Becoming a mum at the start of the pandemic

Rachael was among the first mothers in the UK to birth their babies during the pandemic.

Just one week before she went into labour, Boris Johnson told us all to stay at home because of what he called an 'invisible killer'.

We didn't yet know the impact the virus might have on pregnant women or newborn babies.

She wore her son's name for weeks before his birth and during labour to help her stay calm in a scary time.

 

Giving birth during pandemic

 

"I was very heavily pregnant, 36 weeks, when I saw that you (Erinn) had started making bracelets.

They were so pretty, exactly my aesthetic and I couldn't wait to get one with Toby's name on it.

I was going to wait until he was born, but then the news started to come across from China about the virus.

I think at the beginning most of us assumed this would be brought under control somehow, but it was getting closer and closer and more real the nearer I got to my due date.

Things like that really scare me anyway and I started to feel really anxious, worrying about my baby and his safe arrival - as you do when you're pregnant.

I had this big massive bump in front of me and I knew he was in there, but when it's your first baby it's really hard to imagine who they might be.

I couldn't see him, so I wanted something that I could look at any time that would remind me of my goal and my focus. 

 

Giving birth during pandemic

 

On March 11th I was told to go off on maternity leave earlier than planned because my bosses were worried.

Back then we didn't know what effect the virus had on pregnant women or on unborn babies.

When I was sent home to wait it out my anxiety really started to rocket, because I had nothing to distract me and everything I was hearing was so scary - women having to labour alone, even rumours that they'd have to birth alone - there was so much unknown at that time.

I had an idea in my head of how labour would go and how pregnancy would go and covid just changed all that in an instant.

I was so afraid of not being with my husband, Mark, during the birth.

We've been together for 14 years, we're a team. The idea of not having him there terrified me.

Even in the run up to labour, when I had to go to my appointments by myself, I missed him.

I know now so many people have done it now and it's starting to seem almost normal, but back then I had no one who had gone before who could tell me it would all be ok. I was in a club I never wanted to be in - the first mums to go through birth during Covid-19.

When I went to see the midwife, chairs in the waiting room were all spaced out and people were visibly afraid.

What made it all so much worse was that I had had a 'normal' experience  of antenatal classes and appointments right up until the last minute.

I had been to baby classes and shared that experience with other women, to all of a sudden be told to keep your distance and to go on alone was awful.

 

Woman in labour wearing Ivy and Gold bracelet

 

Tobias was born on 31st March, about a week into lockdown.

I laboured at home for as long as possible to avoid Mark and I being separated. I did go to the hospital when I was in early labour, but the options were to stay there on my own or go home on two paracetamol with my husband.

Labour, for me, was not what I wanted or expected, it was long - 46 hours and I felt every pain despite taking all the drugs.

I know some people have lovely birth stories, but that just wasn't the case for me.

When Toby was born I was completely exhausted and relieved that the whole experience was over, but actually the challenges were just beginning.

 

Rachael with baby Tobias and personalised bracelet

 

Mark had to leave soon after the birth and we didn't get to see him again for 40 hours. He missed the first two days of his son's life. 

My person, my rock, wasn't with us.

He came to the hospital to drop off bits and pieces, but a midwife met him at the door - I wasn't even allowed to go down.

I missed him so much and just wanted us all to be together again.

For the next four months, we didn't see anyone, we were that family who showed their newborn baby to grandparents through double glazing.

Gifts were quarantined before opening, someone close to us died from Covid complications and we even had to take Toby to be tested at five weeks old. 

It hasn't been easy, we did everything just the three of us with no help or in-person support, no village. 

I have been suffering from post-partum anxiety and I do blame Covid for making things so much more scary.

Trying to keep your baby safe is always going to be your number one priority, every parent worries, but for a pandemic parent you're worrying about how to keep them safe from this invisible thing while also being cut off from everyone you love. 

 

Racheal feeding baby Tobias wearing Ivy and Gold bracelet

 

If there's been one positive from this whole experience - other than Toby, who is amazing, it's that Mark has been able to be at home with us for so much longer than he would have been in normal times.

He started working from home when I went off on maternity leave and he's been here ever since.

We're in this boat together - that's what I'm most grateful for.

I'm so glad to see that we're all finally turning a corner and a little bit of normality seems closer than ever.

Toby had his first day at nursery this week - something I couldn't even have imagined when he was born.

Thankfully he has thrived in lockdown, without a clue what is going on or that he entered the world at such a scary time. All he knows is that mama and dada have been at home with him every day and he hasn't seen very many other faces."

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