Katherine and Melrose - 15th May
Updated: Aug 23
Second time mother Katherine talks about the different struggles she encountered whilst being pregnant during the pandemic; from looking after a toddler and working from home, going to maternity appointments alone, arranging last minute childcare before going into labour, and then moving house shortly afterwards. Her story offers an insight into some of the many ways parents up and down the country have had to adapt and find solutions in very challenging circumstances over the last few months.
As I was suffering from pregnancy insomnia, one of my night time rituals had been avidly following updates on COVID-19 via Twitter from when it was still mainly only in China (which did nothing to help me get back to sleep). I had read a lot of sources and I had a strong suspicion lockdown was on the horizon here from a few weeks before it happened. At my insistence, we actually began isolating as a family a few days before it was announced that heavily pregnant people should be ‘shielded’, no easy decision with an active almost 3 year old (Logan) at home with us. However, we were lucky in that we were both able to work at home from quite early on. I work part time in a communications role and my partner (Paul) has quite a demanding job as a solicitor, so like a lot of people, we really struggled to balance working while keeping our toddler entertained (thank goodness for CBeebies!).
This had already been quite a hard pregnancy, as I had suffered badly from hyperemisis gavardium (extreme pregnancy sickness) for the first 20 weeks; ironically meaning I’d got accustomed to being mainly housebound! Although I’d had a couple of better months, I was definitely feeling more run down than with my first child, so it was extra challenging trying to fit in work around childcare. I even ended up staying up until past midnight on a Sunday to get my maternity handover note finished - no easy task when sleep deprived and 36 weeks pregnant!
From the outset, one of my main concerns was the birth. I’d not had a great experience with my first and to avoid all of that, I’d actually been hoping to push for an elective C-section this time. However, once COVID-19 hit, it was clear that wasn’t likely to happen, especially as I’d had a vaginal delivery the first time. Going to maternity appointments during lockdown alone was also quite daunting - we don’t have a car, and I would have ordinarily just hopped on the underground to UCLH but given the images I was seeing of packed out carriages, that didn’t seem sensible. In the end I found a really lovely taxi driver who took me to each appointment in his freshly cleaned, pristine Hackney carriage - thank you, Colin! Other than helping me, he wasn’t working for most of lockdown and we were both quite shocked by how many people and cars we saw on our journeys into central London. I’d been in such a bubble at home until that point and had been expecting it to be deserted.
The next concern was how we’d manage childcare for our now 3 year old (he had his birthday 3 weeks into lockdown) once I went into labour. The original plan had been for my mum to come down from Nottingham to stay with us around my due date, but as she was shielding and travel wasn’t really allowed (unless you’re Dominic Cummings!), that was off the cards. In the end we had to break the rules a bit and our friend came over to look after him. He’d had his phone on loud waiting for the call, and it was a good job because it came at 3am in the morning! Unlike with my son, my labour this time was fairly quick. We knew in advance that partners would only be allowed in for the ‘active’ part of the birth and, although they were coming thick and fast, as I’d only been contracting for 3 hours by the time I’d reached the hospital, I was very concerned he could be sent away. When we arrived, Paul was made to wait by the main entrance (the one seat they had was taken up by another expectant dad) and I had to walk up to the maternity assessment unit on my own - heavily contracting and wearing a face mask! Fortunately, I was examined and was already 5cm dilated, but the midwife then left me alone for what felt like an eternity while she let the labour ward know to get things ready for me. That part wasn’t fun!
Paul was able to join me once I’d been taken up to the birthing suite and it was a relief to have him there to hold my hand. The next few hours are a bit of a blur… However, baby Melrose arrived quickly but safely at 9.30am on 15th May and let out a very big cry! Although the birth had gone relatively smoothly, as I’d had an epidural and needed a few stitches, it was clear early on that I’d need to stay overnight. They let us stay all together in the birthing suite until about 2pm, at which point I had to say goodbye to Paul. That was quite emotional and a very different experience to my first birth where he’d come with us to the ward and gone out to stock up on snacks!
After my first birth, I remember being left alone a fair amount, as the idea is that partners are also there to help you and the baby. I was a bit concerned about how the care would be this time but they were definitely more attentive as I think they appreciated that you were alone, recovering from birth while caring for a newborn. Given the additional stress and risk they were under, I really can’t thank the NHS staff enough for the care we received.
We were able to go the next evening and it was lovely to get home to introduce Melrose to her excited big brother. We then had a lovely few days at home adjusting to life as a family of four, but then rather than start to welcome the endless stream of visitors you normally get, we actually moved house! Strangely, moving wasn’t too stressful - partly because we weren’t also spending time seeing people. I suppose that was one advantage of lockdown.
I think one of the saddest parts of all of this is definitely how few people have yet to meet Melrose. We’ve seen a handful of friends and family since lockdown has been eased but she’s not been passed around for cuddles the way my son was and unfortunately as both my parents have conditions that put them at risk, it still doesn’t feel safe enough for them to visit and I’m not sure when it will be. It’s sad that they won’t get to experience these newborn days and possibly not get to see their only granddaughter until she’s a much bigger baby. Video calling a newborn just isn’t the same.
The limited face to face care we’ve had since the birth has also been strange. I’ve said often that I’m glad I’m not a first time mum as it must be very daunting. We have managed a few socially distanced meet ups with some other mums to newborns in the park though, so that’s been a bit of a taste of normality - but who knows what the next few months of maternity leave will look like?