When the two lines came up on the test there were a million and one worries (and a couple of swear words) that ran through my head. Funnily enough ‘what if there’s a global pandemic?’ wasn’t one of them!

By March this year I was six months pregnant. Having ridden out the worst of a bout of hyperemesis that left me completely floored, I was finally starting to feel better. Then the bloody coronavirus reared its ugly head and the Prime Minister announced that pregnant women were considered vulnerable. Within minutes of that announcement, my boss had me pack up my office and leave, to work from home until my maternity leave was due to start in June. I was on my way home without as much as a cheerio to my colleagues within half an hour! At the time, I thought the Boss was being overly cautious and that I’d be back in the office in a few weeks, but very quickly it became clear that I had been wrong and this ‘carry on’ as we call it in Scotland, was worse than we thought.

At that stage I had already had my 20 week scan and the initial Midwife appointments, including a couple of home visits which were lovely. That was all about to change as the new guidelines were put in place in response to the pandemic. I now visited the clinic alone for my Midwife appointments and we sat physically distanced until she had to palpate my bump or take my blood pressure.  I didn’t actually find it much different than normal and was reassured by the obvious efforts the Midwives were making to protect us all.

Then, when I was 36 weeks pregnant, I started to cough…

…within a couple of days I could hardly talk, my throat was raw and my eyes streaming. I didn’t think I had Coronavirus but I booked a test just incase. I had my last baby at 36 weeks so was quite worried I’d go into labour during the two-week isolation period and I’d have to labour alone.  While waiting for the results I developed a hot, angry and very itchy rash across my body. I was advised by NHS24 to contact the Maternity Unit who told me to come straight up. As I was waiting on the coronavirus test results, I was, quite rightly, treated as though I was covid positive. It was quite a jarring experience.

I was led into a room just inside the door of the hospital which was pretty sparse and coldly clinical. The Midwife and Doctor who looked after me were really lovely, but I could barely see them under the PPE they were wearing! Satisfied the rash was viral and nothing more serious, they sent me on my way. I was super relieved to be heading home. Thankfully, the next day my Covid test came back negative.

 

Their care shone through

Over the next couple of weeks I attended the Maternity Assessment Unit up at the hospital for closer observations. The staff were wearing masks and aprons, and the seats were spaced two metres apart in the waiting room, but otherwise the care was the same excellent standard that I had been used to. I was always nervous going for a pregnancy scan in case any abnormality was detected, and it was difficult to go for growth scans without my husband there to support me. I attended twice weekly appointments for fetal monitoring, as my wee one was a sleepy monkey and I had experienced reduced movements, something you should always, always get checked out. The same Midwife, Sandra, looked after me at each of these appointments and she was just so amazing I think I fell a little bit in love with her! Again, all the staff were wearing masks, but it became that I didn’t really notice. Their care shone through. I actually found the quiet calmness of the hospital really beneficial as it reduced any anxiety I had about the tests and scans. The waiting rooms weren’t packed out and the Midwives and Doctors had time to spend with you. When I had some questions about the risk of an instrumental birth the Consultant Obstetrician popped in while I was in the Unit for one of my appointments with some research data and she sat and went through the risks in general, and also the risk to me based on my individual situation (super low – such a relief!). She definitely knew how to put this scientists mind at ease, it was like having my very own WRISK presentation!

In the end, my wee monkey remained too chill so we decided that I’d be induced at 39 weeks. At my last routine appointment for fetal monitoring before that, Sandra offered me a membrane sweep and I accepted. I headed home planning to see her in three days for the induction.  That afternoon, around 5pm, I started to feel a bit of heaviness so decided to take a bath…. just as the blooming Gas Engineer arrived to service the boiler, knocking my plans for a long relaxing bath on the head. I went for a wee lie down and after a few minutes started to feel some period like cramps. Long story short, by 6pm I was properly in labour and made The Call to my Mum to come over and collect our son. Up until that point we had been observing the Covid restrictions that were in place but as we obviously couldn’t take a 5 year old with us to hospital, we had no other choice but to break the rules and mix our household with that of my Mum, Dad and brother. We had talked about it a lot and agreed to isolate as much as possible in the run up to me giving birth so as to minimise any risks but it was still nerve wracking.

On arriving at the hospital, my husband had to wait outside until I had been examined.

As I walked – okay, waddled – along the quiet hospital corridor on my own it felt quite surreal. The silence felt profound. Maybe it was because I knew this was The Big Event, or the contrast to my previous birth experience, or maybe I am just being overly dramatic in the retelling of the tale! Either way, when I look back it feels quite profound as it was the last quiet moment I had alone before welcoming our new wee one to the world.

Turned out I was already 7cm “with a big bag of bulging waters” – lovely image that – so I shuffled off to the labour ward with a promise not to have the baby on the way and the Huz was granted passage. Again, the Labour Ward staff were in PPE but made me feel so comfortable and relaxed with their banter and kindness. I was super lucky to have my friend Gillian as my midwife. She was on nightshift but arrived half an hour early which was a good job as young J made a quick appearance just after clocking on time at 8pm.

We were delighted to welcome our wee son to the world and spent around three hours in the labour ward together before Dad headed off home. As we were on the ground floor, my brother, who had come to pick my husband up was able to come round the back of the hospital and see his new nephew as I held him up Lion King style through the window.

After my husband headed off for the last good nights sleep he was going to get for a while, baby J and I were taken to our own room in postnatal. The staff were all fantastic and wore their masks while coming in and out to do their checks. I felt really safe and looked after and we had a good night. It was the same the next day when the wee one had his hearing and Paed checks. That afternoon we were given the all clear to go home and I was helped down to the door where my husband was waiting for me with the car seat.

 

A quirk of fate

Around 24 hours after getting home, I noticed J’s umbilical cord was looking a bit gungy and the skin around his belly button was a little red.  That night when I changed his nappy again I felt it looked worse; the redness had spread, there was yellow pus oozing from it and it had the tell-tale smell of bacterial infection. He also felt a little hot but the thermometer we had got in the Baby Box was too big for his wee ears so I couldn’t get an accurate temperature.  The Midwife was due to visit the following morning but by 1am I was concerned enough to ring NHS24 and they advised me that because they had to assume he had a temperature (as I had reported he felt hot) they couldn’t see him at the out of hour GP so I was to take him to hospital. I think this quirk of fate could possibly have saved his life.

We got to A&E in the wee hours of a Sunday morning. Normally it would have been heaving but there was not another single soul in the place. We were seen quickly and taken up to the Paediatric ward where the loveliest Doctor assessed J. His observations were all normal; temperature, oxygen, breathing. Under normal circumstances we would have been sent home and advised to come back had he developed a temperature or breathing issues, but as we were the only patients in the ward bar one other wee girl, the Doc decided to take a closer look. Having cleaned and examined his belly button she agreed it didn’t look right and advised we stay for 48 hours of IV antibiotics.

Over the next couple of days J and I were looked after like royalty.

Due to the Covid restrictons, nobody else was allowed to visit so it was just me, J and ‘SAS: Who Dares Wins’ on the phone to pass the time between antibiotics and observations. I was dealing with the baby blues that come with the early postpartum days and spent a fair bit of time crying. The lovely Nurses kept me topped up with tea and kind words. I could cry now just thinking about how kind they were, even taking J out to sit with them to give me some sleep. After a couple of days of antibiotics his belly button was looking great so finally we went home.

The next day, the results of J’s tests came back and he was positive for Group B Strep, a potentially fatal infection in newborns. Had we not stayed for antibiotics I dread to think what the outcome would have been. I genuinely believe that the pandemic worked in our favour, as the hospital was so quiet there was time and space for J to be treated, despite not being too ill by that point.

A week later, we headed back up to A&E as J developed a rash and was having a bit of effort breathing.

We had been advised to have a very low threshold for bringing him back to be checked as babies who have been exposed to group B strep are at a slightly higher risk of subsequent infection. The waiting room was busier this time, but everyone was wearing masks and sitting at physical distance from each other. By chance, it was the same fantastic Nurse and Dr on duty and they were delighted to see J again for snuggles. Luckily, the rash turned out to be nothing concerning and he had a little virus, hence the breathing, but his obs were fine and he was in good form.  Again, the ward was quiet so Doc suggested staying for an hour or two for monitoring just to make sure. Secretly, I think it was more for my benefit, as I was quite anxious at the potential of a late onset GBS infection. On checking him over again, the Doc noticed a little murmur in his heart. She offered to scan his heart there and then to check it rather than waiting on a referral to her clinic. I agreed and off she went to get the fancy new ultrasound scanner they had got for the cardiology clinic. An hour later, J and I were on our way home with the all clear and an appointment for a checkup of his heart in a few months, but with the knowledge that it was nothing to worry about.

In the subsequent few weeks we’ve been looked after by home visits from our Midwife and Health visitor, both of whom are fantastic. They come kitted up in their PPE and they can’t get a cuddle with the wee one, but the care has been great. The 6 week GP baby check was moved to combine with the 8 week vaccinations, which is actually much handier as it meant only one visit to the clinic. This time both me and the Doc were in masks; hers a standard clinical one and mine a much more fetching design with cows on!

 

COVID-19 Silver Linings

Overall, I feel that coronavirus has had a positive impact on the care we have received. The antenatal appointments were calmer with no waiting around, and I had time to discuss my concerns with my health care team. My postpartum care has been the same and of course the biggest benefit has been in the paediatric care J got. Who knows what would have happened if A&E had been jumping on a Saturday night and he had not been admitted for antibiotics? I’m also glad I didn’t have weeks of anxious worry about his wee heart while waiting for a clinic appointment; it was resolved – along with my nerves – there and then.

I felt safe, supported, listened to and taken seriously. I had excellent care and the banter was second to none!

This is what the NHS should be like, all the time, for everyone. Although less masks would be nice.

 

 

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