that daily during these weird times, and know that as long as we’re all healthy we’re ok. 

As soon as this is over we’re all going on massive walks - along the coast, up mountains, through forests. I can’t wait to show my baby the world outside of these walls.

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